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NIFL-ASSESSMENT 2005: [NIFL-ASSESSMENT:1193] RE: high-stakes te

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From: Pauline Mcnaughton (
Date: Tue Aug 02 2005 - 10:49:00 EDT

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Subject: [NIFL-ASSESSMENT:1193] RE: high-stakes testing, state/federal accountability, and standardized tests
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Thank you Marie - your email provides considerable information and links to
information to allow thoughtful follow up on best practices identified in
this discussion.

A considerable challenge that we have found in Canada with the Canadian
Language Benchmarks (CLB)(12 benchmark levels) as a national standard (upon
which standardized assessments are based as well as curriculum, materials
development, portfolio development etc.) - is ensuring that ESL
professionals have adequate professional development to use and apply them
in a consistent way.  If ESL professionals have adequate training in the use
of the CLB (or any other standard) and the principles about language and
learning that are reflected in the CLB (or any other standard) - then there
can be far less dependency on standardized assessment tools - especially for
ongoing or EXIT assessment.

Although we have national assessment tools and a national assessment system
to ensure standardized PLACEMENT - we do not have national,standardized EXIT
tools.  The need for ongoing and summative assessments based on the CLB is
always a hot topic.  As in the US, provincial and federal funders in Canada
need to have some concrete data to measure the success of funded programs
(and programs need this too) - but ESL professionals realize that
standardized tests used to monitor progress and achievement are not likely
to accurately measure the learning that has actually taken place in the
classroom.  In some provinces funders accept the teacher's classroom based
(performance based - often using portfolio system) assessment as sufficient
for this purpose. Other funders still assert the need for standardized EXIT

The Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks was created to support the CLB
standard and is governed by a large multi-stakeholder board of directors
including both government funders and ESL expert representatives from TESL
Canada and provincial TESL groups as well as assessor reps. The board has
strongly supported the development of tools to support classroom based
assessment. We have just published (in partnership with the Gov't of Alberta
and Citizenship and Immigration Canada) a 2 volume "Summative Assessment
Manual" which provides classroom teachers with "ESL Learner Benchmark
Achievement Report Tools" based on 12 theme areas for CLB levels 1-4.  It
comes with detailed instructions for the selection and administration of the
tasks.  We hope to develop other resources like this in the future.  We are
also soon to publish a kit to help teachers with ongoing or "formative"
assessment throughout a program.

But even with resources such as these - there is tremendous need for
professional development for ESL professionals in the use of the CLB
standard. "Careful interpretation and supports are needed to apply the CLB
in the many contexts where Adult ESL learners and teachers are working. It
is not enough to simply hand the document to teachers and expect them to
apply it.  Carefully planned implementation processes and professional
development activities will ensure successful use of hte information in the
CLB 2000 document."  (Quote from CLB 2000:  A Guide to Implementation).  One
of our current priorities right now is the strategically plan for the
delivery of national professional development in the use of the CLB that is
affordable and accessible.  We are looking at online delivery of some
introductory modules on the CLB as a starting point.  We are also exploring
ways we can work more closely with TESL trainers to help them train their
students in the use of the CLB.

In the end it is all about the people who use the tools - the teachers and
learners - and how they collaborate in the process of determining needs,
setting goals and meauring progress and achievement.

Pauline McNaughton
Executive Director / Directrice exécutive
Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks/Centre des niveaux de compétence
linguistique canadiens
200 Elgin Street, Suite 803 / 200 rue Elgin, pièce 803
Ottawa, ON K2P 1L5
T (613) 230-7729 F (613) 230-9305

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-----Original Message-----
From: []On
Behalf Of Marie Cora
Sent: July 31, 2005 2:38 PM
To: Multiple recipients of list
Subject: [NIFL-ASSESSMENT:1180] RE: high-stakes testing, state/federal
accountability, and standardized tests

Dear everyone,

Thanks Howard, for starting us off, and thanks to all who have posted
for such a rich discussion.

PLEASE!  Carry on!

Here's some stuff I am noting along the way.  This is kinda long.  I
have posted a bunch of different resources - but I would really LOVE to
know what resources you use to help you with these issues.  So if you
have good ones, please let us know what they are.

