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Oral language proficiency tests are frequently used to determine if language minority school-aged children are able to meet the academic task demands of monolingual instruction in English. As a consequence, the tests provide results that are used to establish or deny eligibility for instruction. In practice, language minority children scoring above a defined criterion on English oral language tests are said to be proficient enough to function successfully, in a program of English-only instruction. Those falling below a specofic score are eligible for a program of bilingual or English-as-a-second-language (ESL) instruction. The state and federal government also mandate that students be assessed to see if they need English language help. states that states, local education agencies, and schools in the United States must have and must implement a legally acceptable means of identifying LEP students. This obligation is enforced by various federal laws upheld by the Office for Civil Rights. If a student comes from a home where a language other than English is used, the school must assess the student's oral language proficiency, including reading and writing skills, in the English language. (Vecchio,1995)
Because these tests are used to make very important decisions about the program of instruction in which a child will be placed, it is important to examine all the tests available. This paper will explore the features of three of the most widely used language tests. Three of the most commonly used language proficiency tests are the Language Assessment Scales (LAS), the IDEA Language Proficiency Tests (IPT), and the Woodcock-Muñoz Language Survey.
Language Assessment Scales (LAS)
The LAS is a series of tests for assessment of reading, writing, listening, and speaking proficiency of students in grades K to 12 whose home language is other than English. The Pre-LAS assesses the oral language skills of kindergarten and first
grade students. The LAS-O assesses the listening and speaking ability of students in grades 1 through 12. The LAS R/W assess the reading and writing skills of students in grades 2 through 12.
The Pre-LAS contains six sub-tests:
â€¢ Simon Says is a test of ability to follow instructions.
â€¢ Choose a Picture is a test of the child's understanding
of simple oral classroom instructions and language used to talk
about relationships, likenesses, and differences.
â€¢ What's in the House is an expressive test of ability to provide
labels for common household objects, including articles
of clothing, eating utensils, and furniture.
â€¢ Say What You Hear assesses receptive and expressive language.
â€¢ Finishing Stories is a test of ability to supply an appropriate
clause to complete a compound or complex sentence.
â€¢ Let's Tell Stories is a test of ability to listen to stories and retell
The LAS-O contains four subtests:
â€¢ Vocabulary is a measure of the ability to produce object labels
and other words in context, including the ability to produce
antonyms for adjectives or adverbs and the "ing" form of verbs
commonly used in conversation.
â€¢ Listening Comprehension is a measure of the ability to
understand everyday conversations.
â€¢ Story Retelling is a test of ability to listen to stories and retell
â€¢ Pronunciation measures auditory discrimination of minimal pair
items and ability to listen to and repeat specific phonemes. The LAS-O yields a total score for designation of students into three language proficiency categories: Fluent Speaker, Limited Speaker, and Non-Speaker.
The Vocabulary subtests consist of a total of 20 items. The first 10 items comprising the Name That Picture subtest are concrete nouns generally found in a public school setting. These items also represent nouns which vary in their frequency and were selected from the Kucera-Francis (1967) word list. The remaining 10 items on the Action Words subtest are gerund forms of verbs (e.g., think + ing) commonly used in conversation by mainstream students in grades 1 through 6.
The Listening Comprehension subtest is essentially a tape-recorded dialog between two people supported by a cue picture. The 10 test items on the Listening Comprehension subtest require only a yes or no answer to questions asked in the present, past and future tenses.
The Story Retelling subtest has no specific test items. However, the learner's story retell is examined from various perspectives including: vocabulary, syntax, organization, transitional words, and fluency.
The test items on the Reading and Writing subtests can be described in the following manner. The Vocabulary subtest consists of 10 items each of which has a picture and then followed by four printed options. These items focus on nouns and adjectives. The Fluency subtest consists of 10 individually presented sentences with a blank. Each sentence is followed by 4 options from which the student must select the most appropriate response. These items focus mainly on verbs and adjectives. The test items on the Reading for Information subtest are 10 statements which follow a short readingpassage. The student must answer True or False to each statement. The Mechanics and Usage subtest consists of 10 items. Each item contains a blank and is followed by three options from which the student must choose. About half the items are aimed at punctuation and the remaining items test the student's knowledge of verb tenses and pronouns. In the Finishing Sentences subtest, the student is presented with 5 incomplete sentences. The student must write an ending for each sentence. In the final subtest for Level 1, What's Happening, there are five picture-cued items. The items are designed so as to require the student to produce written sentences which describe what is happening in the picture. These items are designed to elicit contextually appropriate responses written in a grammatically acceptable form. The final writing subtest for Level 2, Let's Write, is designed to generate an essay.
