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Assessment and Evaluation in Adult ESL

Assessment and evaluation are critical tasks that program staff perform in concert with learners and other stakeholders as they design and implement programs for adult English language learners. Assessment refers to the use of instruments and procedures to gather data on a regular basis for such purposes as identifying learners' needs, documenting learners' progress, or determining how program services are meeting learners' needs. Evaluation refers to the process of interpreting and analyzing assessment data at a given point in time for the purpose of improving and documenting program and learner outcomes.

Questions of what to assess and evaluate and how to do it do not have simple answers. Assessment and evaluation take place in many different contexts and for many different purposes. In a classroom or tutoring situation, learners want to know how they are progressing and teachers and tutors want to know how effective their instructional approaches and materials are. At the program level, staff are concerned about the implementation and success of the program. Local, state, and national supporters and funders are concerned with the outcomes and impact of the program. No single assessment procedure or instrument can meet the demands of each of these stakeholders, but information from a variety of assessments can provide each stakeholder with data to answer their questions. This data can also be used to help design, modify, and improve programs.

This resource collection provides materials about testing issues, standardized tests currently in use by adult education programs, and standards initiatives. Although most of the resources focus on assessment and evaluation in the United States, relevant documents from Canada, Australia, and Europe are also included. While this is not a definitive list of assessment and evaluation materials, it is representative of what is readily available online and in print. CAELA does not endorse any particular approach to assessment or the use of any one test, but we encourage the user to carefully consider what they wish to assess as well as the merits of all the resources listed before making their selection. This should serve to assist them in developing a comprehensive evaluation and assessment plan that meets the needs of all the stakeholders.

This list was originally compiled by Carol Van Duzer and MaryAnn Florez at the Center for Applied Linguistics (December, 2000).

CAELA ResourcesERIC DatabaseArticles/ReportsBooksTest Information
StandardsPolicyOther ResourcesNewsletters & Journals

CAELA Resources

The following publications from CAELA offer information that might be helpful to individuals working with issues of assessment and evaluation.

Many CAELA digests addressing instructional practices and program development incorporate issues of assessment and evaluation as they relate to the primary topic. You may want to review the digests index page to see if any topics would be of interest to you.

Several books also include discussions of assessment. Of particular interest may be Assessing success in family literacy and adult ESL (Van Duzer & Holt, 2000, revised edition) and Making meaning, making change: Participatory curriculum development for adult ESL literacy. (Auerbach, 1994). For more information, go to the CAL store section on adult education

ERIC Database

The ERIC database can be searched via the internet at

Efficient searches of the ERIC database usually use a search strategy based on descriptive terms already defined by ERIC. Descriptors that you might want to use to find information on adult ESL instruction include some combination of the following:

adult basic educationEnglish (second language)evaluation methods
adult educationlimited English speakingevaluation criteria
adult learningnon English speakingstudent evaluation
adult literacysecond language instructionprogram evaluation
adult programssecond language learningtesting

Articles, Reports, and Other Documents

Alamprese, J.A. (1994). Current practice in workplace literacy evaluation. Mosaic: Research Notes on Literacy, 4(1), 2.

Alamprese, J.A., & Kay, A. (1993). Literacy on the cafeteria line: Evaluation of the Skills Enhancement Training Program. Washington, DC:

Ananda, S. (2000). Equipped for the future assessment report: How instructors can support learners through performance-based assessment. Washington, DC & San Francisco: National Institute for Literacy and West Ed.

Balliro, L. (1993). What kind of alternative? Examining alternative assessment. TESOL Quarterly, 27(3), 558-560.

Brindley, G. (1999). Task effects in second language assessment. Paper presented at Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages convention, New York, March, 1999.

Brindley, G. (1998). Outcomes-based assessment and reporting in language learning programmes: A review of the issues. Language Testing, 15(1), 45-85.

Business Council for Effective Literacy. (1990, January). Standardized tests: Their use and misuse. BCEL Newsletter, 22(1), 6-8.

Butler, F.A.; Weigle, S.C.; Kahn, A.B.; & Sato, E.Y. (1996). Test development plan with specifications for placement instruments anchored to the model standards. Adult English-as-a-second-language assessment project. Sacramento, CA: California State Department of Education.

Carl,K., Rosen, M., & Cavaluzzi, C. (1995). Assessment of English Language Learners in Adult Education Programs. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education.

Council for Cultural Cooperation Education Commitee. (1996). Modern languages: Learning, teaching assessment: A common European framework or reference. Strasbourg, France: Council of Europe.

Fingeret, H. (1993). It belongs to me: A guide to portfolio assessment in adult education programs. Durham, NC: Literacy South.

Florida State Department of Education. (2000). English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) and citizenship programs. Technical assistance paper. Tallahassee, FL: Division of Worlkforce Development, Florida State Department of Education.

Greenleaf, C., Gee, M.K., & Ballinger, R. (1997). Authentic assessment: Getting started. Grayslake, IL: Lake County College.

Grognet, A. (1997). Performance-based curricula and outcomes: The Mainstream English language training project (MELT.) Updates for the 1990s and beyond. Denver, CO: Spring Institute.

Jones, N. (1999). Validating can do scales. Paper presented at Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages annual convention, New York, March, 1999.

Kahn, A.B., Butler, F.A., Weigle, S.C., & Sato, E. (1995). Adult English-as-a-second-language assessment project: Final report: Year 3. Los Angeles: UCLA Center for the Study of Evaluation.

Martin, S.B., & Garcia, P. (1997). Introductions for administering the general work-based assessment. Washington, DC: Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

Mikulecky, L., & Lloyd, P. (1994). Handbook of ideas for evaluating workplace literacy programs. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University.

