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Authentic assessment in efl teaching

Most English teachers constantly encounter the problem of arousing and maintaining student motivation to learn the target language, especially if learners are taught in a foreign language setting, where authentic language input may not be readily available outside the classroom. Most teachers strive to awake interest to this subject, try to diversify the tasks, use different methods and techniques in the classroom, and implementation of a rather new form of assessment can also play a big role in language skills development. For a long time teachers and program administrators have been struggled to identify appropriate procedures to assess the knowledge and abilities of ELL (English Language Learning) students. “The path has been difficult in part because of the need to identify varying levels of knowledge and proficiency in English and in part because the purposes of assessment with language minority students are so varied and complex. Assessment information is needed by administrators, teachers, staff developers, students, and parents to assist in determining appropriate program placements and instructional activities as well as in monitoring student progress”.

There can be seen a rapid expansion of interest in alternatives to traditional forms of assessment in education. The form of assessment used for both standardized testing and classroom assessment for as long as most educators can remember is the multiple-choice test. While this type of test has been a mainstay of educational programs, educators from all backgrounds have raised concerns about its usefulness as a primary measure of student achievement and are seeking alternatives through multiple forms of assessment. These educators are also seeking assessments that more closely resemble instructional activities in classrooms (Aschbacher P.R.).

Foreign language skills are necessity nowadays because of integration of our county into international community, so it is a very actual problem nowadays what should be done to reinforce students’ motivation and hence enhance teaching.

This work offers a general overview of available research literature, followed by some pedagogical implications to improve and develop assessment in the language classroom.

Definition of Assessment. Before giving some definitions of assessment we would begin with the following quotation: "Performance assessments call upon the examinee to demonstrate specific skills and competencies, that is, to apply the skills and knowledge they have mastered" (Richard J. Stiggins).

Alternative assessment consists of any method of finding out what a student knows or can do that is intended to show growth and inform instruction, and is an alternative to traditional forms of testing, namely, multiplechoice tests. Alternative assessment is by definition criterion-referenced and is typically authentic because it is based on activities that represent classroom and real-life settings.

“The increased interest in authentic assessment is based on two major issues: current assessment procedures do not assess the full range of essential student outcomes, and teachers have difficulty using the information gained for instructional planning. Educators have questioned “fill in the bubble” or multiple-choice tests because these forms of assessment are not adequate to assess the full range of higher-order thinking skills considered important in today’s curriculum. Further, these types of tests do not represent recent improvements in our understanding of what and how students learn. Multiple-choice tests, while objective and highly reliable for most students, have emphasized the assessment of discreet skills and do not contain authentic representations of classroom activities. The tests therefore lack the content validity considered important to ensure student interest and motivation during assessment. In their classrooms, students read interesting literature, write papers, integrate resource information with personal viewpoints, work on projects cooperatively, share information while summarizing their conclusions, and use information from one content area (like mathematics) to solve problems and display information on other content areas. Little of the knowledge and strategic processes needed to accomplish these tasks is captured in multiple-choice or single-answer tests” (J. Michael O’Malley, p. 2).

Teaching English we are mostly interested in innovations of assessment of English language learning students. “Accurate and effective assessment of language minority students is essential to ensure that ELL students gain access to instructional programs that meet their needs. The failure of assessment and instruction to interact effectively is most evident when inappropriate assessment approaches lead to inaccurate identification, improper program placements, inadequate monitoring of student progress, and the long-term failure of instruction. Conversely, appropriate assessment has the potential to ensure that these students are on course to becoming literate and able participants in English language classroom settings” (J. Michael O’Malley, p. 2).

With ELL students, assessment is far more complex and challenging than with native speakers of English. J. Michael O’Malley suggests six purposes assessment is used for with ELL students:

  1. Screening and identification: to identify students eligible for special language and content area support programs.
  2. Placement: to determine the language proficiency and content area competencies of students in order to recommend an appropriate educational program.
  3. Reclassification or exit: to determine if as student has gained the language skills and content area competencies needed to benefit from instruction in grade-level classrooms, (i.e.from all-English programs not specifically designed to address the needs of ELL students).
  4. Monitoring student progress: to review student language and content area learning in classrooms.
  5. Program evaluation: to determine the effects of federal, state, or local instructional programs.
  6. Accountability: to guarantee that students attain expected educational goals or standards, including testing for high school graduation.

