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Perspectives on Assessment in Adult ESOL Instruction

Volume 1: Chapter Six

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In the context of increasing concerns over the assessment of outcomes and learner progress in recent years, Carol H. Van Duzer and Robert Berdan provide an overview of the state of assessment in adult ESOL programs in the U.S. As the authors point out, recent legislation, especially the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998, has focused on measurable indicators of educational gains, including demonstrated improvement in skill levels of reading, writing and speaking English. Under WIA, a National Reporting System will be developed to include a common set of outcome measures, as well as a system for collecting data, and standard guidelines and definitions. The fundamental question of what skills and proficiencies are to be assessed remains to be determined. Van Duzer and Berdan review the tools for assessment currently available in adult ESOL, noting alternative assessment options. The authors discuss the strengths and weakness of instruments such as the Adult Basic Learning Examination (ABLE), the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE), the Adult Language Assessment Scales (A-LAS), the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System (CASAS), the Basic English Skills Test (BEST), and the New York State Placement Test for English as a Second Language Adult Students (NYS Place).

Given the complexity of assessment in adult ESOL, the authors look for insights from assessment reforms in the K-12 system and abroad, with examples from Canada, Australia, and Europe. The authors conclude that assessment initiatives are but one component in larger instructional systems and that assessment reform must begin with content standards, from which curriculum, instruction and assessment can be developed. Van Duzer and Berdan offer a set of recommendations for policy, practice and research. They point out that agreement needs to be reached as to what constitutes literacy development among ESOL learners and how it can be measured for accountability purposes as learners progress. Further, they note that greater consideration must be given to the long time that adults need to gain fluency in another language and that tests must include sufficient benchmarks to mark their gradual progress. Additional resources must also be allocated to facilitate assessment implementation. Practitioners, the authors add, need to be aware of national initiatives, such as Equipped for the Future, the "What Works" Study for Adult ESL Student Evaluation, and TESOL's Task Force on Program Standards, that can shed light on instruction and assessment. With respect to research, the authors point to questions previously raised by the field, including the immediate and long-term impact to be expected from adult ESOL programs, ways that these programs can capture what learners know and have learned, and the relationship of measures of program impact to increases in English language proficiency.

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The Annual Review was published in October 1999.
The ISBN is 0-787-94741-5
Price: $37

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