Designing Assessment for ELLs

After two weeks of student teaching, I can say with the greatest confidence: data is EVERYTHING! Data is absolutely the key to providing effective instruction. After all, if you don’t where students are starting, how do you know what areas they need to grow in?

At McNair, I am actively involved in all sorts of assessment. Last week, I blogged about doing my first running record. This has been so helpful in seeing my students’ fluency and reading abilities grow. I’ve also been able to watch the administration of some ESL proficiency placement exams, and I’ve seen many, many different ways of assessing students as I’ve pushed in to classrooms to support our students.

I want to share an assessment I designed and conducted in the spring of 2016. This assessment tested the reading, writing, speaking, and listening proficiency of an English-language learner from Honduras. I completely designed and administered this exam; I also provided an interpretation of the results. Click on the link below to see my results.

Background Information:

            Ms. Ariza is a two-way dual language teacher at an elementary school in Denton, Texas. Her kindergarten homeroom is made up exclusively of native Spanish speakers, but her class mixes with a homeroom of native English speakers, allowing all students to learn both languages. She suggested that I assess Amy, a bright six-year-old student she teaches.

Amy lives in a two-parent home where Spanish is exclusively spoken. Amy’s parents are from Honduras, though they have not lived there since before Amy was born; her only experiences are in the United States. Amy attended a Head Start program in the Denton school district and is now enrolled in the two-way dual language program at a Denton elementary school. Amy’s outspoken older brother Eduardo is in fourth grade in the two-way dual language program at the same school. Amy herself is generally quiet and reserved in the classroom, but she often shows her sly, funny side in small group settings, on the playground, and in the lunchroom. Because she is in a two-way dual language program, Amy interacts daily with both native Spanish and native English students and is comfortable speaking socially in both languages.

Ms. Ariza suggested I test Amy because of her academic promise and her language proficiency in English. Amy is an advanced-high Spanish speaker with English skills rated intermediate through TELPAS. She was given this rating based on both academic and social language observations and assessments. In addition to these language gifts, Amy is academically on track. I assessed Amy because Ms. Ariza was comfortable with her missing a portion of academic instruction and did not feel this placed her in danger of failing, but Ms. Ariza still felt Amy would present an excellent case study because she is still learning and growing academically.



Informal Assessments:


  1. Reading:


Book: Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin


Task: The student will identify features in a book that show how English is written and printed, and the student will display phonological awareness by identifying featuring and rhyming words.


Objective: The reading assessment was the first informal assessment I administered to Amy. During this assessment, she was orally asked questions that tested her print and phonological awareness. Before reading the book Dragons Love Tacos to Amy, I asked her to identify various features of the book, all of which were found on either the cover or the title page of the book. I then asked her questions that required her to use phonological awareness to answer. The objective of this assessment was to assess Amy’s understanding of print and phonological awareness, as required by kindergarten TEKS (listed below).



(1)  Reading/Beginning Reading Skills/Print Awareness. Students understand how English is written and printed. Students are expected to:

(A)  recognize that spoken words can be represented by print for communication;

(B)  identify upper- and lower-case letters;

(C)  demonstrate the one-to-one correspondence between a spoken word and a printed word in text;

(D)  recognize the difference between a letter and a printed word;

(E)  recognize that sentences are comprised of words separated by spaces and demonstrate the awareness of word boundaries (e.g., through kinesthetic or tactile actions such as clapping and jumping);

(F)  hold a book right side up, turn its pages correctly, and know that reading moves from top to bottom and left to right; and

(G)  identify different parts of a book (e.g., front and back covers, title page).


(2)  Reading/Beginning Reading Skills/Phonological Awareness. Students display phonological awareness. Students are expected to:

(A)  identify a sentence made up of a group of words;

(B)  identify syllables in spoken words;

(C)  orally generate rhymes in response to spoken words (e.g., “What rhymes with hat?”);

(D)  distinguish orally presented rhyming pairs of words from non-rhyming pairs;

(E)  recognize spoken alliteration or groups of words that begin with the same spoken onset or initial sound (e.g., “baby boy bounces the ball”);

(F)  blend spoken onsets and rimes to form simple words (e.g., onset/c/ and rime/at/ make cat);

(G)  blend spoken phonemes to form one-syllable words (e.g.,/m/ …/a/ …/n/ says man);

(H)  isolate the initial sound in one-syllable spoken words; and

(I)  segment spoken one-syllable words into two to three phonemes (e.g., dog:/d/ …/o/ …/g/).




