How to Build Streamlined Language Assessments

Language proficiency exams are critical for many ESL (English as a Second Language) students in the US, often serving as a requirement for a high school diploma. It’s the school’s responsibility to set up these students for success — which often means creating syllabi and practice exams, providing tutors, and offering other support programs.

Another group also relies on schools to provide language-learning resources: students mastering Languages Other than English (LOTE). Once these students pass a comprehensive language assessment, they gain an advanced Regents Diploma, which serves as a welcomed distinction from a pool of candidates for a college or profession.

No matter their motivation, students often struggle with taking on a subject outside of core requirements. Plus, with many exams hosted online due to a remote or hybrid school model (or a lack of in-house proctoring resources), educators must now navigate how to make these crucial tests, and the learning process preceding them, as engaging and reliable as possible.

In this post, we’ll discuss how to engage students before, during, and after the test — and reap the benefits of their results for all future programs.

The Challenge of Administering Language Proficiency Exams

Administering a language proficiency exam offers specific challenges due to the dynamic nature of the test. Typically, these assessments contain most or all of these four components:

  1. Speaking: Students must display a mastery of speaking, whether in ESL or in a LOTE, during a live conversation with an educator.
  2. Listening: Students must listen to one or more native speakers and interpret what they heard through a test of any format.
  3. Reading: Students must read content in their target language and accurately interpret the text by properly answering questions.
  4. Writing: Students must answer questions or describe given scenarios through an essay format in their target language.

Multiple languages and various formats, each unique to the individual student, pose a new layer of complexity for proctoring. Providing live speakers for the listening component alone add an administrative headache. That’s why administering and grading these assessments tend to be time-consuming for educators and frankly draining on students. Fortunately, there are ways to streamline the administration and increase engagement for these tests.

How to Create Streamlined Language Assessments

Digital language assessments can be more responsive, reliable, and engaging when they’re 1) administered online, and 2) based on a standardized, interoperable foundation. Interoperability enables free exchange of data, interpreting critical testing information such as:

  • Test questions and formats
  • Scoring formulas and results
  • Results analysis capabilities
  • Learners’ needs and preferences

Why is free data exchange important? No matter the media format, tools, or approaches used in a test, all student testing occurs in a centralized platform. Plus, administrators gain access to viewing, tracking and analyzing student data in the context of a holistic learning experience. Thus, future tests and in-classroom learning can be personalized to student needs and tracked over time for better outcomes.

When based on interoperability, digital language assessments can engage students, inform classroom instruction, and deliver superior results to educational outcomes. But how can schools ensure interoperability in their language assessments?

The Answer: Question & Test Interoperability (QTI)

Luckily, IMS Global Learning Consortium established the go-to standard for digital assessment interoperability. Question & Test Interoperability (QTI) provides a protocol for interoperability that eliminates the need for in-house IT development and delivery of digital assessments. Plus, QTI adds a “plug and play” component to any test, where features like accessibility tools, online proctoring, and security assurances can be added to any assessment.

QTI-powered language assessments also easily integrate with multimedia components. For example, this means these tests may potentially eliminate the need for live speakers of the listening component. While multifaceted, language proficiency exams can quickly become a logistical nightmare — however, when schools use platforms specifically designed to streamline those components, that challenge turns into an opportunity.

Want to learn more about the ease of administration (and increased student engagement) of interoperable language assessments? Read the case study on how NYCDOE takes a technology-based approach to streamline their language exam administration.

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