Assessing learners' language skills

What will you learn in this part

The aims of this part are to:

  • reflect on the language competences of the students
  • reflect on guiding questions for planning language assessments
  • know some of the core terms relating to language assessment in the context of plurilingualism
  • get to know the value of observing and assessing language competences.

Reflect on the key ideas

My position on language assessment

Part 1

Think of your (future) teaching practice and read the following statements. Try to take a stance for each statement and find arguments that support your position.

  • I think assessing the language competences of my students is very important.
  • For me it is easy to assess my students’ language competences.
  • I could assess the language competences of the majority of my students straight away.
  • I am able to assess my students’ language competences in their first language(s).
  • Assessing language competences is within my area of responsibility.
  • When assessing language competences, the entire linguistic repertoire of a student should be considered.
  • I encourage my students to use all of their languages in class.

Part 2

Take a look at the following list of challenges encountered when assessing multilingual students:

  • scarcity of appropriate assessment tools (are there assessment tools for all languages represented in your classroom and do they meet the quality standards required for reliability and validity?)
  • lack of financial resources
  • lack of articulated programme philosophies or mission statements about English-language learners
  • difficulty attracting and retaining bilingual and bicultural staff
  • lack of community awareness of the importance of the issue

Now think of the situation at your school. Which of these challenges do you encounter when assessing your students? Are there challenges at your school that are not mentioned here? What changes to testing, assessment and evaluation formats should be made by education decision makers and policy makers to improve the situation? What could you do personally?

Source: National Association for the Education of Young Children (2005): Screening and Assessment of Young English-Language Learners.

Before starting to assess

Take a look at the following image:

What thoughts come to your mind if you look at the image and think of the language competences of your multilingual students?

If it is difficult to imagine students, you can use these learner profiles.

Imagine you would like to assess the language competences of one or more of your students.

  • What factors should you take into account before starting the assessment?


  • Getting to know your students
  • Guiding questions on language assessing
  • Myths and misconceptions about bilingual students' educational development


Getting to know your students

Part 1

Take a look at this languages tree and fill in your ideas. What do you know about the languages of the students in your classroom or in the learner profiles? How could you assess their language competences?

  • Think of the languages spoken by the students and insert them next to the roots.
  • Which language competences do you think can and should be assessed? Which competences are important for the students in your class? Are there language competences that are more important than others? Note down your ideas in the treetop.
  • Think of instruments for assessing language competences you are familiar with. Write them down next to the magnifying glass. Have you already used one of these instruments? Which experiences have you had with them?

Part 2

Think of one of your plurilingual students and take a look at the language cloverleaf.

  • What is the level of your student's language competence in each area?
  • Colour the leaves as indicated on the worksheet. Use the corresponding colour to visualise the language competences of your student.
  • What occurs to you if you look at the languages cloverleaf now? How do the competences of your student differ for each area?


Guiding questions on language assessing

Take a look at the basic questions on language assessing.

  • Try to answer the questions based on your practical experience and your theoretical knowledge.
  • Now read the part guiding questions on language assessing and compare it to your answers.
  • What would you add to the guiding questions?

Read more on language assessing in multilingual settings (Lengeyl, 2010).


Myths and misconceptions about bilingual students' educational development

There are plenty of myths and misconceptions about bilingual students' development. They are often maintained by the media, authorities, teachers and parents. Read a summary by Cummins (2001) about the typical claims and counter-claims about:

  • academic language development
  • reading
  • bilingual instruction
  • assessment.

Similar myths and responses discussed in a blog text (Westlund 2015): ELL myths from the trenches.


  • What claims are still common and exist in your country and possibly in your own thinking?
  • What can you as teachers do to spread information that is based on current research evidence?


Header image based on "Vents in a brick barn" by Jonathan Billinger (CC BY 2.0).