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Benefits of English Language Testing at the Early Childhood Level

By Bonnie Billak
Benefits of English Language Testing at the Early Childhood Level

It is common practice for schools to test student proficiency levels in a variety of subject areas at all grade levels. Should assessing the English proficiency level of Early Childhood students be added to this battery of testing? Although schools are sometimes hesitant to test students at this young age, it is not as complicated as one might think, and there are valuable benefits to be gained. While schools routinely administer lengthy tests to young children to determine their suitability for admission, they are often wary about testing their English language levels, thinking that it is not necessary or feasible due to their young age. In their eyes, it’s just a waste of time and effort. The exact opposite is true. Testing English language levels provides valuable data that can be used in a variety of ways. For example, teachers will find this information useful when creating lessons, deciding on the type and extent of scaffolding needed for the lessons, and making up the class placement lists for the following year to ensure a good mix of English proficiency levels in each classroom. In addition, test data allow ESL teachers to quickly identify the students needing ESL services, so that these can be offered immediately, thus avoiding a breach in oversight when students are just left to fend for themselves. This greatly assists in keeping students from falling into a deep state of desperation with regard to learning English. While a trained ESL teacher can perhaps offer an educated guess as to the proficiency level of a student, having a concrete test score is much more effective. Knowing the English proficiency levels of students also enables the ESL teacher to offer very specific advice to classroom teachers when it comes to strategies for working with each student. It is of utmost importance that testing of students at the early childhood level be done with an assessment tool appropriate for their age and based on topics appealing to the students—such as questions about school, family, etc.—to grab and hold their attention during the test. The test should be as brief as possible: 15 minutes or less for speaking and listening. The assessment tool should offer the tester the option of immediately ending the test if the student cannot answer several questions in a row, since questions are usually listed in a hierarchical pattern from easiest to hardest, thus students will not feel totally stressed out by not being able to answer questions. By monitoring the scores, the language growth of the students can be tracked from year to year. This will help both teachers and administrators to assess the effectiveness of the school’s English language program. Teachers will also be able to see the language growth of the students while in their classes through a comparison of student entry and exit scores. This is an excellent way to motivate teachers to use scaffolding techniques in their teaching and/or to seek assistance in learning how to teach second-language learners. Therefore, the testing will have multiple benefits for students, teachers, and administrators, thus making it well worth the time and effort. Bonnie Billak is an ESL Specialist at the International School Nido de Aguilas in Santiago, Chile. She also does consulting work in the field of ESL teaching, program design, and/or evaluation.

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