Three children sat at the table, sorting through six laminated cards. “All right, everybody,” I started. “Where is frog hopping?” This is a toughie, since “hopping” in English and “happing” in Dutch sound similar, but the meaning is quite different. I demonstrate with the frog puppet. “Look! Hopping!” The children catch on, and hold up the picture of frog hopping across the yard. We continue on, looking at frog eating a fly, frog eating a stick, and frog eating a flower. “What will happen in the story,” I ask. The children look at the pictures and start to tell me a story. I encourage them to use all of the English words they know, resulting in a mix of words one might call “Dinglish,” Dutch and English mixed together. Then I set up the “walls” – some large books – and pull out my storybook. It’s time to read aloud so that the children can put the pictures in order.
In this task, I look for language behaviors as they are described in the teacher’s handbook for the ESL program I work with (Note 1). For instance, can the children understand simple, short sentences? Can they predict what might happen, by looking at the stories? Can they put the pictures in the correct order? And after hearing the story, can they answer questions about the story?
With this task, I assess four separate language behaviors with a group of 2 or 3 children. Within 10 minutes, I have quite a bit of information already, and we still have time for more fun and games, as I call my tests.
I developed my test after extensive work with the Reynell and Anglia tests. I noticed that while each test had a number of good points, each also had its weak points which made it unsuitable for my purposes. Here, I list a few of my considerations regarding each of the tests:
Reynell test, pros:
- interesting tasks – the children enjoyed each of the tasks given, the tasks are appropriate for the target age group
- norm-referenced – no child can fail, although he can perform above or below the norm for his age
Reynell test, cons:
- time-consuming – each test is given individually, so a lot of time is spent introducing each task, and the test can take up to 45 minutes
- age limit – the test may only be used for children up to 7 years of age
Anglia test, pros:
- efficient use of time – the test is given classically, so the entire class is finished with the listening/reading/writing section within an hour or two
- structure – the test is well-structured and easily administered
Anglia test, cons:
- criterion-referenced – the test may be passed or failed, but in the case of failing (or superbly passing) it doesn’t give any information about what would have been a more appropriate level for testing
- level of testing – all sections tested are tested at the same level, there is no differentiation possible between the levels
I decided I needed a test that combined the good aspects of these two tests, while dealing with the negative aspects. I ended up with my own system, which I call DRoPP (Digital Record of Pupil Progress).
How do I test children? Step-by-step…
- I list the children in order of their ability. The reason I do this is because I test children in small groups of 2 or 3, and it’s easier to test them if I have similar tasks for all of the children in the group.
- I pull out the children’s individual checklists of language behaviors. The tasks on these checklists are based on the Early Bird curriculum.
- I give the group a number of language tasks to complete. I don’t repeat the stuff they’ve already proven they can do, I only look for new information. If the children attempt a task and cannot complete it, I put a dot in the space next to that task. If the child completes it successfully, I put a dash. I use one color for each assessment period.
- After each assessment – 10 to 15 minutes later – I give each child a well-earned compliment.
- I input the information from the paper form into each child’s DRoPP file, noting the date of the assessment was. I often input the information directly into the summary screen, but I may also use a more detailed screen if I like.
Once the input has been done for all of the children, I run the output program to see just how well the children have done – as individuals, but also as a group. I use the results to write my group plan for the coming semester.
I will write more about group plans another time…
The program I developed to keep track of pupil progress is now available online, free of charge: https://sourceforge.net/projects/dropp/
Note 1: for further reading on the ESL Program I work with: The Early Bird Curriculum for Primary Schools (www.earlybirdie.nl)