These English Language Learner Assessment tips and strategies will have your ESL students feeling confident…and begging to test more often!
English Language Learner Assessment is one of the most important parts of being an ESL teacher…but also one of the most overwhelming! Students are often at wildly different levels, with some students able to read and write their own answers, and others who don’t yet understand basic instructions in English.
But what if English Language Learner assessment didn’t have to be so hard? What if it could be something that your students love that makes your job easier in the process?
I’m here to tell you, it can!
Follow along–you’re about to gain back your time while making an amazing experience for your students! You’ve got this.
Before we get started though, if you’re looking to make all of your class time into a smooth, calming, engaging experience for you and your students, check out my free guide of the 7 Secrets to an ESL Classroom That Runs Like a Dream!
Know Your End Goal
Now, before I dive in deep here, let me be the first to tell you that I hate standardized assessment. The stress, the time, the fact that it doesn’t actually test students… our ESL students deserve better. In fact, I once had to give a state test designed for ESL students that had pictures and stories about soldiers that sent several of my students into shutdown mode and/or panic attacks…yeah. I’m not their biggest fan. AT ALL.
However, in so many states, passing the state standardized English Language Learner Assessment is the only way out of ESL programming.
When I lived in Arizona, students in my classes took the Arizona English Language Learner Assessment, but students in most states, including Colorado where I live now, will take ACCESS for ELLs. Every school, district, county, and state do things a little bit differently, but in my experience, students who are in ESL programs miss out on a lot of other opportunities. In Arizona, I had students who were fluent English speakers who were still in ESL classes because they hadn’t passed the AZELLA yet, and they missed out on a lot.
So, as much as I hate to say it–knowing where your students are on state testing is essential. Know their scores in each category, how they are tested, and what they need to achieve to reach general education. As much as we love teaching ESL and our ESL students, our ultimate goal is to get them out of our classrooms and into general education!
I like to keep student state testing data in a spreadsheet on my Google Drive so it is easy to access whenever I need it! Some information to include:
Put a note in your calendar to review this data every month or so! It can be so easy to focus on improving a student’s reading skills and totally forget that what held them back was the speaking and listening section. Reviewing goals and scores frequently will help you keep your focus on the items that will really move the needle forward!
Use English Language Learner Assessment Tools
Sometimes, if you’re very lucky, your school district will provide you with assessment tools, like leveled reading books, an online program, or something similar.
If you’re lucky enough to have the resources in front of you…use them! Even if they’re not perfect, give them a try in your classroom. Sometimes, a lack of perfection can be excused when it saves you time and effort. Just check out the tricks below for keeping your students engaged and excited about assessment!
Not so lucky? No worries! Here are some simple ways to assess your students!
1) Use leveled books to check fluency and comprehension. Pick a few books in various levels from your classroom library (or use an online source to print out some articles). Write 3 comprehension questions for each story. Then, starting with the lowest level book, time students for one minute, and count how many words they read. (You might want to make yourself a little guide if you’ll be doing this a lot!) Once they’re done reading, ask students the comprehension questions verbally. Once students are able to read a set number of words and answer the questions, move them up to the next level! For fluency, I like to use this Reading A-Z page as a guide. I never tell the students what grade level they’re at! Instead, I just add levels (AKA Grade 1 Fall= Level 1, Grade 1 Winter= Level 2, etc.) so students can track!
2) Create a simple prompt and have students answer it monthly.
This is such an easy way to assess student writing, and you end up with a great way to show students how much progress they are making! Pick a simple prompt that you can use for students of all levels, for the entire year. I like to make it something that students can always write about, like “Write about something that you love doing.” or “Tell me about yourself.” Then, set a timer (I usually do 15 minutes) and have students write the entire time. Some students won’t be able to write the entire time at first, and that’s ok! Encourage them to just sit with their paper and think. Collect the papers, and store them somewhere safe! Repeat monthly. After students have finished writing each month, share their previous writing pages with them. They’ll be amazed at the progress they’re making, and you’ll have concrete evidence of where they’re improving, and where they still need a little help.
Teach a subject other than writing? You can still use this in your classroom! Just pick a prompt like “What have you learned in history this year?” or “What is the scientific process?” You’ll still see progress throughout the year!
3) Practice listening with a different voice.
Students get used to listening to their teachers, and as their teachers, we get used to providing nonverbal support to our students. That means the best way to practice listening is by using a recorded voice. Recorded voices not only require our students to listen to someone different (or at least, our own voices that sound a little different!) they also don’t adjust to the students in the classroom and stay consistent, no matter what! Record yourself reading a short passage, and then asking comprehension questions. Have students record their answers to the questions on a paper or Google Form. Repeat monthly so students can compare their progress!
