Assessment of English learners, students who are developing English as an additional language, begins with enrollment in school. There is a series of language measures, defined by each state, that determines the status of students’ English language proficiency – including their listening, speaking, reading, and writing – and consequently, their eligibility for language support services. Once identified as English learners, large-scale assessment of English language proficiency proceeds on an annual basis. Ongoing classroom assessment is interwoven into instruction to support English learners’ language development in English and, at times, the students’ home language.
With English learners, assessment involves the planning, collection, analysis, and interpretation of information related to the students’ simultaneous learning of language and content. It is a complex process as there must be consideration for English learners’ language development, measured by language proficiency assessment, in conjunction with their conceptual development, measured by content assessment. This potential pool of rich information generated from assessment of language development and content knowledge can serve to leverage the linguistic and cultural assets of English learners.
Federal and state policy that stems from legislation and litigation impacts the assessment of English learners tied to district and school accountability. At times, these policies counter the theoretical and evidence base of effective practices for these students. While policy for English learners at times points to the usefulness of state-level decisions, sociocultural theory favours assessment practices that capture interaction among students and between students and teachers. Ultimately, teachers and school leaders need to reconcile the tension between policy and practice by using multiple measures that have been designed for English learners for educational decision making.