Practical tools, activities, and resources
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What Do You Know About Language Assessment?

Think about some of the key characteristics of the different language assessment types listed below then click on the arrows to expand the boxes and learn more.

What is Needs Assessment?

Needs assessment refers to a tool that examines, from the perspective of the learner, what kinds of English, native language, and literacy skills the learner already believes he or she has; the literacy contexts in which the learner lives and works; what the learner expects to gain from the instructional program; and what might need to be done in the native language or with the aid of an interpreter. (See this CAL Digest for more information.)

What is Formative Assessment?

A formative assessment can be an informal tool that provides feedback about a student’s ongoing progress. Teachers can use this information to adjust or improve instruction as needed. Formative assessments can be as informal as reviewing students’ homework and observing students’ class participation. They can also take the form of a quiz, a writing sample, a group project, a presentation, a real-life task, a checklist, a journal entry, a portfolio, a conversation grid, or a role play, among other more structured tasks. Students can be involved through self-assessment and peer assessment.

What is an Achievement Test?

An achievement test measures what students are expected to have learned as a result of completing a particular unit or instructional sequence. It is often based on curriculum or textbook materials and tests the students’ knowledge about specific grammar points, vocabulary, content, or language functions taught.

What is Performance Assessment?

Performance assessment requires learners to use prior knowledge and recent learning to accomplish tasks that demonstrate what they know and can do. These activities often require students to construct a meaningful response to an open-ended question, create a product, or perform a demonstration for the purposes of communicating authentically in the language. Usually there are multiple ways that a student can complete a performance assessment and more than one correct answer.

What is Standardized Assessment?

Standardized assessments are tools that are administered, scored, and interpreted in the same way, no matter who is giving or taking the assessment. Standardized assessments are developed and tested out using a methodical process to ensure reliability (the test measures student performance consistently) and validity (the test measures what it is supposed to measure). (See this CAL Digest for more information.)

What is Proficiency Assessment?

The assessment of language proficiency is usually tied to a targeted language skill in a particular context, such as speaking and listening or reading and writing. Language proficiency goes beyond student performance in a classroom setting to include how the student can use language to communicate in other authentic settings. A language proficiency assessment is based on a carefully researched framework of language proficiency to measure how strong a language learner’s skills are in a particular area, as well as areas that the learner struggles with when communicating in the language. Most oral proficiency assessments use an interview approach and require a trained test administrator who assesses the student’s language in a holistic way. (See this CAL Digest for more information.)

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