Testing, testing, 1-2-3…

For what must have been the hundredth time, I pulled out the apple, the fish, the key, and a dozen other toy-like attributes.  The kindergartener eyeballed the objects, eager to play.  I pulled out my checklist and pencil, and started: “where is the fish?”  “Where is the chair?”  “Where is the key?”  Each time, the child would point at the object, sometimes uncertain, other times rejoicing in the right answer, gaining in self-confidence each time I nodded at him. So began yet another of one of hundreds of Reynell tests I administered as part of a research project being carried out by my employer.

The Reynell test uses a mixture of attributes that children may handle and colorful pictures.

The Reynell test uses a mixture of attributes that children may handle and colorful pictures.

The Reynell test

The Reynell test itself is well-designed, including practical and interesting tasks for young children in order to assess their listening and speaking skills in English.  The test begins with groups of similar, easy tasks, which become increasinly difficult as the test progresses.  When a child begins to fail at a particular sort of task, the assessor ends that task and moves on to the next set.  If the child fails at that set as well, the test is done.  It is easy, standardized, and informative. The point of the test is to see what developmental age a child has reached in his language abilities; even though a child can perform poorly, he can never fail this norm-referenced test.

This test is, however, also very time-consuming.  Depending on how well a child does, the test may take only 10 minutes, or a full three-quarter hour per child.  After administering the Reynell test a hundred times, I found myself quite ready to throw rabbit and bear out of the window and move on to something – anything – besides rabbit putting the knife under the bed and bear pushing the bed.

One of the dangers of administering the same test a hundred times: the examiner (in this case, me) might start getting bored and make things up, which isn’t allowed, of course, as that would affect the standardized scoring.

Later that year, I administered another sort of test to the older ESL pupils.  This time, there was no teddy or rabbit, but instead, paper, pencil, and a cd with spoken texts.  It was time for the Anglia exam.  

The Anglia exam

The Anglia exam isn’t a single exam; instead, it is a series of exams that begin at a very basic level (A1) and graduate to higher levels of skill (C2)*.  The basic Anglia exam includes listening, reading, and writing skills.  Speaking assessments are separate and cost extra, depending on who scores the test.  The Anglia exam is a criterion-referenced test, which means that a child may fail.  If he fails, then the attempted level was too difficult, but if he passes, then perhaps the attempted level was too easy.  Therefore with this test, it is necessary for the examiner to know two things ahead of time:

1) what exactly is tested at each level (described in detail in the Teacher’s Manual on the Anglia website)

2) what each examinee’s general level of English is (for instance, by using the Placement Test on the Anglia website)

The Anglia exam is a series of leveled exams, starting at pre-A1 and building up to C2.

The Anglia exam is a series of leveled exams, starting at pre-A1 and building up to C2.

Besides that, all of the sections are tested at the same level, regardless of possible differences between a child’s skills in listening, reading, and writing.  The tests are costly, and since children want to pass this exam, the teacher must make a careful estimation of the highest possible test the child will be able to pass, even if much of the examination might be too easy for the child.  

Administering the test itself is simple enough, since that is done classically. The feedback from the assessment is a diploma in which the child (barely) passes, passes well, or passes exceptionally well.  If a child fails, it receives a referral to try again at an easier level.  Personally, I found this feedback to be as effective as measuring the depth of the North Sea with a meter stick:  reliable, but not terribly informative.

A new test

A few years ago, my employee decided it was time to create a new sort of test, an informative assessment that would cover the broad range of ability found at our schools, while being time- and cost-effective.  We spent hours analyzing existing tests, discussing questions like “do we really need to count spelling as part of a listening test?” and “how can we differentiate the material so that we can find a child’s level in each language skills area?”

After that, the test was administered to hundreds of children, as part of the process of creating a normative score.  Basic feedback was given to the teachers, and the children all got certificates stating that they helped in creating this test.  Unfortunately, this test is still not available for regular use, so I am – still – left to my own devices.  Fortunately, I had already been developing my own devices for nearly ten years.

My own assessment

I have been creating my own means of assessing children’s progress in English.  Not only that, but I have developed a system of recording their progress so that I have a long-term picture of children’s development in the ESL program.  I used my experiences with both the Anglia and the Reynell tests to form something more useable for my school.  But more about that in another blog…

* The levels A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2 are part of the Common European Framework of Reference.  More information about the CEFR can be found here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_European_Framework_of_Reference_for_Languages

More information about Reynell tests:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15587011

More information about Anglia tests:  http://www.anglianetwork.eu/


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