The student will get 10 points for an unprompted correct response and 5 points for a correct prompted response.

How do you hold a book?


_____ P  __X___UP


How do you turn pages?


_____ P  ____X___ UP


Where is the cover of the book?


__X___ P  _______ UP


Can you point to a letter?


_____ P  ___X____ UP


Can you point to a word?


_____ P  ___X____ UP


Can you point to a space?


_____ P  ____X___ UP


What rhymes with down?


_____ P  __X_____ UP


Do dragon and wagon rhyme?


_____ P  ___X____ UP


If I say /l/ and then add /ove/, what word do I get?


_____ P  ___X____ UP


What’s the first sound you hear in book?


_____ P  ___X____ UP




100-90 points: Excellent

80-60 points: Good

50-30 points: Developing

20-0 points: Limited understanding



Administration: I assessed Amy using the questions and scoring above. I pulled her into the hallway outside her classrooms during math center times; she did not seem upset to miss working on math. I had previously arranged with her homeroom teacher to pull her at any time in April after the lunch and afternoon recess block, so I arrived at roughly 1:15. This time period ensured that fewer distractions would happen: Amy wouldn’t be hungry or ready to run around as she had just eaten and had free play. I performed all assessments at this time.

Amy was happy and cooperative during this assessment, which took two minutes for her to complete. She was able to answer most questions correctly within seconds of me asking the question, displaying a need for relatively little processing time. She received some prompting to answer where the cover of the book was, but again was able to answer the question almost immediately after I prompted her.


Reporting of Results and Interpretation: I used the above question/answer response document to record Amy’s answers. Amy scored on 95 on this assessment. This means that she was able to answer nine questions with no prompting and answered one question with prompting. She was able to answer all questions.


A score of 95 signifies that Amy has an excellent understanding of reading, according to the above rubric. Amy completed the majority of these tasks with no hesitation. She had a very clear understanding of what she was asked to do and showed great phonological awareness.


Amy’s strongest point in this assessment came during the phonological awareness section of questions. She answered these questions quickly and accurately, and she was eager to show off other rhyming pairs of words she knew. Amy has a strong command of English phonics and is able to meet the TEKS criteria that were assessed.


Amy had a few issues during the print awareness section of the assessment. She answered these questions less confidently, although she was generally correct. Amy needed slightly more processing time to answer these questions. This may be because she has less familiarity with explicitly taught print awareness. Her homeroom teacher uses Heggerty’s literary resources on phonics daily, so Amy was very used to thinking about rhyming words, rimes, and onsets. There is less formal instruction of print features, which led to a slower process time.


Instructional recommendations: Amy would benefit from continued exposure to phonics. It is clear that the exposure she has had thus far has benefitted her; the excellent rating she received in this assessment can certainly attest to that. Continuing to expose the student will continue to be helpful. Daily use of the Heggerty resources will help, particularly if they are used in both English and Spanish in order to help point out language transfers. Amy would also benefit from more intentional classroom discussions about features of books to increase her confidence in print awareness.

  1. Writing:

Book: Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin


Task: The student will write about what kind of tacos are her favorite kind and why.


Objective: The writing assessment was the second informal assessment I administered to Amy. During this assessment, she was orally asked to write four sentences about her favorite kind of tacos. The objective of the assessment is to measure the student’s understanding of English writing conventions, such as forming upper and lowercase letters, capitalizing the first letter of the sentence, using punctuation at the end of a sentence, writing legibly, and writing their full name.


TEKS: (17)  Oral and Written Conventions/Handwriting, Capitalization, and Punctuation. Students write legibly and use appropriate capitalization and punctuation conventions in their compositions. Students are expected to:

(A)  form upper- and lower-case letters legibly using the basic conventions of print (left-to-right and top-to-bottom progression);

(B)  capitalize the first letter in a sentence; and

(C)  use punctuation at the end of a sentence.


(18)  Oral and Written Conventions/Spelling. Students spell correctly. Students are expected to:

(C)  write one’s own name.


Assessment: I will read the following prompt to the student: “Can you write sentences about what kind of tacos you like and tell me why you like them?” She will be provided lined paper to write on and will be given as long as she needs to write one page (kindergarten-typical lined writing paper with space for illustration) about tacos. She will be asked to write her name on the paper.