There are no specific time limits for administering this test. The instructions indicate that each student should be given a "reasonable amount of time torespond to each item". The Reading and Writing Tests may be group administered and may be timed or untimed activities. The LAS-Oral must be individually administered.
The Vocabulary subtest consists of pictures which the test giver must point to and the student must orally identify. The Listening Comprehension subtest consists of a tape-recorded dialog to which the student must first listen and then respond to ten yes-no questions. There is a taperecording that comes with the test. The Story Retelling subtest requires the learner to first listen to a tape-recorded story and then retell the story with the support of four corresponding picture cues. The Phonemes subtest simply requires the test taker to repeat a word, phrase or sentence. The Reading and Writing tests (i.e., Vocabulary, Fluency, Reading for Information, Mechanics and Usage, Finishing Sentences and What's Happening) may be administered in a small group setting but each student must write his/her own answers in the provided test booklets. Proctors are recommended for groups of more than 15 students. The test administrator must follow specific instructions including reading instructions aloud to the students; instructions may also be provided in the student's native language. Sample items are provided to ensure that students are familiar with the task and marking their answers in an appropriate manner in the answer booklet before attempting each subtest.
Woodcock Language Proficiency Battery-Revised (WLPB-R)
The WLPB-R is designed to provide an overview of a subject's language skills in English and Spanish, to diagnose language abilities, to identify students for English as a second language instruction. The instrument is appropriate for individuals aged 2 to over 90 years of age. For interpretive purposes, each WLPB-R provides scores for Broad Ability, Oral Language Ability, Reading Ability, and Written Language Ability. The WLPB-R Oral Language contains five subtests:
â€¢ Memory for Sentences measures the ability to remember and
repeat phrases and sentences presented auditorily.
â€¢ Picture Vocabulary measures the ability to name familiar and
unfamiliar pictured objects.
â€¢ Oral Vocabulary measures knowledge of synonyms and
â€¢ Listening Comprehension measures the ability to comprehend a
passage and supply the single word missing at the end in an oral
cloze activity. The test begins with simple verbal analogies
and associations and progresses to a higher level of
â€¢ Verbal Analogies measures the ability to comprehend and
verbally complete a logical word relationship. Although the vocabulary remains relatively simple, the relationships among the words become more difficult.
All parts of this test must be individually administered. The
test is discrete-point in nature and measures content such as vocabulary, verbal analogies, and letter-word identification. The Language Survey is available in Spanish and English.
It was specifically designed to measure CALP --Cognitive AcademicLanguage Proficiency.
It can be used to classify a subject's English or Spanish language proficiency,to determine eligibility for bilingual services, to help teachers understand a subject's language abilities and to assess a subject's progress or readiness for English-only instruction. There is also a Spanish version of the test that can be administered to students from any language group to measure their proficiency with the Spanish language. There are four subtests (referred to as "tests" in the Manual) and they are:
Letter-Word Identification, and
The Picture Vocabulary subtest presents the student with colorful drawings of things in school classrooms, in homes, and in the American community. The examiner asks the student to "point to the bowl of soup". The bowl of soup would be one of five food objects depicted. More difficult Picture Vocabulary items ask the examinee to provide the name for an object. Some of the more difficult items to be labeled are "pillory" , "pagoda", and "yoke". The Verbal Analogies subtest presents printed analogies such as "sky......blue" "tree........". The examinee must respond with "green" to complete this analogy correctly. Items become progressively more difficult and tap the student's knowledge of culturally specific analogies and the student's ability to reason through the use of analogy as well. The examiner prompts each item by reading, "Sky is to blue as tree is to (pause)." No other prompt is allowed.
The Letter-Word Identification subtest starts with simple drawings of several different items paired with one large picture. The student is asked to point to the cartoon picture that tells about the big, realistic drawing. Later items on this subtest require the student to read letters and then words.
The final subtest is Dictation. The examiner tells the student to write down responses written grammar and punctuation exercises on an answer sheet. Easy items ask the student to copy a line or a circle after the examiner makes one. More difficult items require the examinee to spell words like "arrogance" and "night's" used as a possessive noun in a sentence.
