A. Determine the Purpose of Assessment

To determine the purpose of oral assessment, teachers need to give special attention to the:

  • audience
  • targets

Who Is the Audience?

There are many possible purposes for oral assessment, and each purpose is associated with a different audience and may necessitate a different kind of assessment. If the purpose is accountability, then policy makers at the state or the local level focus on broad issues and may ask questions such as, " Are programs producing students who are learning? Are the programs across the school system producing results? Are the schools producing students who will become effective citizens?"

If the purpose for oral assessment is to improve instruction, then the following questions may be asked, "Are my teaching strategies working? How do I become a better teacher? Which student(s) need help?" In this case, the audience is the teachers themselves. Students and their parents are also possible audiences who may respectively be asking themselves, "Am I meeting the teacher's standards? What help do I need to succeed?" or "Is my child succeeding in school? What does my child need to succeed? Is my child's teacher doing his/her job?"

What Are the Targets?

"Identify your destination before you begin the journey."

Classroom Assessment: Linking Instruction to Assessment. p. 35

Before designing any kind of oral assessment, teachers must be clear on what they want to observe in order to tailor the assessment to reflect what they expect of students. Sometimes the focus might be on the language alone, and at other times it might be on the ability to infer, summarize, and analyze orally.

When working with speaking skills, teachers need to think about the following questions:

  • What do I want my students to be able to do?
  • How will I know when they are able to do those things? What will it look like?
  • What kind of activities will help my students develop the ability to do those things?

What Do I Want my Students to Be Able to Do?

Communication is addressed by three different goals in the Second Language Standard Course of Study. Two of the goals --Interpersonal Communication and Presentational Communication -- are especially relevant to this publication, as they require some oral student output, whereas the goal of Interpretive Communication places students in a receptive role with no oral production. Because oral language is central to Interpersonal Communication and Presentational Communication, students need the opportunity to engage (and be assessed) in both of these modes. Moreover students need to be clear on the differences between the two modes of communication, so they can tailor their language to fit the task. Once the two modes of communication are clearly understood, the teacher needs to break the goal down into more manageable objectives in order to adapt the activities to the students' level of language.

With novice students, the objective could be for students to be able to use basic words and short learned phrases related to likes and dislikes orally. It also could include asking and answering questions using learned material.

Example: A student might be involved in a brief conversation with a teacher or partner asking him/her personal information about his/her favorite hobbies. His/her language participation will be limited to one word responses and phrases and to internalized "chunks" of language.

With intermediate students, the objective could be to have students sharing likes and dislikes, giving supporting information orally.

Example: A student might be asked to justify his likes/dislikes by answering questions such as, "Why do you dislike golf? Why do you like tennis?" To address this kind of question, the student will need to use more complex language and will need to give details to support the main idea.

A student enrolled in upper level courses might be expected to express his/her point of view and defend his/her opinion orally.

Example: A student might be asked to defend or debate a statement such as, "There is no time in the school day for sports. They should be practiced and played as an after-school activity." In this case, students will use increasingly complex structures and expanded vocabulary to defend their opinions.

The following chart elaborates on the functions, context, content, rate of accuracy, and text types associated with different levels of oral proficiency.

Speaking Proficiency: Assessment Criteria


Source: Buck, Byrnes, and Thompson, 1989 in Teacher's Handbook, Judith Shrum and Eileen Glisan, 1994.


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