Perhaps the best way to figure out how to implement your accountability
process (i.e.:  standardized assessment) is by hearing and learning from
others experiences, then adapting what you're finding out to fit your
situation.  Case studies are great for this - and Nancy has provided us
one in her reply to Andrea's question about how she goes about working
with learners from the beginning.  In our discussion from early July,
there was some discussion of when to test and when not to test (see the
posts entitled "Literacy Needs" at the NIFL List Archives at  You can find some
'scenarios' as well of suggestions for implementing some of the
standardized assessments at:

Pauline brings up issues of standardized testing and fairness.and.YAY!!!
I have to thank you Pauline, because that is exactly what
"standardization" actually means:  to provide a level playing field so
that you are doing exactly the same thing with each individual:  i.e.:
being fair.  (See definitions at the Special Collection
-, or at the
ALEWiki -  In my
mind, you cannot do away with standardized tests and the accompanying
extremely important processes of administration and score interpretation
because then you take away the fairness aspect that is the point of

One big issue with standardized tests is actually what they are used
for.  I can't stress that enough.  All kinds of tests (standardized and
not) are sometimes used for the wrong purposes.  We need to examine what
a test was developed for in the first place, and determine if that then
matches the need.  Often, this is not done.  (And never mind the fact
that curriculum and assessments must be aligned, however rarely are.)
For some information on making informed choices when selecting
assessments, go to the ALEWiki, and click on
Selecting Assessment Tools.

High stakes DOES NOT EQUAL standardized tests!  I've already hounded you
about what standardization means; high stakes does in fact refer to WHAT
THE TEST IS USED FOR.  That is a huge difference.  We MUST be careful to
understand these nuances, big and little, if we are to effectively
utilize testing for useful purposes.

Tina, much has been discussed on TABE here, and I would refer you to the
Assessment Archives (address above) to see some of those discussions
(use the search tool at the Archives to find the TABE posts).  Also,
there is a lot written about TABE at: and how to work with some of
its idiosyncracies (sp?).  The Mass. Dept. of Education Adult and
Community Learning Services has an Assessment Policy Manual that
provides in great detail what part of the accountability system of the
state looks like (i.e.:  all the requirements; I say 'part' because
there are other pieces of the system that are detailed in other
documents.  These include goal-setting with students, and collecting
what are known in this state as Countable Outcomes which basically means
all the other stuff besides the learning gains measured by the NRS).
The Assessment Policy Manual overviews the TABE, BEST Plus, and the REEP
Writing Assessment, which presently are the states 3 high stakes tests.
(Massachusetts is developing it's own assessments now, to match the
state's curriculum frameworks; I believe we will be piloting a low-level
reading test and a math test this year.)  To access the Manual, go to:  and scroll down to Assessment

Pauline also discussed the CLBs (Canadian Language Benchmarks) - and it
brought right back to me some of what was included in the
recommendations of the NAS report (see that Discussion at: - that many folks
must be involved in determining what might constitute a set of standards
or the content before any meaningful way to measure the stuff can be

Finally, Nancy notes in her post that the expectations of advancement
must also be realistic.  (Nancy, I think that's what you are saying, but
please correct me if I am not interpreting this as you intended.)  So
for the people involved (student and teacher) there must be some
discussion of reasonable expectations of goals and advancement (the
goal-setting process is extremely important for this), but at the same
time, the tests we are supposed to use should also be reasonable in how
they measure learning gains.

There are some very good resources that address a bunch of the issues
raised here at the LINCS Special Collection in Assessment at  Click on Teacher/Tutor
and then Selecting Assessments for a Variety of Purposes and Assessment
for Instructional Purposes.  Also at Teacher/Tutor, check out Volume 16
of Adventures in Assessment (ok, check out EVERY volume of Adventures!
But that's another story!).  Volume 16 has a couple articles that focus
on integrating goal-setting into the curriculum, a basic primer for
understanding and using standardized tests, and using data for program
improvement.  Click on Manager/Administrator and check out the sections
labeled Accountability/High Stakes Testing, and also Guidelines for
Selecting, Administering, and Taking Tests.

Finally, I love the metaphors.  They very definitely conjure up accurate
portrayals (in metaphorical ways) of this wild ride we call
accountability right now.  At the same time, because the metaphors use
basic utensils from our daily lives that we probably don't give much
thought to, it feels very close to home.  Got any more?

Thanks for patiently reading.  Please write back.


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