The Woodcock Munoz is given to each student individually. The Language Survey-English is administered using an easel format. An easel format is a hard-bound book designed to fold open like a tent and sit on the table without being held. The examinee can see the test items on one side and the examiner can read the answer on the other side (which can not be seen by the examinee). The easel book allows the examiner to see both the items and the correct responses and allows for protecting the scoring form from the examinee's view behind the easel. Two or three administrations allow the examiner to become comfortable with the materials and administration of the test. It can be administered within 20 minutes.
Idea Proficiency Tests (IPT)
The various forms of the IPT are designed to generate measures of oral proficiency and reading and writing ability for students in grades K through adult. All forms of the IPT are available in Spanish and English.
The IPT assesses oral proficiency for students in grades K - 6. The IPT II is used for students in grades 7 - 12. The Reading and Writing Tests are available in three
versions: IPT 1 is for grades 2 - 3; the IPT 2 is for grades 4 - 6; and the IPT 3 is for grades 7 - 12. These versions of the IPT Oral Proficiency Tests and Reading and Writing Tests are available in English and Spanish. The English versions may be used to assess English language proficiency for any language group and the Spanish tests can be used to assess Spanish proficiency for any language group.
The IDEA Oral Language Proficiency Test assesses four basic areas of English oral language proficiency: Vocabulary, Comprehension, Syntax, and Verbal Expression which includes Articulation.
Three different reading level designations (a non-English reader, a limited English reader, and a competent English reader)and three writing level designations (a non-English writer, a limited English writer and a competent English writer) are identified after the Reading and Writing Test is scored.
The oral proficiency items consist of questions and statements to
the student (e.g., "Stand up and turn around", or "What is your name?") and colorful picture cards for identification of an action verb (e.g., riding a bike, were singing/sang) or a noun (e.g., helicopter, stove). The items for the Reading and Writing Test are presented in a multiple choice, bubble in the correct answer format. Reading test items have four possible responses to choose from. The Writing test includes two sections that require the student to write a story.
There are six levels of difficulty tested in the oral section and all students are tested individually. The instructor has to give each student this test using prompts and questions along with a spiral bound book with picture cues. A student advances through the levels of the test until the test is completed or stops at a proficiency level as indicated by information in the score box at the end of each level. The IPT Reading and Writing Test is a group administered standardized test. The instructor serves as a proctor during this test. The Reading Test consists of five parts: Vocabulary, Vocabulary in Context, Reading for Understanding, Reading for Life Skills, and Language Usage. The Writing Test Has three parts: Conventions, Write a Story and Write Your Own Story. Three different reading level designations (a non-English reader, a limited English reader, and a competent English reader)and three writing level designations (a non-English writer, a limited English writer and a competent English writer) are identified after the Reading and Writing Test is scored.
Administration time ranges from 5 minutes for a non English proficient student (NES) to 20 minutes for a fluent English proficient student (FES). Average test time is 14 minutes. The Reading and Writing Tests are untimed. The Reading Test will take from 45-70 minutes to administer .The Writing Test will take from 25-45 minutes to administer.
Comparison of the Tests
The most-often used tests, the LAS, the IPT, and the Woodcock-Muñoz,share a number of features. The stated purpose for three of those tests is very similar. The tests are designed to measure language skills (speaking, listening, reading, writing) and discrete aspects of language, i.e., lexicon, phonology, syntax. The time frame needed for the tests are relatively similar. They all have a wide range of ages they can be used with.
Eventhough, the tests are similar in their purpose there are some differences. The Woodcock-Muñoz and the LAS only come in one version. This means teachers can't use it for pre and post tests and it can only be used once with each student. On the other hand, the IPT has different forms for each level of oral, reading, and writing. So with the IPT instructors have a little more flexibility in testing and more options.
The Woodcock-Muñoz tests contains more high level questions than the other two tests. This test could serve as an identifiying tool as well as a tool for special education identification.
The Woodcock-Muñoz and the IPT both come in English and Spanish. The LAS does not. This gives the Woodcock-Muñoz and the IPT an advantage over the LAS since it can also identify the level of native language literacy of a child in order to place him/her correctly in a bilingual program.
Measurement of ELL Student Language Skills
All three of these language tests can be used for many different purposes in any ESL program. First, they can be used as placement tools. When a student enters the program the test can be administered to determine at what level they are in their English proficiency and then place them in the correct classes. Next, they can be used to measure their progress in their English language development. The scores could be used to determine the student's grades for reporting. Lastly, these 3 tools can be utilized to determine which students should be exited from the program.