The Internet TESLJournal

Assessing ELLs in ESL or Mainstream Classrooms: Quick Fixes for Busy Teachers

By Laureen A. Fregeau and Robert D. Leier
lfregeau{at} and rdl0002{at}
University of South Alabama (Mobile, Alabama), Auburn University (Auburn, Alabama, USA)


One result of the Lau vs. Nichols 1974 Supreme Court Decision is that students who do not speak English as their first language must be provided instructional and assessment modifications so they have the opportunity to be academically successful (Ovando, Collier, & Combs, 2006). NCLB (No Child Left Behind) requires that ELLs receive the same high quality content that mainstream students learn (Gottlieb, 2006). Accomplishing these goals is a challenge for teachers who are typically not prepared in how to accommodate English Language Learners (ELLs) in assessment or instruction.

Many (ELLs) are now mainstreamed into regular classrooms. Increasingly mainstream teachers are faced with teaching students who speak English as their second language along with their native English speaking students. According to NCLB, the teacher is responsible for teaching grade level content to ELLs and for assessing ELLs on content areas. Busy mainstream classroom teachers are often overburdened with many responsibilities that leave them little time to prepare special accommodations for ELLs. Despite this, mainstream teachers are responsible for preparing ELLs to take standardized and teacher-made tests and assessments.

Taking a test can be a very frustrating experience for an English Language Learner. Many ELL students may know the content but are unable to do well on formal examinations designed for native English speakers. This article will provide practical suggestions on how busy mainstream and ESL teachers can accommodate ELLs in assessments in ESL and mainstream classrooms. Simple strategies will be described for modifying existing tests for ELLs, preparing Ells to take tests and incorporating other forms of assessments to determine student progress. *See note.

Easy Accommodations for Assessing ELLs

ELL students benefit most from having assessment accommodations in English rather than assessment translations in their language. Standardized tests and high school graduation exams are usually given in English. Unless your state makes tests available in the ELL's second language, it is important for ELLs to be practiced and prepared to take these tests in English.
ESL and mainstream teachers can have a difficult time evaluating and assessing the progress of ELL students in their classrooms. Language can be an assessment obstacle, yet there are some simple accommodations busy teachers can employ.

Some general accommodations that fit into both instruction and assessment are:

Simple Strategies: Prepare Students to Take Tests

Relax, there is no need to create a special test for your ELLs. A number of adjustments can be made to already-existing assessments, including tests that will help ELLs perform better.

Simple Strategies: Accommodate Students Taking Tests

Mainstream classroom teachers sometimes do not have much time to make special accommodations for ELLs on tests. Here are some strategies that require little teacher time:

Give the ELL students more time to complete the test. This is the easiest of all accommodations.

Simple Strategies: Accommodate Using Existing Tests

Teacher-made tests and assessments can be quickly adjusted to accommodate ELLs. Accommodations can be selected according the English level of the ELL. Here are examples for quick adjustments for multiple choice, matching, short answer, discussion/essay, fill in the blank, and true/false tests:

Simple Strategies: Accommodate in Grading Assessments

Accommodations in grading can be time-saving for teachers and stress-reducing for ELLs. There are a number of grading strategies the mainstream teacher can employ in accommodation including:

Simple Strategies: Incorporate Other Forms of Assessment

Alternative assessments offer the mainstream and ESL teacher a better insight into the ELL's comprehension and language skill development than testing alone. Two such accommodations are:
Additional Suggestions for Alternative Assessments Teachers who are able to invest additional time in assessment of ELLs might try some of the following:

Incorporate dialogue journals, especially in English language arts and social studies and for the incorporation of reading and writing language objectives. Dialogue journals are a low-stress, high-interest tool for assessment. Long-term progress is easily assessed since dialogue journals are a permanent and ongoing record of language skills.

Incorporate project assessments, especially in science, math, and social studies, although project assessment and be adapted to all subject areas. Project assessments can easily incorporate the four language domains of reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Incorporate oral presentations and demonstrations that offer an alternative for students who are at a higher level in the speaking domain but at a lower level in reading and writing domains.

Incorporate portfolio assessments that will be a source of data for a continuous evaluation of progress (Gonzalez, Yawkey and Minaya-Rowe, 2005).

Incorporate Authentic Assessments (real world challenges) that relate to the life of the students such as letter or journal writing, completing or demonstrating a task from the world outside the classroom (such as an art artifact or report based on researching a topic), or reading or writing an online friendship page (Haley, Marjorie, and Austin, Theresa, 2004; Diaz-Rico, 2008; O'Malley and Pierce, 2004).   



School systems need mainstream classroom and ESL teachers to indicate on progress reports that their ELL students are receiving appropriately accommodated instruction and assessment. Reporting ESL accommodations can be critical to receiving federal funding tied to NCLB. Quality education for ELLs has become a priority for the US Department of Education – especially for the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA, 2007).

Teachers are now required to include in lessons and assessments not only the traditional content objectives but also language objectives if they have ELLs in their classroom. These objectives need to be for four domains: reading, writing, listening and speaking. The ESL teacher, collaborating with the mainstream teacher can help the mainstream classroom teacher to insert language objectives into their lessons and assessments.

Mainstream teachers must know the ELL's proficiency level in order to accommodate ELLs in instruction and assessment. ELLs are usually tested by an ESL teacher using a state or district selected placement assessment. Mainstream teachers should ask for a copy of the test results, specifically the ELL's levels in the four language domains of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. These levels will help the teacher know what accommodations to make for instruction and assessments. Ask the ESL teacher if your state or district has a rubric guide that shows what to expect for each level and language domain.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XIV, No. 2, February 2008