Language Assessment: Procedures & Instruments

Instructor: Jesse Richter

Jesse holds two masters, a doctorate and has 15 years of academic experience in areas of education, linguistics, business and science across five continents.

Looking for some best practice language assessment ideas? In this lesson, we will discuss language assessment procedures and instruments, including selection, administration and interpretation of assessment data.


Language Assessment

Assessment is a critical aspect of language instruction and acquisition. The two primary assessment categories are formative (informal; conducted during the learning process) and summative (formal; conducted at the end of an instructional period). Under the umbrella of these two broad categories, many forms of assessment are recognized among professionals to be valid and accurate. For purposes of this lesson, we will consider a traditional classroom setting within a traditional public school system. Let's take a look at formative methods and then move to summative methods.

Formative Assessment

Procedures & Instruments

Since formative assessment is generally informal and conducted during the learning process, both procedures and instruments are flexible and are typically determined by the instructor (rather than school administration). This type of assessment may take the form of observations, interviews, student work portfolios, rewording concepts, informal presentations, and/or alternative format demonstrations of comprehension such as drawing a picture, creating a chart or making a model.

It is recommended that the teacher first take the time to carefully understand each individual learner's background and learning style including country of origin, mother tongue, home context (when appropriate) and learning needs. This allows the teacher to individualize instruction. The teacher should also determine how the entire class cooperates and interacts as a group. For example, a class may have a majority of native speakers of the local language with only a few second language students; the converse is also common. This will determine how the teacher pairs, groups and otherwise manages student interactions, as well as what strategies will be most beneficial.

Selection, Administration & Interpretation of Data

The selection, administration and interpretation of formative assessment data depends on various factors such as the nature of the school (public vs. private; rural vs. urban; school size; etc.). However, there are some best practices that are sure to work in a wide variety of environments.

Formative assessment is not traditionally conducive to the collection of numerical data. It is suggested that the teacher develop a system of qualitative data collection with simple yet informative criteria such as meets and does not meet or skill demonstrated and skill needs practice. These data could be recorded in the form of a simple checklist or written notes. The most important aspect is that some form of data is, in fact, recorded for future lesson planning and administrative reporting purposes. This information is also useful for parent-teacher meetings.

Summative Assessment

Procedures & Instruments

Unlike formative assessment, summative assessment takes place after an instructional period such as a unit, quarter, semester or entire academic year. Summative assessment procedures and instruments may be developed by the instructor in some cases, but it is more common for these items to be prescribed by the school, district, state, regional and/or even national level administrations in the form of standardized testing that yields statistical data. If this happens to be your situation, check with your supervisor for school-specific procedures.

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