Gathering assessment information

List all the types of assessment you have used in the last week or so. Don’t forget about the informal assessment opportunities you took advantage of.

  • Which ones did you design yourself?
  • Were any commercial assessments used?
  • Which modes were addressed – speaking, listening, writing, reading, viewing? (Were any assessments multi-modal?)
  • What is your preferred form of assessment for your EAL students? Why?

Gathering assessment data involves developing and refining a range of strategies and tasks, from very informal assessing-while-teaching strategies such as verbal questioning and observation through to much more formal planned assessments tasks, including essays and tests. Developing appropriate ways of gathering assessment is best achieved collaboratively, taking into account students' backgrounds, interests and language skills as well as the school's available resources. It is likely that the same strategy or task would not work equally well with students of different abilities. Together, teachers can modify strategies and tasks and/or design new ones that will work for them and their classes or individual students.

Click here to view Prof Chris Davison talking about different ways of gathering assessment information

There are many types of ways to gather assessment information, and it is important to match the style and format to the information you are looking for. It is good to use a variety of assessment methods over time so that students become familiar with different modes and formats and demonstrate learning in different ways. However, the main consideration is that the method of gathering assessment information matches the learning intention. The method of assessment is often called the assessment mode. There are four main modes, which vary according to their formality and degree of pre-planning:

1. Observation

  • You can make observation more systematic and consistent by using an observation protocol or checklist.
  • Observing who contributes to class discussions and the way they contribute are valuable assessment tools.
  • When you observe strategies students use to attempt or complete a task you gather clues about their thinking and current level of understanding. Observing the way students interact provides valuable insight about confidence and attitude to their learning.

2. Inquiry

  • Self and peer assessments communicate important information about how students evaluate their own progress and that of others.
  • Learning logs and interviews can be helpful, provided the student has sufficient English skills to express ideas clearly, or they can use their home language and other students and/or classroom assistant can translate and then the student can report back in English. By responding to an issue raised or asking a question the learning log can become a supportive dialogue between the student and teacher.

3. Analysis

Analysis is usually required for written and oral work. Written responses include short and extended answer formats. Clear wording of the question or stimulus is critical. It is important not to use long sentences with embedded clauses which may confuse students about what they should do.

  • Short answer items can require a word, phrase or sentence but it is important to indicate what is expected. The number of correct responses should be limited. Writing the main idea of a paragraph is a good way to practise.
  • Extended written response items can elicit a number of possible answers. Assessment of critical thinking and interpretation need this open-ended style. For EAL students, it is important they are not overwhelmed by the length of response that is required. Summarising a text in one or two paragraphs is a good way to practise. Dictogloss also supports this skill as the content is provided in oral format and the written version is produced as a group activity.
  • Performance requires students to give a demonstration or create a product such as an artifact. Scoring performances can be subjective and time-consuming. If students cannot read or write well in English, a role play can assess understanding through oral language. Drama can also assess understanding of oral or written language. Hint: Graphic organisers can be used for assessment as well as instruction. A template can be provided as a guide or students can choose their own format. A graphic organiser can include partial information and students need to fill in the gaps to demonstrate understanding, vocabulary, ability to sequence ideas and think about consequences. Technology can be used to create concept maps with many layers of complexity. The simplest is SmartArt in Word. Inspiration, and MindMeister are more complex and will need more training. For more examples, see:  EduPlace Graphic Organizers, and EdHelper Storytelling Graphic Organizers .

4. Tests

  • Multiple choice items are hard to write well but quick to assess, and easy for students to assess. There are usually four options but some tests reduce the likelihood of guessing by offering five options. They can use question-and-answer format or sentence completion format.
  • True/false statements are also quick to assess. Make sure each statement is entirely true or entirely false. The statements usually target knowledge rather than understanding or critical thinking skills. Each question has a 50-50% chance of being answered correctly.
  • Matching or sequencing items will show how well students associate different pieces of linked information.
  • Cloze or fill-the-gap format is suitable for many types of text. The answer (or key) should be succinct. Use a standard length of line unless you are indicating the amount of detail required. If word choices are offered the test does not measure spelling and may not measure morphological understanding. A cloze passage can measure factual knowledge or inferential understanding. Gaps can be filled with a word, phrase or clause so clear instructions are important.