Not interested in recording your own voice, or want students to practice with someone different? Check out my Teachers Pay Teachers Store– every resource at that link includes specific listening practice!
4)Record Student Speaking.
Speaking feels like the hardest to test…but it can also be the most fun! Choose a set of questions you can ask students every month. Keep it simple, just like the writing prompts. Things like, “What language would you like to learn and why?” “What sports do you like to play and why?” “What is your favorite food and why?” are all great! Just make sure to include the “why” to encourage students to say more than one-word answers! Then…record them! If your students have devices, Flipgrid is a fun, easy to navigate way to record students. If not, most computers and laptops have built-in voice recorders! Be sure to save the old recordings so students (and you!) can hear the progress they make throughout the year. This also makes for a great end-of-year activity–play the first recording and last recording, and celebrate!
Track, Track, Track, Track, Track
I don’t have to tell you, but learning a language is HARD! Part of what makes it so emotionally challenging is that it is so difficult to feel like you’ve made progress. Our students are a little better every day, but sometimes that progress is just too slow to track!
That’s where tracking English Language Learner assessments comes into play. Find a way that works for you and your class and is simple to keep up with. I can’t stress that last part enough! Simple, simple, simple is your friend. Elaborate trackers look great and fun, but they become too complicated to keep up with, and then they’re not so helpful. Honestly, the tracker that I’ve kept up with the best was just a class average and a class average goal written on the whiteboard. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective, easy to change, and always there!
Here are a few easy ways to track student progress:
Just remember…simple. Simple. Simple. All that matters is that you’re providing students with a way to see their progress! They won’t care if it’s ready for Pinterest or not. I promise!
I’ll say it again because it’s so important: Students just need to see that they are making progress.
This is my favorite part of teaching ESL…there is just so much we can celebrate!
We often find that our ESL students can get quickly discouraged. They’re trying so hard to communicate, fit in, and live a normal life, but English is a challenge. Learning a new language can be fun and exciting for a bit, but 5 months in? They’re feeling that struggle!
Luckily, there’s an easy solution to keep students from getting discouraged, and that is CELEBRATING! In fact, I would argue that this is the most important part of English Language Learner Assessment, and yes, that is a mountain that I am willing to die on.
Celebrating doesn’t have to be well-planned out, expensive, or time-consuming either!
Just show visible excitement. High fives, thumbs up, dance parties, verbal praise, notes, and calls home…just make a big deal about it! I’m talking about something like this…
OH MY GOODNESS, SADIYA! Last time you read 5 words, but today? TODAY? YOU READ 6! WOW!!! Are you so proud of yourself? You sure should be, because you are a rockstar!!! Look at that improvement! Do you want to share with the class? Should we write a note home? Your grandma is going to be so proud of you for improving your reading! You know what, we should just call her right now!
In this (real 7th grade, with a name change!) case, this student improved their fluency by 1 word in a month, and we all know that still puts them around kindergarten. What matters, though, is that students are encouraged, feel pride in their work, and don’t give up. If you give students confidence in themselves, progress will come! Slowly, but surely, it will come. This particular student was reading at a third grade level (from kindergarten!) a semester later! It'll happen!
Collective goals are a great way to engage our English Language Learners as well, especially since most of our students come from collective societies. Find a way to create a class goal that makes sense for you and your students. Something like “Our class will improve an average of 3 reading levels in a semester.” Averages make it so students who are making slower progress or have a disability don’t feel responsible for the class goal while giving students who make progress a bit quicker a way to continuously contribute. In my opinion, these bigger class goals are best celebrated with a party! Lunch in the classroom, some printed certificates, and a visit from a principal or other teachers are usually all it takes to make students feel like they have just achieved the most challenging goal in the world. They’ll be living on cloud nine, and will try even harder in the future. Plus…celebrating is just so FUN!
Keep it Consistent
As with everything in English Language Learner land, consistency is absolutely key. Students thrive on consistent goals, and assessments are no different! By testing regularly, tracking, and celebrating, your students will be begging you to test more frequently so they can show off what they’ve learned and reach their new goals! Plus, when it comes time for those pesky state assessments, your students will be confident and, believe it or not, excited to show off all they’ve learned. Doesn’t that sound like the best way to do English Language Learner Assessments? I sure think so!
Now you’ve got assessments down, but how about the rest of your day? Click here for my free guide to creating the ESL classroom of your dreams.
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