J. Michael O’Malley maintains that traditional forms of assessment such as standardized tests are inappropriate for ELL students for a variety of reasons. Standardized tests use multiple-choice items, a format that may be unfamiliar to students with limited experience in U.S. public schools. Moreover, multiplechoice items assume a level of English language proficiency that ELL students may not have acquired. The subtle distinctions made on various items for vocabulary, word analysis, reading, and listening subtests may produce information on what the student does not know but little information about what the student does know. This gives the teacher an incomplete picture of student needs and strengths. The language components of standardized tests mainly assess reading and vocabulary knowledge and ignore progress in written and oral language, important components of language-based instructional programs. Standardized tests in content areas, such as math and science, may not assess what ELL students know because of the complexity of the language in which the questions are asked. These tests have not been effective in assessing the higher-order thinking skills students use in solving problems, analyzing texts, or evaluating ideas.

By "traditional assessment" (TA) Jon Mueller “is referring to the forced-choice measures of multiple-choice tests, fill-in-theblanks, true-false, matching and the like that have been and remain so common in education. Students typically select an answer or recall information to complete the assessment. These tests may be standardized or teachercreated. They may be administered locally or statewide, or internationally”.

Behind traditional and authentic assessments is a belief that the primary mission of schools is to help develop productive citizens. That is the essence of most mission statements. From this common beginning, the two perspectives on assessment diverge. Essentially, TA is grounded in educational philosophy that adopts the following reasoning and practice:

  1. A school's mission is to develop productive citizens;
  2. To be a productive citizen an individual must possess a certain body of knowledge and skills;
  3. Therefore, schools must teach this body of knowledge and skills;
  4. To determine if it is successful, the school must then test students to see if they acquired the knowledge and skills.

In the TA model, the curriculum drives assessment. "The" body of knowledge is determined first. That knowledge becomes the curriculum that is delivered. Subsequently, the assessments are developed and administered to determine if acquisition of the curriculum occurred.

In contrast, authentic assessment (AA) springs from the following reasoning and practice:

  1. A school's mission is to develop productive citizens;
  2. To be a productive citizen, an individual must be capable of performing meaningful tasks in the real world;
  3. Therefore, schools must help students become proficient at performing the tasks they will encounter when they graduate;
  4. To determine if it is successful, the school must then ask students to perform meaningful tasks that replicate real world challenges to see if students are capable of doing so.

Thus, in AA, assessment drives the curriculum. That is, teachers first determine the tasks that students will perform to demonstrate their mastery, and then a curriculum is developed that will enable students to perform those tasks well, which would include the acquisition of essential knowledge and skills.

We can also learn something about what AA is by looking at the other common names for this form of assessment. For example, AA is sometimes referred to as:

  1. Performance Assessment (or Performance-based) -so-called because students are asked to perform meaningful tasks. This is the other most common term for this type of assessment. Some educators distinguish performance assessment from AA by defining performance assessment as performance-based but with no reference to the authentic nature of the task). For these educators, authentic assessments are performance assessments using real-world or authentic tasks or contexts.
  2. Alternative Assessment so-called because AA is an alternative to traditional assessments.
  3. Direct Assessment so-called because AA provides more direct evidence of meaningful application of knowledge and skills. If a student does well on a multiplechoice test we might infer indirectly that the student could apply that knowledge in realworld contexts, but we would be more comfortable making that inference from a direct demonstration of that application.

So, the term authentic assessment is used to describe the multiple forms of assessment that reflect student learning, achievement, motivation, and attitudes on instructionally-relevant classroom activities. Examples of authentic assessment include performance assessment, portfolios, and student self assessment.

Performance assessment consists of any form of assessment in which the student constructs a response orally or in writing (Feuer and Fulton 1993; Herman, Aschbacher, and Winters 1992). The student response may be elicited by the teacher in formal or informal assessment contexts or may be observed during classroom instructional or noninstructional settings. Performance assessment requires students to "accomplish complex and significant tasks, while bringing to bear prior knowledge, recent learning, and relevant skills to solve realistic or authentic problems" (Herman, Achbacher, and Winters, p. 2). Students may be called on to use materials or perform hands-on activities in reaching solutions to problems. Examples are oral reports, writing samples, individual and group projects, exhibitions, and demonstrations.

Some of the characteristics of performance assessment are the following (adapted from Aschbacher 1991; Herman, Aschbacher, and Winters 1992):

  1. Constructed Response: students construct a response, provide an expanded response, engage in a performance, or create a product;
  2. Higher-order Thinking: the student typically uses higher levels of thinking in constructing responses to open-ended questions;
  3. Authenticity: tasks are meaningful, challenging, and engaging activities that mirror good instruction or other real-world contexts where the student is expected to perform;
  4. Integrative: the tasks call for integration of language skills and, in some cases, for integration of knowledge and skills across content areas;
  5. Process and Product: procedures and strategies for deriving the correct response or for exploring multiple solutions to complex tasks are often assessed as well the product or the "correct" answer;
  6. Depth Versus Breadth: performance assessments provide information in depth about a student's skills or mastery as contrasted with the breadth of coverage more typical of multiple-choice tests.

