Why is it so important to assess EAL learners regularly?

Research shows that it can take language learners around 2 years to develop a conversational level proficiency in a language. For EAL learners this would mean 2 years of receiving language rich input and vocabulary support. This level of proficiency, known as BICS  (basic interpersonal communication skills) would enable an EAL learner to interact with their teacher and peers, develop friendships and cope well in social situations but it would not mean that they are able to access the curriculum. In order to develop CALP (cognitive academic language proficiency) research shows that this can take much longer - on average 5 - 7 years. CALP is the language level that learners need to be able to succeed academically and access a curriculum in a different language to their first language. Jim Cummins developed the idea of BICS and CALP to help us to understand both how complex learning a language is, but particularly the difference between social competence and academic competence.

The fact that it can take such a long time to learn English means that it is unreasonable of us to expect students to meet "age related expectations" or the same assessment targets as their peers. Not only is it unrealistic but it can be demoralising for the student, their families and also for the class teacher who may feel progress is slow. The reality is that learning a language and chasing a moving target is a difficult thing to do.

This is why it is so important to assess EAL learners on a specific EAL assessment that baselines their starting point and monitors their language proficiency progress over time. This is the the only way to monitor whether they are making progress in school, whether interventions are working, whether quality first teaching is effective or whether changes need to be made.

Other assessments that are not specifically designed for EAL learners such as CATs Tests or Reading Age Tests can lead to further confusion as they are often culturally remote to the student or they are testing skills the child doesn't yet possess in the first language - using a computer keyboard or reading for example.

The best kind of assessment for EAL learners is one that is standardised, this means it is the same each time and shows progress easily over a period of time. EAL STAR assessment does this, we are proud to have developed  the only EAL assessment platform on the market that is intuitive and knows when a child is struggling and ends the test at the right point for their proficiency. When they resit the test 6 weeks later you will be able to see how much further they progress through the test and the improvement in accuracy within their answers too. This means that language targets can easily be set for students and shared with teachers, making their learning journey more personalised.