Understand Testing and Assessment in TESOL Programs

Teaching English to people who speak other languages comes with unique nuances and challenges. Assessment strategies can be complex. Reading, writing, listening and speaking are the critical elements of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), which is why educators who teach English Language Learners (ELL) or English as a Second Language (ESL) students must tailor instruction based on language differences and experiences.

The many ways to accommodate and assess ESL students make this a hot topic of discussion in education. TESOL is a broad term describing the tools and methods used to teach ELL students. Teachers looking to develop high-demand skills needed for assessing language might consider the online Master of Education (M.Ed.) – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program from Eastern Washington University (EWU). TESOL educators must be aware of topics relevant to assessment, such as their function, how to optimize them to benefit learners, their impact, and strategies for implementation.

Assessment Nuances

Because of the critical importance of ELL support in schools, districts looking to improve TESOL testing and assessments will find many available resources and accommodations. The challenge is understanding the nuances of each student’s language and experience.

In an American Institutes for Research article concerned with national assessment data on reading performance, the authors noted “concerning differences in reading performance by student subgroups.” For example, regarding a National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessment, students who were “English language learners (ELL) and who had Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) scored significantly lower (224 and 230, respectively) compared to students who were not ELL (267) and did not have IEPs (269).”

In addition, this article suggests that for those in the U.S., mastering the English language has significant affect in reading achievement. It reported “an interaction effect between ELL status and reading motivation: the effect of motivation on reading achievement was substantially weaker for ELL students compared to non-ELL students. Students having a higher level of reading motivation on average are more likely to do well on a reading achievement assessment than those with lower reading motivation. However, for ELL students, the effects of motivation seem muted in the absence of a strong grasp of the English language.”

The article goes on to recommend updates to assessments based on the potential nuances and impacts of different factors that influence reading motivation such as intrinsic motivation, feeling challenged, confidence and social motivation. This is just one example of how acknowledging students’ unique needs and challenges can inform the shape and performance of assessments.

The Purpose and Impacts of Assessments

Learners and educators looking to maximize linguistic and cultural equity for students will understand the differences between assessments for learning and assessments of learning. Both approaches offer a comprehensive path that optimizes participation from multilingual learners and helps educators gather detailed data.

With growing emphasis on accountability, testing and assessment in education, producing valid and fair assessments for ELLs has become a matter of national interest. Researchers agree the array of content assessments taken by ELLs must be fair and accurate and believe this is the key to improving educational opportunities for language-minority students. The TESOL International Association’s 6 Principles for Exemplary Teaching of English Learners are considered critical to English language teaching. They aim to help educators, policymakers, test developers, administrators and anyone looking to support ELLs worldwide.

Seeing growth and improvement is a huge motivator for ELLs. There are many ways to appraise a student’s progress, and tests are not always the answer. Other ways to assess include rubrics and performance criteria, which educators can grade and review to measure progress over time. Oral presentations and performances and non-verbal games like charades are great for shy students and those who are not proficient in English.

Assessment Strategies

Both formal and informal assessments can produce data to help teachers understand students’ language needs. Popular tools include listening and reading activities, formal and informal conversations, role-playing and games.

According to an Education Week article about assessment strategies for English language learners, assessments should provide teachers with useful information to help inform instruction. The goal is to help students progress in learning English so they may access general education. The Center for Applied Linguistics notes that assessments can indicate students’ progress throughout the school year and help teachers tailor lessons to meet instructional goals.

Prepare to Become a TESOL Educator with Eastern Washington University

The need for effective assessments and language instruction has never been greater. As the population becomes increasingly diverse and the number of people learning English continues to grow, the need for language educators and ESL programs also expands.

Educators looking to impact education as K-12 teachers, college TESOL instructors, overseas teachers and administrators, and Peace Corps volunteers should explore the skills and opportunities gained through EWU’s online M.Ed. – TESOL program.

Learn more about EWU’s online Master of Education – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages program.

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