New Year Planning: EAL Assessment Frameworks

You and your learners are enjoying the 'home straight'. I shall never forget the smell of my primary-school playing field at this time of year.

Or perhaps you've already finished. (Hey, look at my surname. I may be a southerner for now, but I wouldn't ignore you Scots). 

This is an excellent time to be planning for the new school year, which is why my Mantra Lingua colleagues have been telling you about the amazing array of welcoming goodies on offer: Admissions App, Welcome Pack, Talking Class Poster... and that magical Welcome Booklet, which translates information into whichever language you need. I blogged the other day about the Translation App, which increases even more your scope for sending any information to parents. Because, as I previously wrote, it's really important to reach out to parents effectively. And sometimes a bit of language support - easily provided by Mantra - can help you to do that.

Settling everyone in, and beginning to help their parents to help them and you, sets the groundwork in place for your work over the year. And one of your jobs will be to do some assessing. This post has a reminder of the situation with EAL Assessment. Many professionals are unhappy with those bands. 'Sketchy' is one word used. (Kamil Trzebiatowski makes the same point I did about subcategories being a good idea within a term that encompasses such a wide range; but he goes on to point out some real problems with them).

There are published assessment frameworks to help you (though follow the link above to read Trzebiatowski's point about feeling that a 'one-size-fits-all' approach wouldn't fit any individual setting). I recently had a look at two of those frameworks, those produced by NALDIC and NASSEA. As it's a sunny Sunday afternoon and the cat's asleep next to me (yes, it's a hard life), I thought I'd take some time out and tell you about my impressions of them. 

The systems are fairly similar, as they would be. The NALDIC one is really concise and clear. It's very user-friendly. You can print it quickly and get a speedy impression. 

The NASSEA system comes in a rather unwieldy book that you'll need to order. The reason for this, though, is that it's full of suggestions and advice for EAL work. It's a resource that I recommend having. It continually refers to resources at which Mantra Lingua excels. Dual-language books, use of sound files, making minibooks with audio… Sound familiar? You're in the right place, in other words.

The NALDIC framework had a 'bureaucratic' feel, which may be helpful for the purposes of unambiguous clarity. For instance, descriptors within each band have their own little code. This would probably give you confidence: the more specific the better. NASSEA also has descriptors within each band, but they aren't coded. It comes across as slightly less militarily defined, even though the descriptors are extremely detailed and painstaking. I didn't find it terribly easy to refer between NASSEA's pages.

NASSEA organises the framework into ‘steps’ 1-8 (9 is mastery – fluent – which you are welcome to use for data purposes, recording numbers of fluent bilingual learners). These steps roughly compare to CEFR, a cross-European measure. Instead, NALDIC uses the DfE Proficiency in English scales (as a reminder, these are A to E, or New to English to Fluent). This seems more intuitive and logical for the purposes of assessing for the census. It means that teachers won’t have to do any converting. Then again, you might feel that those levels aren't worth much IRL.

Anticipating this feeling, NALDIC is clear that one pupil may well span different categories in different areas. The teacher must draw one overall category, but is enabled to make specific targets. With NALDIC, it’s extremely clear how to use the framework in a practical way.

Crucially, both frameworks seem to favour in-class assessment rather than formal assessment. Both make the point that ‘a ‘test’ is one example of an assessment tool’, to use the words of the NASSEA book. The NALDIC document takes pains to describe the differences between summative (an exam) and formative (ongoing) assessment. The NASSEA framework is ‘not designed to be used as a test’. It’s a ‘formative assessment tool’ to make a ‘best fit picture’ which ‘takes time to establish and should involve sampling and observations over time… should also be informed by thorough knowledge of the pupil, personally and academically.’

This supports one of Trzebiatowski's points about assessment being an ongoing project. The NASSEA writers say explicitly that formal testing of New Arrivals is a bad idea; it ‘rarely yields accurate results, as the pupil needs time to tune in to the ways in which English is used in the new environment’ (p12). It goes on (p13) to discuss ways of observing. Seriously, get this book.

The NALDIC model forms use examples drawn from class and school life, not drawn from any kind of specific EAL assessment: ‘Has started to participate more in class’, ‘Pronunciation similar to most other pupils’ in class’, ‘Leila is quite good at deconstructing longer words’, ‘In Geography she….’, ‘Can label pictures well now if he has a bank of words to choose from’, ‘Knows commonly used ICT vocabulary’. We're getting the idea: formative assessment, drawn from many sources. Think different lessons and teachers, playground behaviour and so on. It's not a quick job.

Such a lot of EAL insight here!

My advice: get both, for slightly different reasons.

Well, that was actually a bit more intense than I'd anticipated. Time for a cup of tea. Happy Sunday.