ESOL Assessments: Purpose & Importance

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

This lesson analyzes the purpose and importance of assessments teachers give in the field of English for speakers of other languages (ESOL). The lesson includes analysis of a variety of assessments in this area.

Assessment Definition

As a teacher, you have a lot of duties. You tailor lessons to meet your students' needs, you write reports, you meet with other teachers, and you assess your students. Regardless of the level of your students, assessment is key in school. The area of English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) is not an exception. Assessment in ESOL is the set of tools a teacher can use in order to evaluate the progress a student makes in learning English. To understand the purpose and importance of assessments in ESOL we follow Nasser, an Arabic speaker who is learning English.

Purpose of ESOL Assessments

Nasser's teacher of the English language is pleased to see that Nasser has no trouble communicating with others at school. Also, Nasser has very little difficulty with listening, as he understands well most of the time. However, when it is time for Nasser to write a composition at his grade level, the teacher finds a lot of issues. Nasser needs to work on spelling, sentence structure, and verb conjugation. This case illustrates the primary purpose of an ESOL assessment, which is to determine the areas of language in which the learner needs further assistance in order to improve. Other purposes of ESOL assessment include:

  • To make decisions regarding further instruction for a student: Nasser's teacher decides to focus more on writing skills during her sessions.
  • To have a basis to show the student the needed areas of improvement: Nasser can easily understand his need to improve in writing once he sees his scores for this skill are low.
  • To provide administrators with data that inform their decisions: The school principal sees that ESOL students' scores are low in reading. Thus, she plans on further training for teachers so that they have more tools to develop reading skills in students.
  • To keep parents informed on the progress their children make: Nasser's parents are updated on their child's progress, including his need to improve in writing. In the US, the participation of parents and legal guardians in their child's education is allowed until the child is 18 years of age. After that, the student is an adult and, thus, is the only one who receives the school data regarding progress through assessments.
  • To comply with government mandates: This purpose refers to legal mandates all schools must follow through standardized tests. To illustrate, Nasser is in a public school and one of the mandates in the state where he studies is that English language learners take an annual standardized test. The Department of Education provides the school with this test.

Importance of ESOL Assessments

Now, let's briefly discuss the importance of assessment. Nasser's teacher is accountable for her work in the school as her supervisors evaluate her performance. Similarly, ESOL students are accountable for their work to make progress in learning the language. The way to evaluate ESOL students is through assessments.

This illustrates the importance of assessments, which is to hold students accountable for their share of responsibility in language learning. On one hand, there is the teacher's work to assist students to the best of their abilities. On the other hand, there is the student's responsibility to review, practice, and submit work, in other words, to make progress in the language. However, it is important that teachers apply a variety of assessment tools. Let's analyze this.

Variety in ESOL Assessments

What would happen if Nasser's teacher only gave him writing assessments? His teacher would not be able to check Nasser's progress in reading, speaking, or listening. What would happen then if Nasser's teacher only gave him formal assessments? Nasser would probably feel pressed all the time just by the goal of getting a high score. For these reasons, it is important that ESOL teachers use multiple measures of assessment. Multiple measures include:

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