Administration: I assessed Amy using the directions above. We continued to sit in the hallway outside her classrooms. Before I asked her to write, I read her the entirety of the book Dragons Love Tacos. We paused several times in the reading to discuss what was happening and why. Amy laughed several times and clearly enjoyed the book. However, that attitude shifted when I asked her to write sentences. Amy became upset and told me no, she couldn’t write in English. I asked her if she could tell me some things a sentence has. She was able to talk about capital letters and punctuation with ease. I again asked her to write sentences for me in English. She scowled, took the pencil, and wrote “ESpageri rico furtas” [sic] . This sentence displayed understanding of upper- and lowercase letters, but it was written in Spanish. Because it had taken five minutes to persuade her to write that phrase and she was clearly still not happy, I chose to administer two other assessments to Amy and returned to the writing assessment after about eight minutes. I reassessed her at that time.


During the reassessment, Amy was still not sure she wanted to write in English. Because she had displayed comprehension of the book in other places, I chose to allow her to write four sentences that were unrelated to the topic in order to have a sample of her writing in English to assess. She was allowed to write four sentences of her choice. Her four sentences were:

  1. Hei ev ruan so fast. J (She can run so fast.)
  2. May feh ew se fast. * (My fish is so fast.)
  3. Ay lav PaPiz (I love puppies.)
  4. Ay lav maY mamá (I love my mommy.)


Two of Amy’s sentences end with a drawing, indicated crudely by emojis above. She drew a smiley face next to one and a star next to another. It took her about seven minutes to complete this reassessment. I asked Amy to read her sentences to me and wrote down her verbal responses, which are in parentheses above.





Score 4 3 2 1
Writing characteristics The student has a strong understanding of English writing conventions. The writing addresses the prompt. Upper and lower-case letters are formed legibly, the first letter of the sentence is capitalized, and punctuation is used in the majority of cases. The student’s name is written on the paper. The student has a medium understanding of English writing conventions. There are 2-3 errors with legible writing, capitalization, punctuation, or the student’s name. The student has a developing understanding of English writing conventions. There are 4-6 errors with legible writing, capitalization, or punctuation, or the student’s name (e.g.,  the student’s name is missing, incorrect, or is illegible). The student has very little understanding of English writing conventions. More than 6 characteristics, including legible writing, capitalization, and punctuation, are missing. The student’s name is missing, incorrect, or is illegible.


Reporting of Results and Interpretation: I used the above rubric to score Amy’s writing sample. I scored only her reassessment, the English writing sample.


Amy successfully wrote her first and last name on the writing sample. It was spelled correctly and used correct formation of letters and capitalization. Her name was very legible. In fact, all of Amy’s writing is legible. Every letter is formed correctly. Amy used the correct punctuation in two of her four sentences. She verbally identified that she was writing a period. Amy used non-standard capitalization in two of her sentences, capitalizing both letter Ps in her word “papiz” and capitalizing the Y in her word “may” during its second usage.


According to the rubric above, Amy is a 2. These four errors show that Amy is still developing in her English writing; however, it is worth noting that Amy also had errors with capitalization and punctuation in her Spanish writing as well. This suggests a lack of understanding of the material rather than necessarily being a language barrier.


Instructional Recommendations: It was very clear from administering this assessment that Amy is not comfortable writing in English. Amy would greatly benefit from guided writing time every day. Amy needs more exposure to grammatical conventions such as punctuation and capitalization and would greatly benefit from personalized assistance in these areas.

Amy’s true area of weakness, however, is her reluctance to write in English. Because she is in a two-way dual language program with language arts instruction occurring in the native language, Amy is mostly instructed to write in Spanish. This leads to her lack of confidence in writing in English. Amy should be encouraged to write daily in English to build her confidence and her level of comfort in English. She would benefit from a small group writing workshop setting to build her confidence and to ensure she does not get lost in the shuffle as she demonstrates higher English proficiency in other ways (i.e., reading, speaking, listening). This will also help develop her phonological awareness in English, allowing her to transfer English reading skills to writing. This will make her writing more reflective of the sounds she hears in words, leading her closer to standard spelling.


  • Speaking:

Book: Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin


Task: The student will be able to have a conversation about a book read to her and will be able to identify her favorite part.


Objective: The speaking assessment was the third one I gave Amy. During this assessment, she was asked several questions about the book I’d read to her and responded in English. The objective of the assessment was to understand her ability to speak clearly and to share information.




(22)  Listening and Speaking/Speaking. Students speak clearly and to the point, using the conventions of language. Students continue to apply earlier standards with greater complexity. Students are expected to share information and ideas by speaking audibly and clearly using the conventions of language.