Students can be involved in assessments in many ways:

  • developing success criteria in consultation with others
  • self assessment; peer assessment
  • reflection on teacher feedback
  • learning logs for tracking personal progress towards a target.

Technology can provide evidence used to track progress through digital voice or video recording or photographing draft or interim steps on the way to a final product. Assessment can be based on producing a written, oral or visual text. Multi-modal texts can use combinations of modes. Students can:

  • construct an artefact
  • perform a demonstration or performance
  • participate in a debate
  • give a speech, interview a real or imagined person (in person or via video link)
  • make a video or podcast
  • choreograph an interpretive dance
  • build a website, create an electronic game
  • keep an e-journal, build an e-portfolio.

If students can choose their own mode of presentation, the success criteria may need to be generic about achievement indicators. The verb demonstrates is useful as it is open-ended about how the evidence of success is provided. Individual checklists can be constructed at a teacher-student planning conference to help students focus on particular characteristics that are important for their chosen mode. In general, giving EAL students some choice can increase engagement as they can make choices appropriate for prior experiences and level of confidence. Some, however, are easily overwhelmed by what they perceive as lack of structure and may need extra guidance and support.

Grouping arrangements are a particularly important consideration for performance-based assessments. Initially it may be easiest for students and teachers to put students into friendship groupings. However, teachers should also experiment. Diversity can be a resource, not a problem. Having students with different levels of oral language skills in the same class can create an authentic information gap or need to communicate. Highly structured assessment tasks, including jigsaw activities which require the transfer of information, are better for such groupings than more open-ended tasks which require students to discuss or share ideas without a clear focus.

What do you see as the advantages and limitations for each of the four ways of gathering assessment information? Consider the time taken to design the assessment, the time for students to complete it, and the extent to which the mode is dependent on extraneous language skills or cultural knowledge.

Activity 1:

Some common problems associated with different types of assessment are listed in the first column. Can you suggest a possible solution for each one?

Problem Solution
Observation is too subjective.  
My observations are important at the time but I forget them quite quickly.  
My student’s English is still very low level and they say/write things I cannot understand.  
Students who are quiet and shy don’t demonstrate what they know in performance assessments.  
Students who are quiet and shy don’t participate well in group tasks or discussions.  
It is easier to ask questions about knowledge than to elicit understanding.  
Some students prefer not to answer a question if they are not sure they can respond correctly.  
Longer written responses show how students are thinking but they take so long to mark.  
I want to use short answers and choose the correct response for formative rather than summative assessment.  
If the question/task is too hard, the students aren’t able to demonstrate their best language ability.  
My students feel under pressure because I am always assessing them.  

 Activity 2: 

Look at the AfL continuum of assessment strategies (Davison, 2008) and brainstorm what specific kinds of methods of gathering assessment date would fit under each heading.

This booklet on Developing appropriate assessment tasks from Curtin University (WA) provides extensive guidelines in developing appropriate assessment tasks including inclusive assessment, moderation, using assessment standards and types of assessment tasks.

This brochure on Understanding intelligibility in assessment from Macquarie University (NSW) offers guidelines for assessing spoken English when intelligibility is an issue. The author stresses that an assessment of spoken language needs the speaker to engage in a conversation which is not totally predictable – i.e. there is a communicative gap which the EAL learner must bridge. (AMEP is Adult Migrant English Program and CSWE is Certificates in Spoken and Written English.)

This Sample student profile from the Queensland Studies Authority contains a sample profile of the different types of assessment undertaken by senior EAL students over two years.

This article on A_Portfolio_Assessment Model for ESL from The Journal of Educational Issues of Language Minority Students presents a model of portfolio assessment for EAL class.

Design two different ways of gathering the same assessment information and try them out in your class. Which worked better and why?

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