Assessing Adult English Language Learners
Learner assessments are used in adult basic education (ABE), adult English as a Second Language (ESL), and family literacy programs for many different purposes: to place learners in appropriate instructional levels and classes, to measure their progress and motivate them to advance to higher levels, to qualify them to enroll in academic or job training programs, to document program effectiveness, and to demonstrate learner gains in order to meet accountability requirements. They also are used throughout a program to determine learners' goals and needs and to help learners to assess their own progress.
Because of these different purposes, programs use a variety of assessment instruments and procedures. This paper first explains federal accountability requirements and the assessments used to meet those requirements. It then describes measures used for other purposes, including learner needs assessment and assessment to inform teachers and learners about learners' progress.
The Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (Title II of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998) requires that each state report learner outcomes in the following areas:
Improvements in English language proficiency and literacy are reported in terms of level descriptors defined by the National Reporting System (NRS). The six levels for ESL apply to speaking and listening, reading and writing, and functional and workplace skills ranging from beginning ESL literacy to high advanced ESL. (See http://www.nrsweb.org for a description of the purposes and structure of the NRS and the ESL functioning level descriptors.)
A standardized assessment procedure (a test or performance assessment) must be used to measure level gains, but the choice of assessment tool is left up to each state. Some states have chosen one standardized test. Several states allow choices from a list of approved tests. Most states currently use BEST Oral Interview, BEST Literacy, BEST Plus, or CASAS. (For information about these tests, see English Language Assessment Instruments for Adults Learning English.) Adult education and family literacy program staff must follow the assessment procedures in place in their states if the program receives federal funding.
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