Mrowicki, L., & Conrath, J. (1994). Evaluation guide for basic skills programs. Des Plaines, IL: Workplace Education Division, The Center--Resources for Education.

Nishi, J., & Sison, V. (1995). Practical classroom assessment: A resource manual. Seattle, WA: Seattle Central Community College.

Norton, B., & Stewart, G. (1999). Accountability in language assessment of adult immigrants in Canada. Canadian Modern Language Review, 56(2), 223-244.

Pierce, B.N., & Stewart, G. (1997). The development of the Canadian language benchmarks assessment. TESL Canada, 14(2), 17-31.

Rossiter, M., & Pawlikowska-Smith, G. The use of CLBA scores in LINC program placement practices in western Canada. TESL Canada Journal, 16(2), 39-52.

Sarmiento, A. (1993). Articulation and measurement of program outcomes. In MSPD Evaluation Suppport Center (Ed.), Alternative designs for evaluating workplace literacy programs. (pp. 5: 1-13). Research Triangle Park, NC: Research Triangle Institute.

Solórzano, R. (1994). Instruction and assessment for limited-English-proficient (LEP) adult learners. Philadelphia, PA: National Center for Adult Literacy.

Sperazi, L., & Jurmo, P. (1994). Team evaluation: A guide for workplace education programs. East Brunswick, NJ: Literacy Partnerships.

Sticht, T. (1999). Testing and accountability in adult literacy education. El Cajon, CA: Applied Behavioral & Cognitive Sciences, Inc. review of tests used in ABE and ESL programs, written by Dr. Gregg Jackson in 1995, is included in the appendix of this article.)

Sticht, T. (1990). Testing and assessment in adult basic education and English as a second language programs. San Diego, CA: Applied Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, Inc.

Van Duzer, C., & Berdan, R. (2000). Perspectives on assessment in adult ESOL instruction. In the Annual Review of Adult Learning and Literacy. Cambridge, MA & San Francisco, CA: National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy & Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Van Horn, B.L., Carman, P.S., Askov, E.N., & Jenkins, P.S. (1996). Assessment and adult learners: Getting the most from standardized and informal assessment instruments. University Park, PA: Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy, Pennsylvania State University.

Yap, K. (1993). Integrating assessment with instruction in ABE/ESL programs. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual convention, Atlanta, GA.


Condelli, L. (1995). Designing an evaluation system for the adult education program: Resource handbook. Washington, DC: Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education.

Fiske, K.J., & Yap, K.O. (1994). Classroom strategies for assessing limited English proficient students in vocational programs: A resource handbook. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

Holt, D., & Van Duzer, C. (2000). Assessing success in family literacy and adult ESL. Revised edition. Washington, DC & McHenry, IL: Center for Applied Linguistics & Delta Systems, Inc.

Jackson, E., (1994). Non-language outcomes in the adult migrant English program. Sydney: National Centre for English Language Teaching and Research (NCELTR).

Manidis, M., & Prescott, P. (1994). Assessing oral language proficiency: handbook for teachers in the adult migrant English program. Sydney: National Centre for English Language Teaching and Research (NCELTR).

O'Malley, M., & Pierce, L.V. (1996). Authentic assessment for English language learners: Practical approaches for the teacher. New York, NY: Addison Wesley Publishing Company.

Wrigley, H., & Guth, G. (1992). Bringing literacy to life: Issues and options in adult ESL literacy. San Mateo, CA: Aguirre International.

Test Information

Jackson, G. (1995). Review of tests for ABE and ESL programs. Appendix to T. Sticht's Testing and accountability in adult literacy education: Focus on workplace literacy resources for program design, assessment, testing, and evaluation.

The former ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation created a test locator on their Web site that offered descriptions, publisher contact information, and location of reviews for tests used in a variety of educational settings, including adult education and adult ESL. Following the above link will serve as access to several Web sites that contain test information.


This section of the collection is being updated. An updated list of standards should be online here by July 30, 2006. For further information, contact

Newsletters and Journals

National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL). (1999, September). Standards-Based Education. Focus on Basics, 3 (C). Cambridge, MA: Author.

National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL). (1999, September). Accountability. Focus on Basics, 3 (B). Cambridge, MA: Author.

System for Adult Basic Education Support (SABES) & World Education. (1999- ). Adventures in assessment. (Vols. 1-12). Boston, MA: Authors. (Available from SABES/World Education.)

National, Regional, and International Organizations

Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE).

Center for Adult English Language Acquisition

National Center for Adult Literacy (NCAL). Philadelphia, PA.

National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL). Cambridge, MA.

National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition and Language Instruction Educational Programs (NCELA). Washington, DC.

National Centre for English Language Teaching and Research (NCELTR). Sydney, Australia.

National Institute for Literacy (NIFL). Washington, DC.

Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Alexandria, VA.

Policy Issues

Merrifield, J. (1998). Contested ground: Performance accountability in adult education. NCSALL Reports No. 1. Cambridge, MA: National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy.

National Institute for Literacy. (2000). From the margins to the mainstream: An action agenda for adult literacy. Washington, DC: Author.

National Reporting System in Adult Education.

Other Resources

Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks

New South Wales Adult Migrant English Service and the National Center for English Language Training and Research. (1993). Certificate in spoken and written English. Sydney, Australia: Authors.

New York State Education Department. (1999). Native language literacy screening device. (This device is available in 27 languages from Hudson River Center for Program Development, 102 Mosher Road, Glenmont, NY 12077.For more information, go to

Standards, Reporting, Outcomes, Accountability and Teacher Credentials-What's Online. A resource collection from Literacy Resources/Rhode Island.