I think one of the main with distinguishing between language and content is that we very often forget that just because someone doesn’t have uh full native proficiency in a language, that they might know an awful lot about a subject or a content area. Um, for example, if – is we go over seas and we don’t speak the local language, we feel very helpless – we feel very much like an ESL student except that on top of it we’re an adult. Um and I’ve worked with some teachers who are really wonderful about that. The issue is not when you get a child in kindergarten who doesn’t speak a language; it’s when a child comes in uh in later years. I worked with a teacher in Massachusetts and she – actually she specialized in refugee kids. She had a lot of kids who had some schooling or a lot of schooling or very little schooling, but they new a lot about content areas. And she would approach assessment of content areas in – in very interesting ways allowing students to um draw pictures or demonstrate um – even pointing at what they were talking about in – you know, what – if she said, you know, what part of the – what part of the rainforest has – you know, is – is most important. They could, you know, point to whatever part of it it is. See I don’t even know the content area. Um but just using (Interruption) Right. But just using um different ways to get at the content area that don’t rely on oral proficiency or written proficiency or – and so on. Just to – to get at the students real knowledge.

I think that’s a very interesting question because um – I think it’s very interesting to talk about accommodations for ESL students because I think we make accommodations for all students in a classroom depending on their certain learning style or how they uh prefer – prefer to express themselves um and I think uh we need to treat – treat ESL students in the same ways. Uh, for example, some students might have a very good writing proficiency because of how they were educated in their home country and um less good oral proficiency. This doesn’t mean we should never assess them in oral efficiency, but when it comes to a content area, we should make sure that they’re being assessed in a way that shows their knowledge of a content area and that we don’t get all hung up on a certain kind of assessment, you know, it must be written, they must answer these 10 questions in full sentences, in grammatical English. I’d love to see native speakers of English doing that frankly.

I think the first would be – I think the first way to work better with ESL students is to separate yourself from what you’re doing as a teacher and what you like to do as a teacher and ask another teacher to take your test. Perhaps an English teacher – um this is something when I was teaching assessment that I always recommended to my students, and they were always quite sheepish when they realized that their directions were not very clear and that if you had not been trained in, you know, Miss Malone’s way of giving directions, you did not do very well on the tests. That’s the first part I think all teachers need to look at, how they structure their tests and whether or not they’re uh comprehensible to anyone, never mind a non-native speaker of English. Um another is that I think it’s very important for teachers to partner and I think there’s an increasing uh use of the buddy system, or partnering, or mentoring. Uh, for example, a science teacher working with the ESL specialist and going to them and saying, “I need assistance in working with these students. How can I make my tests – how could I let my tests show how well I’m teaching my students?” And to twist it around rather then saying, “How can I let my students show what they can do, but how can I show how good of a teacher I am?” Um and, you know, there are a lot of other ways that we assess students in the classroom, not just through tests. You know if you look at a chemistry classroom, chemistry has a laboratory aspect to it and I would hope that students can really show their knowledge in doing an experiment and completing it in ways that it doesn’t require you to uh respond to one of four multiple choice questions in a lab report.

Well, let’s start with classroom. I think the most important thing to consider in any assessment, whether it’s a formal test or a short exercise, is “Does the student understand what they are suppose to do?” Anyone who’s ever taught a class or written a test or looked at results has said, “Gee, this um – students didn’t actually do what I intended them to do” and, you know, it was our fault as students. I think now teachers are much more willing to take responsibility and say, “Oh, I wasn’t clear.” Um, I think that’s the first thing you can do for ESL students. Um, make sure that they know what they’re suppose to do and make sure that if the directions are clear, then you can get at the content. But if you don’t know what you’re supposed to do, how can you possibly answer a question correctly?

Oh, cultural bias in – in assessment of any kind is – is a real issue. For example, I think – there are a lot of different cultures that our students come from and we want to make sure that we’re not making them uncomfortable by asking them to do certain thing like an oral report or um – a famous example is I um – when I was in college I had a Spanish teacher and she always used this as an example in her methods class. She said – um she had a student – I don’t even remember the culture at this point, but it was a culture where it was very disrespectful to look someone – like a teacher in the eye. And this was a very hands on, warm, fuzzy teacher, you know, and um she would – she would always kind of grab the student’s chin and make her look at – at this teacher in the eye and um – she finally talked to the student about it because she said, you know, you look down, you mumble, I can’t tell what you’re saying, I don’t know if you’re learning anything. And she basically said, “Well, I couldn’t possibly look you in the eye, you’re my teacher.” And um she was very sheepish about this and she felt that – um, so of course, we’ve all hear it a million times in our methods class, but it was very important that we understand that and that she understood that as a teacher, that um very often having a 5-minute conversation with a student helps you understand where they’re coming from culturally um and how to accommodate that or deal with that in the classroom in an appropriate way, rather then just assuming that they’re being rude.

I think equity and equality are very different things. I think that, in this country anyway, we don’t – I don’t think there’s any two people that you treat exactly the same. Um I think it’s important to have standards for your class, criteria that you expect your students to meet that are very clear to them and that they have a variety of ways of – of meeting these standards. Now there are some standards that – ways of meeting them from which you cannot budge, such as um a certain classroom assessment. Everyone may have to take that in the same way, sitting in a desk. And, you know, it depends on the age of the child, it depends on their experience, um equity doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing for everyone. It means the right things for the right people in a transparent way such that people do not feel that it is unequal.



