Assessing EAL learners

For EAL learners, assessment, both summative and formative (including assessment for learning), is complex owing to the need to consider both achievement in the curriculum and English language acquisition.

As with all other pupils, all EAL learners will be assessed within curriculum areas to provide information on next steps in learning and progression.

Ofsted have stated that ‘The progress and attainment of all EAL pupils, including those who are advanced bilingual learners, should be closely monitored so they are doing as well as they can.  The cognitive challenge should remain appropriately high and not be reduced because the English language demand has been reduced.  EAL learners’ conceptual thinking may be in advance of their ability to speak English.’

Assessing EAL learners follows the same principles as for other learners. However, in order to provide reliable data, there are additional factors that must be considered. These include: 

  • Assessments need to be sensitive to the age, language and culture of the EAL learner. For example, some assessments may be based around experiences which are culturally unfamiliar.
  • Any criteria and tools used in assessment should be accessible to all. Teachers need to consider how accessible assessment criteria and tools are in relation to their EAL learners.
  • Limited ability in English language may mask abilities in other areas.
  • Assessment is a continuous process and needs to be embedded in normal classroom practice. 
  • Assessment should provide opportunities for learners to reflect on their own learning.
  • Assessment is about identifying what learners can do in order to determine next steps in learning.
  • Additional background information is required for EAL learners in order to contextualise assessment data and provide reliable information.
  • Norm-reference assessments are standardised on a largely monocultural and monolingual sample and thus are less robust for EAL learners. 

Teachers of beginner EAL learners need to provide cognitively challenging tasks that are curriculum related. In order to do this, they will need to consider the EAL learner’s level of English, their previous experience of different areas of the curriculum and their attainment in different areas of the curriculum. 

It is important to recognise that all EAL learners will already have a wide repertoire in their home language/s. They may have a high level of linguistic skill including literacy, both schooled and unschooled.

Measuring the progress of EAL learners is complex. In order to catch up with age related expectations, EAL learners need to make accelerated progress over several years.