Performance assessment often requires teacher judgment of student responses. To aid in making the judgments accurate and reliable, a scoring scale referred to as a rubric is used, in which numerical values are associated with performance levels, such as 1 = Basic, 2 = Proficient, and 3 = Advanced. The criteria for each performance level must be precisely defined in terms of what the student actually does to demonstrate skill or proficiency at that level. One of the characteristics of performance assessment is that the criteria are made public and known in advance (Aschbacher 1991). Accordingly, students can participate in setting and using the criteria in selfassessment of their own performance.

Portfolio assessment is a systematic collection of student work that is analyzed to show progress over time with regard to instructional objectives (Valencia 1991). Examples of portfolio entries include writing samples, reading logs, drawings, audio or videotapes, and/or teacher and student comments on progress made by the student. One of the defining features of portfolio assessment is the involvement of students in selecting samples of their own work to show growth or learning over time.

Student self-assessment is a key element in authentic assessment and in selfregulated learning, "the motivated and strategic efforts of students to accomplish specific purposes" (Paris and Ayers 1994, p. 26). Selfassessment promotes direct involvement in learning and the integration of cognitive abilities with motivation and attitude toward learning. In becoming self-regulated learners, students make choices, select learning activities, and plan how to use their time and resources. They have the freedom to choose challenging activities, take risks, advance their own learning, and accomplish desired goals. Because students have control over their learning, they can decide how to use the resources available to them within or outside the classroom. Students who are self-regulated learners collaborate with other students in exchanging ideas, eliciting assistance when needed, and providing support to their peers. As they go about learning, these types of students construct meaning, revise their understandings, and share meaning with others. These students take pride in their efforts and in the new meanings they construct because they see the connection between their efforts and learning success. Finally, self-regulated learners monitor their own performance and evaluate their progress and accomplishments (Paris and Ayers 1994). Self-assessment and self-management are at the core of this type of learning and should be a regular part of instruction.

Authentic assessment is important for ELL students as well as for students in gradelevel classrooms. Teachers of language minority students have benefited from the interest of the general education community in authentic assessment and are adding to this repertoire of new assessment procedures. With ELL students, teachers using authentic assessment can assess students at all levels of proficiency for language and content knowledge in both English and in their native language.

“The use of authentic assessment places greater demands on teachers than the use of single-answer tests. Time and management skills are needed to design and use these assessments, and judgment is required in reaching conclusions about student learning and student progress. Because authentic assessment is relatively new, few teachers have had sustained professional development opportunities on the design, creation, and use of these assessment procedures. The changing models of student learning and instruction also require teachers to understand the reasons for the new directions in assessment and how to link assessment with instruction” (J. Michael O’Malley, p. 6).

Types of Authentic Assessment. There are numerous types of authentic assessment used in classrooms today. Teachers already use many of these types of assessments but do so in a relatively informal way that does not provide systematic information about student learning or about the goals of instruction (J. Michael O’Malley, p. 11).

The oral proficiency of ELL students should be assessed regularly, especially with very young students or when students have yet to acquire sufficient command over the language for written assessments to be appropriate. Students can respond orally to questions about a range of topics that might include their prior knowledge, activities, and interests or preferences. The teacher may be interested either in the substantive information collected or in judging the student's proficiency in responding to the questions, both of which can be used for instructional planning. In this type of assessment, teachers can ask probe questions to determine student comprehension or command over specific aspects of the language. Teachers of ELL students in one school system told us they did not provide instruction for oral proficiency "because it was not being tested by the county." You may listen regularly to students' oral language but may not have a systematic procedure for analyzing oral proficiency or for recording growth in oral language over time.

In the following type of assessment, story or text retelling, students read or listen to text and then retell the main ideas or selected details. As with the other assessment activities listed here, this type of assessment is authentic because it is based on or closely resembles actual classroom activities. What makes it an assessment approach is the systematic collection and recording of information about the performance of individual students. Students respond orally and can be rated on how they describe the events in the story (story structure), their response to the story or text, and their language proficiency. Teachers or other students can ask probe questions about the text. Students at all levels of English proficiency can participate in story or text retelling. For example, students who are more proficient in English can read a story to a less proficient peer, who can then retell the story in English or the native language, if preferred. In this way, students who have little proficiency in English are able to participate in the assessment, even in ESL classrooms where the teacher is not proficient in each language spoken by the students.

As part of instruction, students are often asked to generate writing samples to meet a number of different purposes. These may include expressive or narrative writing (a personal experience, story, or poem), expository or informative writing (writing to explain or clarify a concept or process, often in a content area), persuasive reports (convince another of a particular position), or some combination of the different purposes. Students can also be asked to write in different genres, such as a letter, a journal entry, an essay, a newspaper report, or a research paper (a paper requiring use of reference materials, critical judgment, and citations). Students might produce the writing on demand in a fixed period of time or might be given the time to generate it after completing some readings on a subject, discussing the reading with peers, and editing and revising a draft of the product.

