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Themes - evaluation and assessment

Evaluation and assessment

Evaluation is not only about quality testing but about formative assessment, self-assessment and autonomous learning. ECML materials in this area largely draw on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and on the European Language Portfolio.

Introduction

Evaluation and assessment are central themes in language education. They are concerned not just with quality testing but with formative assessment, self-assessment and autonomous learning. ECML materials in this area largely draw on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and on the European Language Portfolio. These are increasingly becoming the basis of evaluating language competence throughout Europe and many language examinations are calibrated against the Common Scale of Reference.

What do we mean by evaluation and assessment?

When referring to evaluation, testing and assessment, it is useful to begin by distinguishing between the different terms.

Evaluation is carried out to understand how things and systems work (e.g. the evaluation of an education system or of a given curriculum). Evaluation should be considered in terms of seeing the bigger picture.

Testing is a set of tasks, which looks at certain types of human behaviours - in the case of language testing, these are abilities, capabilities, competences etc.

Assessment is concerned with exams or sets of exams and is considered for the short term, in order to produce results at a specific moment. Assessment reflects what has been examined and it can take place through a series of tests.

Assessment is often used as a control mechanism and to monitor a learners actions; if there is too much emphasis placed on the control aspects of assessment, it can become a deterrent to further learning and improving skills. In order to make assessment more positive and to encourage progress, assessment should ideally become a companion to learning, where learners are involved in the process, and can assess themselves, their skills, their achievements, and the problems which they experience.

There are three main types of assessment:

Formative assessment is intended to help learners to learn more effectively. It does not grade the learner but gives guidance on how to remedy mistakes and suggests the way ahead for further learning.

Summative assessment takes place to show what has been achieved and if an intended goal has been reached. Assessing language levels can pose difficulties as languages are not something tangible; a judgment must be made, based on what you see, hear and read, so communicative tasks are created to be carried out which allow teachers or examiners  to evaluate the language levels, either on a formative or summative level.

Self-assessment allows individuals to assess their own learning progress, (what level am I at/ am I capable of, have I really learned what I wanted to learn?)

This self-assessment can be carried out with tools like the European Language Portfolio, where learners keep notes of what they are able to do in the language (using can do statements) and make a personal judgment of their competences. This can be the basis of an assessment of their level.

Self-assessment is important, as external assessment is not always capable of making a sound judgment on somebodys language skills and competences.

Role of the Council of Europe and the European Centre for Modern Languages

In recent years, the Council of Europe's Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) has become a powerful instrument for shaping language education policies. The growing acceptance and use of the Common Reference Levels of language proficiency presented in the CEFR has created a situation in which, all over Europe, public bodies, examination institutes, language schools and university departments concerned with the teaching and testing of languages seek to relate their curricula and examinations to the Common Reference Levels.

Manuals and guides for assessment with the CEFR

To help these institutions and examination bodies situate their exams in relation to the CEFR, the Council of Europe produced a comprehensive manual: "Relating Language Examinations to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR). A Manual". It is not however seen nor intended as the sole guide to the CEFR.

In 2011, a simpler publication related to the CEFR was published on behalf of the Language Policy Division of the Council of Europe, by ALTE (The Association of Language Testers in Europe): "Manual for Language Test Development and Examining". This manual provides a very brief and easy to read introduction to good quality test development and examining, taking as a starting point the CEFR as a certain approach to language education. This is a recommended publication for anyone interested in assessment and testing.

Similarly, through the work of the ECML ReLex team, guidelines to using the CEFR are available through their publication "Relating language examinations to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment (CEFR). Highlights from the Manual". This publication was created to assist users of the manual with the complexities of language assessment. It is the basis of training seminars provided by the ECML for individual countries which request help in aligning their assessment procedures to the levels of the CEFR.

The ECML also has a cooperation agreement with the European Union entitled "Innovative Methodologies and Assessment in Language Learning". Under this partnership the ECML offers training and consultancy workshops in EU and ECML member states in two specific areas - ICT and Quality Testing and Assessment. The latter, entitled RELANG, aims to ensure quality in language testing and assessment, i.e. that language examinations used in participating states ensure the valid and equitable assessment of learners, and that learners test performances are expressed in terms of CEFR levels which are valid, understood and widely accepted. 

ECML resources and publications

The ECML also has many useful tools and instruments to help ensure the development of assessment and evaluation in a wide variety of different contexts:

Featured resources

Sign languages and the Common European Framework of References for Languages. Descriptors and approaches to assessment

This resource establishes European standards for sign languages for professional purposes in line with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and provides an overview of assessment descriptors and approaches.

Available in English and in sign language

Go to the publication page

Language skills for successful subject learning. CEFR-linked descriptors for mathematics and history/civics (Language Descriptors)

These resources highlight challenges for young learners in subject classes where the language of instruction is not their first language. The focus is on minimum language standards in history/civics and mathematics for learners aged 12/13 and 15/16. The language descriptors are linked to CEFR levels A2, B1 and B2 and available in six languages.

Available in English and French

Go to the publication page

Latest articles

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Ensuring quality in language testing and assessment colloquium: live webcast on Wednesday 7 December

04.07.2016
Call for abstracts for ALTE 6th International Conference "Learning and assessment: making the connections" (Bologna, 3-5 May 2017)

14.07.2014
Language requirements and language testing for immigration and integration purposes. A synthesis of academic literature.


Videos


José Noijons on "Training in relating language examinations to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages" (ReLex)

José Noijons on "Relating Language Examinations to the Common European Reference Levels of Language Proficiency: Promoting Quality Assurance in Education and Facilitating Mobility" (RELANG)

 

Eli Moe on "Language skills for successful subject learning - CEFR linked descriptors for mathematics and history/civics" (Language Descriptors)

Video presenting the publication on the occasion of the ECML conference in December 2015. The presentation took place in the context of a workshop involving two related ECML project results/publications: "A pluriliteracies approach to teaching for learning" (Pluriliteracies) and "Towards whole school language curricula - Examples of practice in schools" (PlurCur).

 

Lorraine Leeson on "Sign languages and the Common European Framework of References for Languages - Descriptors and approaches to assessment" (PRO-Sign).

Video presenting the publication on the occasion of the ECML conference in December 2015.