Assessment: I will ask the student questions relating to her understanding of the book. These questions will include “What was your favorite part of the story?”, “What happened to the dragons when they ate spicy food?”, “What is your favorite food?”, and “What was the funniest part of the book?”



Speaking skills 4 – Excellent 3 – Good 2 – Developing 1 – Does Not Demonstrate
Speaks clearly X
Speaks audibly X
Uses varied vocabulary X
Pronounces words correctly X
Answers question asked X
Answers completely (longer answers) X


Reporting and interpretation of results: I used the above rubric to score Amy’s results. Based on this rubric, Amy scored excellent in most categories and good in one category.

Amy’s conversation with me was very cheerful and easy to follow. She spoke clearly and audibly, and she was visibly excited to answer the questions I asked. She used many different words (i.e., she did not rely on sentence stems or echo my words) and pronounced them all correctly. Amy answered the question completely, but she tended to respond in shorter three-word answers. She would elaborate if prompted, expanding on her answer and explaining her thinking.

It took about five minutes to administer this assessment, not inclusive of the time it took to read the book. Amy wasn’t reluctant to answer any questions, but it clearly was not her instinct to elaborate or give long-winded answers to anything she was asked.


Instructional recommendations: Amy needs to continue to have exposure to social and academic English conversations. Although she generally speaks English at a very high level, she could improve the length of her answers. Her short answers could be attributed to things other than language; for instance, it is possible that family background, cultural background, or shyness contributed to these short phrases. Regardless, Amy would benefit from being asked questions in a one-on-one setting. This would allow her to improve her speaking skills no matter what the barrier is. Conferencing one-on-one with a teacher about her work could help model longer conversations and help her feel more comfortable with speaking for longer periods of time.


  1. Listening:

Book: Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin


Task: The student will be able to follow directions to produce a drawing that reflects the book read to her.


Objective: The listening assessment was the fourth assessment I gave Amy. In

this assessment, I asked her to listen to oral directions and show comprehension            by drawing a picture following those directions. The objective of this assessment

was to measure the student’s ability to listen to oral directions and comprehend



TEKS: §110.11.


(8)  Reading/Comprehension of Literary Text/Fiction. Students understand, make inferences and draw conclusions about the structure and elements of fiction and provide evidence from text to support their understanding. Students are expected to:

(A)  retell a main event from a story read aloud; and

(B)  describe characters in a story and the reasons for their actions.


(21)  Listening and Speaking/Listening. Students use comprehension skills to listen attentively to others in formal and informal settings. Students continue to apply earlier standards with greater complexity. Students are expected to:

(A)  listen attentively by facing speakers and asking questions to clarify information; and

(B)  follow oral directions that involve a short related sequence of actions.



  1. Can you pick up the black marker and draw what kind of taco you think dragons like the best?
  2. Can you use crayons to draw what happens if dragons eat spicy tacos?
  3. Can you use a pencil to draw your favorite kind of dragon?




Score 4 3 2 1
Listening characteristics The student is able to understand and follow all directions. The student also demonstrates comprehension of a story read aloud. The student is able to understand and follow most directions, but some gaps exist due to language. The student demonstrates partial comprehension of a story read aloud. The student is unable to understand many of the directions given and needs to be scaffolded in order to understand. The student has limited understanding of English and does not understand the directions given.


Reporting and interpretation of results:  Based on the rubric above, Amy scored a four on her listening skills. This is the highest rating she could have been given and reflects a high level of comprehension.


Amy was very excited to participate in this assessment because it allowed her to use markers, which she does not generally get to use in her classroom. She listened to each question in whole and then without hesitation followed the directive. Amy showed excellent comprehension and had no problem using the appropriate drawing utensil and drawing the directed illustration. Her drawings reflected not only her understanding of the question but also her understanding of the read, which was orally read to her, drawing pictures that showed she paid attention to the content of the book.


All told, this assessment took approximately seven minutes. However, very little of that time was the formal assessment; much of the time was taken by Amy drawing very elaborate pictures to answer the questions.


Instructional recommendations: Amy’s listening skills were truly excellent. In order to foster Amy’s continued growth in this area, Amy should be offered enrichment opportunities. A risk in the two-way dual language program is that students can become too comfortable both with fellow students (since they stay together for six years) and with their home language, since their instruction for half the day is in the home language. Offering Amy extra opportunities to practice listening to English will allow her to grow extensively. One of these extra opportunities could come through educating Amy’s family about Tumblebooks. This service will allow Amy to listen to books being read to her in English as she follows along with the screen, building both her reading and her listening skills.


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