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EAL assessment frameworks, models and useful documents for classroom teachers

Currently teachers are required to use the National Curriculum English attainment levels when assessing the EAL development of bilingual pupils. However most teachers find that this is not enough. Some schools use 'Assessing Pupil Progress' materials to link classroom assessment to NC levels. Many more schools use a form of EAL scales to assess EAL learners' development in English.

Many of the EAL assessment systems used in schools in England are loosely based on Hester's (1990) Stages of English. These stages cover aspects of bilingual children's language development in English and reflect an approach to learning in which young children acquire English language through exposure to it in a welcoming environment, for example

  • Stage One - new to English
  • Stage Two - becoming familiar with English
  • Stage Three - becoming confident as a user of English
  • Stage Four - a very fluent user of English in most social and learning contexts

Each stage describes language development in broad strokes. Although they are not age-related, they often appear to describe very young children, with references to 'songs and rhymes', 'echoing words and phrases' and 'simple stories' heard read aloud. In many local authorities 'Stages of English' have been developed to highlight aspects of bilingual pupils reading, writing, speaking and listening development.

Professional experience in school over the past thirty years has shown EAL development is a very complex phenomenon. In our multiethnic and multilingual school population we have plurilingual pupils who may be fluent in a community language but their level of English language competence is close to that of their mother tongue English speaking peers. At the same time there are other pupils who are at the very beginning stage of learning English at the point of arrival at school. Between these two types there are countless others who at various stage of learning to use English for academic and social purposes.

For pupils who begin their English language learning when they enter school, many aspects of their EAL development are different and more challenging than that faced by their English speaking peers learning English as a National Curriculum subject. For instance, they will have to grapple with everyday vocabulary and pronunciation, something that their peers would have attained through experience at home and in school. Beyond that, there are the more demanding tasks of learning English grammar and social/academic rules of use which, if unassisted, can present formidable difficulties and can entail years of hit-and-miss efforts.

Teachers have found informal day-to-day assessment, e.g. talking to pupils about their work or marking their writing, is an important part of their teaching; the insight gained in this informal assessment can be used to work out the help pupils need in order to make progress with their curriculum work. This kind of assessment is referred to as formative assessment, also known as 'assessment for learning'. Formative assessment is carried out by teachers in the classroom and is directly concerned with improving pupils’ learning.

Recent research has shown that well-planned and pupil-oriented formative assessment can have a very beneficial effect on learning. Sensitive formative assessment of pupils’ classroom performance demands a high level of teacher awareness of pupil needs. Given the very diverse language experiences and language learning needs of the different groups of EAL pupils, teachers need to take account of not just the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the English language, e.g. vocabulary, pronunciation and word order, but also the even more complex and less ‘visible’ aspects of language use. These include social rules of language use (e.g. politeness and formality in context); use of literary and metaphoric language expressions for different purposes; subject specific ways of talking and writing; and established and 'taken-for granted' social ways of doing things through language in school and in the local community (e.g. collaborative talk in group tasks).

Our experience tells us that effective assessment of EAL development, particularly for formative purposes, requires specialist professional knowledge and practice. In order to support teachers in this task, in 2009 we developed a formative assessment framework for EAL learners known as the NALDIC descriptors.

NALDIC EAL Formative Descriptors

Introduction to NALDIC Formative descriptors

NALDIC EAL KS1 Formative descriptors

NALDIC EAL KS2 Formative descriptors

These KS1 and KS2 descriptors are intended for use in formative assessment by teachers. They relate to the day-to-day assessment of pupils' learning as part of teaching and using the insight gained from informal assessment to help pupils make progress with their curriculum work. More specifically, they are designed to assist teachers in:

  • recognising the language accomplishments made by many of the EAL learners-users as they move through the various stages in the long process of developing English language competence in ordinary curriculum and school contexts
  • gaining an overview of the long term EAL developmental trajectories; this professional knowledge of EAL development is vitally important in any attempt to assist pupils to make progress with their language development through the curriculum on a day-to-day basis
  • developing professional expertise in noticing pupil EAL accomplishment, diagnosing language learning needs,
  • and offering informed guidance to lead pupils to achieve their next level of learning.

Teachers have told us that they find the NALDIC descriptors very useful in their day to day teaching. We welcome feedback on your experience which should be sent to assessment@naldic.org.uk .

EAL learners and assessment - a NALDIC view

We believe that learners of English as an additional language are entitled to a fair and meaningful process of assessment which pays attention to their distinctive needs and supports their language learning development. We also believe that the development of a fair and meaningful process of assessment is key to any coherent policy for the raising achievement and genuine equality in education.

Given the increasingly linguistically and ethnically diverse school population in Europe we believe that establishing a national EAL assessment framework is a necessary investment in the education system, and that short-term or less thorough measures would be a waste of resources.

Position Statement on Assessment of EAL (45kb)

A position statement on EAL assessment (NALDIC, 2003)