Standardized Tests for English Language Learners

Hello colleagues, I want to invite a discussion about the standardized tests adult education programs across the country are using with English language learners. How is the test (or tests) you are using working for you for different levels of learners. For instance, how are they working for learners at the literacy level, especially for learners with limited formal schooling? How are the tests working with English learners who have recently transitioned to the Adult Basic Education level? Do you see any interesting patterns in learning gains based on learners' levels? As you see it, what are the pros and cons of your testing instruments? What lessons learned can you pass along to your colleagues? Do you have burning questions?

Looking forward to hearing some words of wisdom on this issue!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Assessment & AELL CoPs

Comments

Susan, I would like to know if there is a standardized curriculum which people follow, from absolute beginners to "advanced". In other words Standardized tests only make sense if the students have covered subjects that are being tested. I  personally would like to know so that I could make adjustments to my lessons to coincide with regular classes.

Paul

Hi Paul and all, As you may know, any adult education program that operates with federal funds are required to administer certain standardized tests to all learners. Curricular decisions are left to states and programs. If any members are working in programs that operate with a "standardized curriculum," perhaps we'll hear responses from them here.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Assessment & AELL CoPs

Thanks Susan for asking this question. I also have a burning question about tests used for oral language development. I have administered the Best Plus and am looking for other tests. Concerning reading and writing our program currently uses the Best Literacy exam with positive results and we use the TABE test with Pre-skills training students. However It is an expensive exam, $100 a test using the computerized version and time consuming for students approximately four and a half hours if they take the entire test. We have begun to administer only the Math and Reading portion which takes about two and a half hours.

Thanks,

Naomi

 

 

I work at Literacy Source, a state-funded community-based organization in Washington state, and our state requires CASAS testing.  The CASAS test does not align to our curriculum. Our state has recently adopted the CCRS as standards, and the CASAS, although nominally re-aligned, does not reflect the new foci of the standards on mathematical practices, intertextuality, citing evidence etc.   So we have the general problems that I think most programs have with these tests not aligning to instruction.  We have both pre-literate ESL learners and ABE 1 learners, and the CASAS reading test in particular, does not even give much diagnostic reading information or show much progress for these learners.  

 

We use some other tests, such as a phonics inventory and site word lists, which provide better information for reading instruction as well as show progress, but these are not nationally-recognized standardized tests.   These more specific reading skills test do a better job of measuring progress, especially for literacy learners.  We are using publicly available, free, tests off of LINCS (Word Reading Tests, Sylvia Green Inventory, Dolch List, and a fluency test) and I'd be happy to talk about the pros and cons of different tools for our population.   We use these to be able to determine the reading profile of our learners, which is helpful for instruction, as well as to measure progress.   We also get a writing sample, which is standardized for our program, and goes from writing the alphabet, copying, writing down letter for sounds, writing sentences, and on the high-end, writing a GED-type social studies response.  This is also useful for placement, a formative assessment, and shows progress, and very helpful for our program but not for national reporting.  We also have an Oral screen as a measure of ESL speaking (we don't use the BEST), which is very useful for placement but doesn't provide as much robust evidence of progress.  I'd love suggestions for other free and easy to use oral assessments if any are out there.   None of these tools are specifically aligned to our curriculum, which is different for ESL and ABE until ESL 5, which merges with ABE 3, and we use them for both ABE and ESL learners as applicable. 

Cat Howell

Hello Cat, Thank you for sharing your program's assessment practices. For which learners and at what levels are you using the "publicly available, free, tests off of LINCS (Word Reading Tests, Sylvia Green Inventory, Dolch List, and a fluency test)"? Would you be able to connect us to the fluency test you are using?

You can find these LINCS resources here:  Sylvia Greene Inventory, Word Reading Test, Dolch List.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

Susan, I do not work in the "formal" sector and do not know what the purpose of the tests is and who is being evaluated. 

Thanks.

Paul

Hi Paul, The required standardized tests are used by programs to screen students, to place them into classes, to assess learning gains as well as for accountability purposes.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

Hello colleagues, I'm interested in hearing from members about English learners who are transitioning from ESL levels to ABE levels. Have the assessments you are using been helpful in determining when a student is ready for this transition? Are you seeing reliable learning gains for English learners testing into the lowest ABE levels.

It would  be interesting to hear from those who are now using TABE CLAS-E about how this test is working compared to other assessments such as TABE, CASAS and BEST.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL & Assessment CoPs

 

Susan, many Massachusetts programs use the TABE CLAS-E to track progress of ESOL learners and to report gains to NRS.  My experience, and that of lots of fellow teachers I talk with, is that the TABE focuses on functional uses of English, which has been the traditional focus of ESOL classes for as long as I can remember.  The TABE reading and writing tests stick pretty close to everyday types of documents and practical writing tasks, such as writing a note to a daughter's teacher to explain an absence.  If there is a college and career focus in the ESOL classes, or even in certain units or class levels, I can't say that the TABE CLAS-E would be a good predictor of how well a student would do with those sorts of classroom activities--for example, summarizing a text dealing with earth sciences.  As soon as the ESOL students transition to ABE classes, they must contend with the increasing emphasis on college and career goals and the necessity of successfully passing credential exams and doing well on college placement tests.  By the same token, now their official learning gains tests mirror those same sorts of assessments--measuring for ability to infer, think logically, and dig deep for whatever academic knowledge they've amassed over the years. 

In the Charlestown, Massachusetts program that I teach at we have begun to back-fill more ABE-like curricula into higher level ESOL classes.  One thing that has provided us with some useful direction is the Student Achievement in Reading (STAR) initiative, which has vetted teaching strategies in reading that are strongly backed by research.  To do STAR-approved strategies effectively, teachers have to test diagnostically--and that data has shown us that ESOL students come into ABE classes with very low levels of the type of vocabulary words that frequently appear in print across all content areas (coordinate, diffuse, demonstrate, analyze) and, in addition, very few practical comprehension strategies under their belts (re-reading, asking mental questions, tapping into prior knowledge.)  It's too early to tell, but the ESOL teacher is on board for using more "Tier 2" vocabulary and comprehension strategies for reading, and writing tasks that build off the new vocabulary and newly comprehended knowledge.  I can say at this point, however, that the students get right into it.

Hello Carey, and all, Thank you, Carey, for sharing your insights about standardized testing with English learners who are transitioning from NRS ESL levels to NRS ABE levels. I wonder if you can clarify what you meant when you wrote: "By the same token, now their official learning gains tests mirror those same sorts of assessments--measuring for ability to infer, think logically, and dig deep for whatever academic knowledge they've amassed over the years." What "learning gains tests" are you referring to here? Do you mean the placement tests students take to enter post secondary training/education, such as the Accuplacer and others?

It's interesting to hear that your program is focusing on the reading skills emphasized in the Student Achievement in Reading (STAR) with English learners. (Check out the link to learn about STAR.) It would be good to hear from other members who have been following the STAR methods with English learners who are transitioning to ABE. Members, please share your insights!

As you note, there is no doubt that teachers working with students at this level need to focus on explicit vocabulary instruction, particularly on those general, high-utility, academic words we refer to as Tier 2 vocabulary. I have found the Academic Word List, which was ascertained through corpus studies conducted by Averil Coxhead from the University of New Zealand, to be extremely helpful.

I think we all agree with you that vocabulary is a huge factor in English learners' reading comprehension. There is a lot more to say about vocabulary instruction, so members' comments and questions about that are welcome.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL & Assessment CoPs