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Multilingual Mysteries: Should we expand or diminish the role of assessment for multilingual learners?

In the report A New Era of Educational Assessment, it is argued that policymakers and practitioners should abandon the piecemeal state of assessment that privileges standardized test scores of literacy and numeracy. As an alternative, the commentary proposes the adoption of an assessment model that is better aligned to teaching and learning. While this intention may seem laudable, the process of developing a comprehensive cohesive assessment system is a complex undertaking. The question then becomes should student success support a narrow or broad definition of assessment and whichever the choice, how can it be inclusive of major stakeholder groups? 

If testing (rather than assessment) continues to prevail as what ‘counts’, and schools measure multilingual learners’ progress from only a restricted accountability perspective- that is from score to score- without considering the other purposes, audiences, and contexts for assessment, what ultimately serves as evidence of learning? On the other hand, if we shift our view of assessment to reflect a teaching and learning paradigm, can we then broaden the reporting of what our students can accomplish? Let’s explore three of the many ways classroom assessment can be infused into a system that is more representative of and equitable for multilingual learners. 

1) Enlighten and empower the educational community through assessment literacy.

Assessment literacy is a wide-ranging concept that applies across content areas and stakeholders. For educators, it entails planning, gathering, interpreting, and using data to enhance instructional practices. For students, assessment literacy centers on building their capacity to own, advance, and serve as agents of their own learning; for multilingual learners, it also extends their horizons to represent multiple languages and cultures. For families, assessment literacy entails gaining familiarity with the reasoning behind assessment practices as a means of galvanizing connections between home and school. 

2) Embed assessment as, for, and of learning into curriculum to gain an expansive view of student engagement in one or more languages.

Assessment can be powerful when it is integrated into curriculum and students have input its design. Envisioning three approaches- assessment as learning, where students interact with each other, and assessment for learning, where students act on concrete teacher or peer feedback, as steppingstones to assessment of learning, where students produce culminating projects- encourages student engagement throughout the process. Additionally, to meet overall unit-level expectations and standards, teachers should leverage multilingual learners’ linguistic and cultural assets within grade-level content that is accessible to them in multiple languages.

3) Ensure that instruction and ongoing classroom assessment are seamless, purposeful, and meaningful.

Classroom assessment should be student-driven where multilingual learners strive to become autonomous self-regulated learners who contribute to classroom decision making. For example, multilingual learners can seek diverse perspectives from peers or choose multimodal pathways of learning. When students interact with each other, (co)construct models, or use digital resources, teachers can assess learning firsthand through observation. When students pursue expertise from family members to meet an agreed upon set of performance descriptors, classroom assessment becomes blended into and inseparable from instruction.  

Students’ academic success should rest on the integration of and the flow among curriculum, instruction and assessment where action is taken to safeguard multilingual learners’ languages, cultures, and identities. Together, assessment as, for, and of learning offer the potential for creating a balanced dynamic system in which multilingual learners, their teachers, and other educational leaders are vested and have a sense of self-efficacy. 

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