…about what is often called alternative assessment. And I – I really don’t think alternative assessment is al – is as alternative as it use to be anymore. I think alternative assessment is a part of most classroom teachers lives and, in fact, is often a part of um many high stakes assessment, and I think that’s a wonderful thing. Assessment should mirror instruction. Assessment should not be um something that’s so separate from what you’re learning that it feels very different. If you’ve ever walked into a test and felt, “Gosh this has nothing to do with what I’ve been learning for the past week, or 9 weeks, or 12 years,” there’s something wrong either with what you’ve been learning or with the assessment. Um good assessment should ask for the kind of tasks that will mirror what students have to do in real life.

Um the differences between uh large-scale standardized assessments and classroom-based authentic or alternative assessment, they’re used for der – very different purposes. The most important thing an assessment is knowing why you are performing that assessment at that time with that population. So really a standardized test – first of all it can build from a lot of authentic classroom-based assessment, but really a standardized test is um used for a very specific purpose, usually for a very specific audience, um to make certain decisions, whereas authentic assessments tend to be used for different purposed perhaps leading up to a standardized assessment, but perhaps not for as high-stakes purposes. Now what I can say about standardized assessment is that they tend to be extremely reliable. Validity is a whole other story. Um on the other hand, classroom-based assessments have a reputation for being extremely valid and not as reliable and that’s a problem. However, we can address the problem of reliability in classroom-based assessments. For example, in Massachusetts um there’s – we’ve developed – we developed a few years ago an assessment called “The Massachusetts English Language Assessments/Oral.” Um and it’s an oral proficiency observation instrument used in the classroom. It is used in place of um a highly used standardized oral assessment for teachers who wish to use it. And we – it has .1 – .81 reliability, which is extremely high for a classroom-based assessment. So I – I think you can have reliability and validity in classroom-based assessments and you can have reliability in standardized assessments, and you need to decide how much of a tradeoff you’re going to make between reliability and validity for that purpose.

Demonstrating content knowledge when you’re not perhaps able to demonstrate your content knowledge in traditional ways – teachers can look at a lot of ways, and I think they need to look at many ways for many different students. Um some students can draw pictures if they’re at low levels of proficiency. Some students can’t draw pictures regardless of their proficiency, so we can’t just use that across the board. We can use graphic designers, we can use something as simple as pointing to the object in question, um designing it maybe – talking about its characteristics rather then putting that into paragraph form um because if we’re really looking at content, we want to know that the student knows the parts of the earthworm and not that they can put it in a pretty paragraph with an introduction and conclusion. Um we can also look at um portfolios, student observations. Sometimes you can learn more from listening to a student explaining something to another student then you can by putting them on the spot in the classroom when they’re very self-conscious about speaking.

My greatest concern about alternative assessment is the lack of professional development that often accompanies it. We very often um hand over a new kind assessment instrument to teachers and say, “Here, run with it,” and there’s no iterated reliability, teachers are using it in different ways, it’s not even the same instrument being used in two classrooms that are next door to each other that are the same grade and perhaps similar students, and that’s a real problem. If we are going to use alternative assessment, we have to use it responsibly with a clear outline of a professional development plan and follow up um to give teachers support they need to use this appropriately.

Um (clears throat) well, there’s a couple. The first is um – I think we really need to look at professional development in general for all teachers um who are dealing with (Interruption) It’s because you’re so fascinating. (Interruption) Alternative assessment is a very powerful tool and it’s a wonderful tool and it’s often being used very well, but again making sure that teachers have the kind of professional development they need, and the kind of support, and the kind of realism about alternative assessment. I think very often um because our schools are so under funded and we need so much, it’s very easy to say, “Oh, let’s go with portfolios,” and we don’t have a good 5-year plan for getting teachers up and running with portfolios. We’re telling new teachers how to use portfolios for making sure everyone’s on the same page, um even as simple as how to collect portfolios physically and put them in a safe place. Um we need to look at alternative assessment with the same seriousness that we treat standardized assessment and make sure that we’re giving our teachers the kind of resources, professional development, and working together uh so that it can be used appropriately. (Interruption) Standardized testing is national level.

No, I think it is important to note that when al – when assess – when teachers receive proper professional development and they work together and they’re given opportunities to work together, alternative assessment can be very reliable and extremely valid. However, if we don’t give teachers those opportunities, alternative assessment is not nearly as useful as it can be.

Well I think all teachers need to understand all kinds of tests that their students take regardless of whether they develop their own multiple-choice tests. If you are administering a standardized test, you should understand the basic premise of it and how it’s been developed. It doesn’t mean, you know, you have to be an expert or a large stakes test developer, but it’s very important so that you give it to students with the attitude of “This is an important test, this is why.” If students have questions about it they can ask you. (clears throat) Excuse me. In terms of developing multiple-choice tests for the classroom, really teachers need not only a class in how to develop tests such as that, but on-going assistance in making sure that they’re not straying from the mold. I use to teach a class in assessment and that included um a unit in how to develop multiple-choice tests and the best ways to do that, etc um and I wouldn’t tomorrow go out and develop a test like that and feel fully confident. I would check with people, um I would check with assessment professionals, I would have my colleagues check it over, and I’d certainly administer it to a few people before I let it loose on a class.
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