Assessing Literacy Skills in the ESL Classroom

These past few weeks, we’ve read about the four phases of literacy development in [second] language-learning. Those four phases are:

  • The Foundation Phase
  • Phase I
  • Phase II
  • Phase III

Each phase has its own set of outcomes, and strategies to achieve those outcomes. Students need to know how to read, write, and speak well enough in English to communicate with people who don’t speak their native language – whatever that language may be. But how do we track that development? We do so through testing (which nobody likes).

Assessment is a very important part of the learning process. Effective assessment aims to provide detailed, useful information to instructors, learners, and others such as parents. . In the field of ESL literacy, assessment is both critical and very challenging.

Four Key Principles for Assessment

Learner assessment should be a transparent, continuous process that gathers accurate information about learner development, and allows for communication between the students and instructor. It may also provide feedback on how well certain methods work, as well as giving parents concrete information about their child’s performance.

Effective assessment is:


Learners have a right to know and understand what is being tested, why they are being tested, and how they will be tested.


Learners should be tested frequently, and done so by a variety of assessment methods.

Ongoing assessment methods:

  • Are varied to inform the teacher of the next steps for instruction
  • Provide a holistic picture of learners’ development
  • Help the learners understand their literacy development
  • Include formal and informal assessments, such as written and oral tests


Each assessment method should be done to obtain a specific set of outcomes.

Purposeful assessment is:

  • Used for clearly articulated reasons
  • Directly tied to learning outcomes
  • Carefully designed to gain useful and detailed information
  • Well-documented


Effective assessment of learner development should hold meaning to both the learner and teacher.

It is:

  • Used for communication between learners, instructors and others
  • Linked to instruction
  • Fair and valid


ESL literacy skills can be challenging to assess with these principles consistently. Instructors may have challenges communicating with learners about the purpose and nature of assessment, the information gathered from assessments, and in involving learners in the assessment process.  Instructors should to keep these principles at the forefront, and be creative in the way they design and communicate with learners about assessment.

In the next few posts, I’ll write about different approaches to assessment, properly designing and writing an assessment, and how to manage assessment and feedback.



Filed under Andong, Assessment, Boys and Girls, Education, ESL, Literacy Skills, Reading, Second Language, South Korea, Teaching, Vocabulary Skills, Writing, Young Learners

4 responses to “Assessing Literacy Skills in the ESL Classroom

  1. Ar Vhee

    Hi Ketan, this is very informative for me since English is my second language.. =)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s