A Practical Guide to Assessing English Language Learners

Christina Coombe, Keith Folse, and Nancy Hubley. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 2007. Pp. xxx + 202.

Reviewed by Slobodanka Dimova
East Carolina University, USA

Christina Coombe, Keith Folse, and Nancy Hubley s book A Practical Guide to Assessing English Language Learners targets pre- and in-service classroom teachers who have difficulties finding their way in the world of language assessment (p. iii). The authors offer to assist teachers in finding their way by leading them through the process of developing, administering, and using language assessment. For that purpose, they use simple explanations of the basic testing principles, concrete examples, and practical tips
The book comprises ten chapters preceded by a preface, a language assessment quiz, and an introduction. The purpose of the introduction is to provide definitions of the rudiments of good assessment (e.g., test type and categorization, validity, reliability, washback, practicality, transparency, and security).

In the first two chapters, the authors discuss the different steps in assessment development and the types of test items. While chapter 1 presents the first stages in assessment development such as planning, test and item specification design, assessment construction, and outcome analysis, chapter 2 provides descriptions of different item types, including multiple choice, true/false, matching format, cloze/gap-fill, short answer, and performance-based items.

Chapters 3-6 introduce assessment techniques for each of the four language skills–reading, writing, listening, and speaking. In the first sections of these chapters, the authors identify the importance of each skill s assessment in different types of language teaching contexts (intensive programs, non-academic, and K-12). Then they explore the definitions and the components of each skill before they present the different assessment techniques.

In chapters 7-9, the authors explain how assessment administration and use, as well as student test-taking strategies, may influence assessment results positively or negatively. They suggest that students should use different study techniques and become familiar with the test format in order to achieve successful assessment performances. Assessment administrators should perform careful assessment planning and administration taking into consideration the effects of the assessment procedures and formats on students performance.

The final chapter discusses ESL students content knowledge assessment in K-12 classes. With the increased number of ESL students in the mainstream classrooms, especially in U.S. public schools, every teacher becomes and ESL teacher. The authors acknowledge this phenomenon, explaining how ESL students performance on content-based assessments may depend on their English language proficiency.

Throughout the book, the authors use case studies and visual aids to contextualize the techniques and concepts they present. Each chapter has a case study in which an inexperienced teacher is focusing on different principles and aspects of language assessment. Readers are challenged to analyze and discuss the teacher s decisions as to whether they conform to or violate language assessment principles. In addition, the authors visually represent the information through flowcharts, graphs, figures, and tables. For example, each chapter ends with a table summarizing some of the basic language assessment tips as a list of Ten Things to Remember.

Language teachers will find the case studies, the visual representation of information, and the lists of practical tips very useful. Of particular importance are the case studies with concrete examples which can help teachers understand how assessment becomes an essential part of any language teaching curriculum

One topic that is relevant but receives little attention in the book is standardized testing and its impact on teaching and learning. Even though the book aims at classroom assessment, understanding standardized testing may also be important because most teachers are involved in administration, scoring, and use of standardized tests. Some teachers would benefit from more information on how these standardized tests can have an impact on the teaching curricula and how the impact can change the quality of education

Regardless of this shortcoming, the book effectively addresses the intended audience. Pre- and in-service classroom ESL teachers will appreciate the simple but practicalapproach to language assessment. Teacher-trainers, too, may consider using it as a language assessment textbook.