Assessing English language proficiency

Teachers should use a range of assessment data and strategies to inform their judgements regarding EAL students’ English language proficiency, learning needs and progress towards the Victorian Curriculum F-10 EAL achievement standards. The achievement standards of the curriculum describe what students are able to understand and do at the end of each level of learning.

Assessing EAL learners’ English language proficiency is an ongoing process that involves a variety of assessment activities across the three language modes (Speaking and Listening, Reading and Viewing and Writing). 

Preliminary activities can include developing a sociolinguistic profile after conducting a language and learning interview, and diagnostic activities. Teachers start with diagnostic assessment tasks to identify students’ high level skills in speaking, listening, reading and writing and their strengths and weaknesses. 

Teachers use this information to guide curriculum planning decisions and develop formative and summative assessment activities. 

Individual learner portfolios built up over a period of time are also very useful for ongoing assessment of EAL learners. As well as copies of student work, portfolios can include feedback that provides meaningful information to students about what they have done well and areas for improvement. 

Teachers should encourage students to review their portfolios regularly and, depending on their age and language proficiency, develop individual learning goals. These goals might be as simple as using capitals or forming letters correctly or involve more complex challenges, such as writing topic sentences using key words from an essay prompt.

The TEAL online assessment resource centre provides a strong evidence-based approach for an ‘Assessment for Learning’ (AfL) pedagogy that emphasises the importance of formative assessment. Each assessment activity should actively involve students and be used to improve teaching and learning. 

Students should understand what is being assessed and what they need to do in order to successfully complete an assessment activity. 

Actively involving EAL learners in assessment ensures that they understand the process and how to successfully complete a task. Teachers are not expected to assess everything in every task but keep a clear focus on one or two key learning areas or skills. 

The information gathered by the teacher can be used to modify or extend teaching and learning activities to meet the needs of EAL learners and inform future planning.

Teachers who are new to EAL assessment can use the TEAL site to build their capacity and confidence and refer to the examples of student work to support their own assessment decisions.

Initial diagnostic assessment activities

Suggested initial diagnostic assessment activities can provide baseline assessment data. This can inform lesson and unit planning.

The suggested activities are suitable for both EAL and non-EAL students at all levels of proficiency. They're designed to give you information about the macro skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Tools to Enhance Assessment Literacy for teachers of EAL students

The TEAL online assessment resource centre provides self-paced professional learning modules designed to build knowledge and understanding of teaching and assessing EAL learners. Development of these skills will ultimately benefit all students in the classroom.

You can reflect on your own assessment literacy by taking TEAL's assessment literacy survey.

The TEAL online assessment resource centre also provides:

  • assessment activities and related resources for students in Foundation to Year 10 in the modes of speaking and listening, and writing

  • a link to the online Reading and Vocabulary Assessment for EAL students (RVEAL) tool

  • annotated units of work across a range of subject areas and year levels

  • recordings of online EAL moderation sessions with related work samples

  • unit planning templates

  • strategies for getting to know your students

  • a discussion forum.

The TEAL unit planning templates can complement your own unit planners. The TEAL templates outline areas such as:

  • cultural understandings

  • topic-specific vocabulary

  • linguistic structures.

These areas highlight the key considerations that will enable teachers to provide EAL students with the support they need make sure students who are not familiar with Australian/western culture do not face barriers to achieving success in the classroom.

Other assessment resources

  • Language and learning interview – this information can help you decide a student's starting pathway and level on the EAL curriculum.

  • A Closer Look at the Language and Learning interview - provides additional information for teachers, leaders or other staff responsible for conducting the Language and Learning interview, to gather information about a student's linguistic and educational background

  • Pathways through the Victorian Curriculum F-10 EAL – examples of possible progressions through the EAL pathways. Each student's progression depends on their individual circumstances, and the support and opportunities they're given.

  • First language assessment tasks – assess the first language literacy of newly arrived students entering Australian schools at the upper primary and secondary levels who have an Arabic, Chinese, Khmer, Somali, Turkish or Vietnamese language background.

VicTESOL resources

VicTESOL is a professional learning association that supports English language teaching, learning and multicultural education. It provides all teachers with effective assessment resources.

The Teaching and Learning Cycle Project Resources include examples of classroom-based curriculum grounded in the teaching and learning cycle. They give guidance in all aspects of teaching a unit of work, from planning and implementation to assessment and reflection.

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