Assessment Issues with English Language Learners

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  • 0:03 Assessment Differentiation
  • 0:38 Literacy
  • 1:49 Academic Vocabulary
  • 2:45 Cultural Familiarity
  • 3:38 Test-Taking Skills
  • 4:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, teachers will review some common issues that English language learner (ELL) students often face when taking both content-area and standardized assessments. This lesson also includes some strategies for teachers to help ELL students overcome these issues.

Assessment Differentiation

When it comes to English language learner, or ELL, students, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to teaching. There are, however, suggested strategies for improving their learning experience.

One area that requires differentiation is assessments. When you test an ELL student, you want to gain a better understanding of his or her knowledge. Lack of English language proficiency can prevent ELL students from demonstrating what they know. Let's take a look at some different issues that ELL students face when taking assessments, and some strategies for overcoming these challenges.


One of the biggest problems facing ELL students is a lack of English language literacy, meaning the ability to understand how to read and write a particular language. Imagine trying to take a test about the solar system in a different language. You may know about our sun, moon, and the planets, but how would you get past the language barrier in order to prove it?

One way to compensate for the language barrier is to read test directions, readings, and questions aloud to ELL students. Being able to hear the language spoken aloud while reading along can enhance their comprehension dramatically.

Some students receive bilingual education, or education in both their native language and English. Sometimes it's better to assess students in their native language. It will give you more reliable information about their content knowledge. Of course, this isn't necessarily ideal if you're actually assessing language proficiency, and especially if you are trying to encourage them to speak a new language.

Another necessary accommodation is extra time. Just providing ELL students with additional time to process the test and formulate their responses can go a long way towards helping them demonstrate their understanding of the content.

Academic Vocabulary

Academic vocabulary is a specific type of vocabulary that refers to academic tasks. When a test asks a student to analyze a passage, infer meaning, or summarize the main idea, those verbs - analyze, infer, and summarize - are examples of academic language. The problem is that even if an ELL student could do those things, he or she may not understand the academic skill required to effectively answer the question.

To combat this issue, it's important to explicitly teach academic vocabulary to strengthen ELL students' test-taking skills. One strategy is to display a visual word wall in your classroom with academic vocabulary words and pictures that represent them. For example, for the word 'infer,' your definition might be 'to make a guess based on information given to you in the text.' The accompanying picture could be a person with a magnifying glass, looking closely at a book for clues.

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