Teachers often have their own criteria for judging; student writing and assigning grades. Grades will tend to vary from teacher to teacher unless they are based on specific performance criteria. The assessment procedures we suggest include the use of scoring rubrics for both holistic and analytic scoring in specific domains of writing, such as vocabulary, composition, style, sentence construction, and mechanics. With ELL students, as with other students, self-evaluation of writing promotes a reflective approach to learning and contributes to an understanding of effective writing processes.

Students may complete a project on a specific topic and/or exhibit their work. An exhibition can include displays or models of buildings or objects appropriate to an instructional setting, role-plays, simulations, artistic creations, videotaped segments, charts, graphs, tables, etc. A project may be conducted individually or in small groups and is often presented through an oral or written report. Projects and exhibitions presented orally can be reviewed by a panel of judges rating the content presented, its organization, and/or the language used (J. Michael O’Malley, p. 2).

Teachers often ask students to develop a presentation on a particular historic period and to generate drawings and written products appropriate to the period. This approach may be particularly effective when ELL students are taught to communicate step-by-step procedures or project descriptions.

Students might conduct an experiment in science using actual materials, or illustrate how something works (like a microscope). The experiment or demonstration is presented through an oral or written report which describes the steps and materials necessary to reproduce the experiment and any hypotheses that were tested, methods or observations used, or conclusions drawn. Students can be rated on their understanding of the concept, explanation of scientific methods, and / or the language used in the explanation

Constructed-Response Items is a type of performance assessment in which students read or review textual materials and then respond to a series of open-ended questions eliciting comprehension and higher-order thinking. The assessment often focuses on how students apply information rather than on how much they recall of what has been taught. The student might produce a graphic depiction of the substance "arid organization of the readings (e.g., a semantic map), a brief comment on one or two points made in the readings, or an extended essay discussing or evaluating the text materials. Thus, students are able to respond in a variety of different ways appropriate to their level of English proficiency. Constructed-response items can be used in all of the content areas. In math and in the sciences, these types of questions are often used to ask students how they solved a problem or reached a conclusion. This type of assessment is authentic in that it draws on the kinds of thinking and reasoning skills students use in classrooms, presents problems or questions that are typical of classroom instruction, and encourages students to apply classroom learning in real-life settings.

Teachers often observe students' attention to tasks, responses to different types of assignments, or interactions with other students while working cooperatively toward a goal. Both spontaneous events and planned classroom activities can be the subject of these observations. Especially with planned classroom activities, teachers can observe students' use of academic language and higher order thinking skills in task-oriented discussions with other students. Most likely, you already observe daily student interactions to ensure that the students are on-task and working productively. To turn your observations into assessments, you need to record observations systematically over time to note changes in student performance. These changes should be summarized in personal notes for communicating with the student, with parents, or with other teachers. With ELL students, this type of observation is particularly important because we need to document what these students can do and build on existing areas of strength in addition to noting their response to various curriculum or instructional approaches.

A portfolio is a purposeful collection of student work that is intended to show progress over time. The portfolio may include samples of student work, usually selected by the student or by the student and teacher to represent learning based on instructional objectives. Although portfolios have become popular over the past decade, we know that most teachers are not using them to their best advantage: collecting information purposefully and systematically over time to reflect learning with regard to instructional objectives. Each portfolio entry may be scored using a scoring rubric or checklist.

The overall portfolio can be scored as well, based on the extent to which instructional goals have been met. The one major limitation that some of the techniques have is the amount of time required for the teacher to collect the information or to score the students' performance. We discuss various ways in which teachers can deal with this limitation in the appropriate section as each form of assessment is described. We justify the extra time involved because we believe that authentic assessment is an integral part of instruction rather than a separate piece that imposes on instruction or draws time away from instruction.



  1. Aschbacher P.R. (1991) Performance Assessment: State activity, interest, and concerns.
  2. Aschbacher, Pamela E. (1989). Writing rubrics for assessment programs.
  3. Feuer M.J., Fulton K. (1993). The many faces of performance assessment.
  4. Herman J.L., Aschbacher P.R., and Winters L. (1992). A practical Guide to Alternative Assessment.
  5. Herman, J.L. (1991). Research in Cognition and Learning: Implications for Achievement Testing Practice.
  6. Michael J. O’Malley, Lorraine Valdez Pierce (1996). Authentic Assessment for English.
  7. Mueller J. (2006). Authentic Assessment.
  8. Paris, S.G., L.R.Ayers, (1994). Becoming reflective Students and Teachers with Portfolios and Authentic Assessment.
  9. Stiggins R.J. (1988). Revitalizing classroom assessment: The highest instructional priority.

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