Placement Tests

How can placement tests be used with heritage language learners? 

Placement tests typically provide information on general language abilities and overall language proficiency to ensure students are appropriately placed into courses or classes. You could use this type of assessment to gather information about language proficiency for the purpose of placing incoming students in courses. You may want to collect additional information about student backgrounds through a student or family questionnaire. This information about family and community language use, language or cultural exposure, or language attitudes can help you understand placement results and to make decisions.

When working with HLLs, placement tests can be useful for:

  • Understanding heritage students’ skill sets and language backgrounds, including unique cultural or linguistic characteristics
  • Developing curriculum, learning supports, and student learning objectives
  • Advocating for heritage-specific course or track offerings at your school

If you are placing HLLs into courses, it may be helpful to conduct a systematic review of how effective your assessment data is for making these decisions. This type of review can help you determine if placement testing is working as expected and provide an opportunity for you to make adjustments as needed. In addition to assessment data, teachers’ judgments and recommendations can also support placement decisions. 


Many programs use more than one method of assessment for placement purposes, including (but not limited to):

  • Multiple-choice tests to measure discrete skills
  • Oral interviews and speaking tasks
  • Self-placement tools and questionnaires
  • Standardized or locally-made tests to meet specific program and student needs

Using locally-made tests designed specifically for your HL students and community will help you achieve the best results for placing HLLs in appropriate courses (Beaudrie, 2016; MacGregor-Mendoza, 2012; Potowski et al., 2012).