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Understand Testing and Assessment in TESOL Programs

Teaching English to people who speak other languages comes with a unique set of nuances and challenges. Assessment strategies can be complex. Reading, writing, listening and speaking are the critical elements of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), which is why educators who teach English Language Learners (ELL) or English as a Second Language (ESL) students must tailor instruction based on language differences and experiences.

The many ways to accommodate and assess ESL students make this a hot topic of discussion in education. TESOL is a broad term describing the tools and methods used to teach ELL students. Teachers looking to develop high-demand skills needed for assessing language might consider the online Master of Science in Education (MSEd) in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages program from the University of Southern Maine (USM). This master’s program is the only online teaching degree of its kind in Maine, demonstrating a 100% pass rate on the Maine Praxis ESOL exam.

Assessment Nuances

Because of the critical importance of ELL support in schools, districts looking to improve TESOL testing and assessments will find many available resources and accommodations. The challenge is understanding the nuances of each student’s language and experience.

“Analyses of test data from four locations nationwide found a large performance gap between ELL and non-ELL students in reading and writing,” notes the one article titled Psychometric Issues in the ELL Assessment and Special Education Eligibility.

The author notes that “by reducing the impact of language factors on content-based test performance, the validity and reliability of assessments can be improved and can result in fairer assessments for all students — including ELLs and students with disabilities.”

Assessment Impacts

Learners and educators looking to maximize linguistic and cultural equity for students will understand the differences between assessments for learning and assessments of learning. Both approaches offer a comprehensive path that optimizes participation from multilingual learners and helps educators gather detailed data.

With growing emphasis on accountability, testing and assessment in education, producing valid and fair assessments for ELLs has become a matter of national interest. Researchers agree the array of content assessments taken by ELLs must be fair and accurate and believe this is the key to improving educational opportunities for language-minority students. The TESOL International Association’s 6 Principles for Exemplary Teaching of English Learners are considered critical to English language teaching. They aim to help educators, policymakers, test developers, administrators and anyone looking to ELLs around the world.

Seeing growth and improvement is a huge motivator for ELLs. There are many ways to appraise a student’s progress, and tests are not always the answer. Other ways to assess include rubrics and performance criteria, which educators can grade and measure progress with over time. Oral presentations and performances and non-verbal games like charades are great for shy students and those who are not proficient in English.

Assessment Strategies

Both formal and informal assessments can produce data to help teachers understand students’ language needs. Popular tools include listening and reading activities, formal and informal conversations, role-playing and games.

According to an Education Week article about assessment strategies for English language learners, assessments should provide teachers with useful information to help inform instruction. The goal is to help students progress in learning English so they may access general education. The Center for Applied Linguistics notes that assessments can indicate students’ progress throughout the school year and help teachers tailor lessons to meet instructional goals.

The need for effective assessments and language instruction has never been greater. As the population becomes increasingly diverse and the number of people learning English continues to grow, the need for language educators and ESL programs also expands.

Educators looking to impact education as K-12 teachers, college ESOL instructors, overseas teachers and administrators and peace corps volunteers should explore the skills and opportunities gained through USM’s online MSEd in TESOL program.

Learn more about USM’s online Master of Science in Education in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages program.

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