Purpose of Evaluation

Evaluating Students’ Work

Student evaluation is an integral part of the teaching/learning cycle and consists of a systematic process which provides students, teachers, parents and administrators with information about student learning. This evaluation process encompasses the gathering of evidence in a variety of ways, as it pertains to what students know about the second language they are learning and to what degree they are able to apply their skills and attitudes at any given moment in their language development. A strong student evaluation plan involves both students and teachers in measuring, analyzing and interpreting this data at various points in the instructional cycle in order to make decisions as to the nature and direction of future learning activities and as means of describing a student’s overall language learning. In essence, an effective student evaluation plan includes a variety of means of gathering information about students and their learning and also ensures that these procedures are congruent with the learner objectives as they are defined in the program of studies.

Since language learning is a continuous process and cyclical in its acquisition, students need to be made constantly aware of their progress so that they can continue to improve and refine their language use. Students also need to know what they are expected to achieve, whether or not they have been successful in achieving these objectives and to what degree. An evaluation process, then, which incorporates a proficiency-based, multidimensional perspective will capture the true essence of students’ knowledge and their ability to perform in the second language. Therefore, regular, systematic evaluation encourages students to do their best, to be involved with their learning and to focus their attention on the language skills being developed and the knowledge they are acquiring. By using a wide range of evaluation techniques, students will be able to recognize their language growth and the development of their communicative abilities. Evaluation activities, then, provide important systematic feedback to teachers and students which will ultimately enhance the learning process and the acquisition of the language.

For the teacher, the gathering of this data is also invaluable, since this information will determine how well the objectives have been met and whether or not the activities used to develop the language have met the students’ needs. Assessing learning effectiveness can lead to either improvement in teaching/learning strategies or adjustments in instructional needs and activities, such as remedial or enrichment activities to reinforce learning. Furthermore, this information can assist in making decision about student placement, achievement or even the awarding of credits. This information can also be useful when discussing students’ progress with parents and administrators.

In light of this, the process of second language teaching/learning is undergoing constant change and is continually evolving as more information on language acquisition becomes available. Consequently, in order for evaluation techniques to be valid and consistent with this evolutionary process, student evaluation techniques also have to reflect these changes. Thus, student evaluation must not only test what students know about the second language, but it must also place emphasis on measuring students’ language development in terms of their ability to communicate meaningfully within a variety of contexts so as to determine their language performance. In this vein, the evaluation of language use must move towards a holistic assessment of natural, authentic communication where students can demonstrate their ability to integrate a wide variety of language skills within the context of the fields of experience they are studying. When evaluation assesses the meaningful use of language in context and involves students in self- and peer evaluation, language learners are encouraged to take greater responsibility for their own ability to communicate. Thus, the process of student evaluation should help students to gain everincreasing confidence in their ability to communicate meaningfully and should provide multiple opportunities for second language learners to successfully demonstrate their growing knowledge, developing language skills, and evolving attitudes.

This entire section, then, is dedicated to explaining the numerous ways in which students can be evaluated in order for them to become fully aware of their own learning so as to refine what they do well and to work on the areas that need improvement. It will also discuss ways in which this information can be reported to students, parents, teachers and administrators.

Summative and formative evaluation

Evaluation information is available in two forms, formative and summative, both of which will provide learners with information on their learning and language development. However, the difference lies in the type of information which is obtained and the different feedback which is given to students. Both these forms are valuable, but need to be planned for within the instructional cycle. The following is a brief description of the two forms. Formative evaluation is an activity within the teaching/learning process which directly ties instruction to evaluation. It monitors student progress and provides immediate feedback to students as to the degree of success they have had in carrying out a specific task and providing students with immediate help if necessary. This feedback is also important to teachers for making decisions on the nature and direction of future learning and the planning of other evaluation activities. In essence, formative evaluation practices constantly assess and diagnose student performance as a means of gathering information which will guide instructional decisions and ultimately assist in improving student performance.

Even at the earliest levels of language learning, students should become involved in formative evaluation activities. These activities will help students to diagnose their strengths and weaknesses with respect to the specific objectives of a given unit/project. Actively involving students in the evaluation process will encourage them to assume greater responsibility for their learning, while at the same time developing important learning strategies such as self-direction and selfevaluation. Research by Oxford (1990) has shown how formative evaluation activities carried out by students, such as reflection and analysis, can be instrumental in the development of metacognitive awareness which is a level of thinking characteristic of successful language learners. Therefore, teachers are encouraged to engage students in participating in this form of evaluation as it will provide them with valuable insight into their own learning and the processes they use to learn a second language. As such, there are different types of formative evaluation which will provide varying sorts of information. These formats will be discussed later on in this section.

Summative evaluation, on the other hand, focuses more on the accumulated results of learning. For the most part, it involves providing information on student performance, mostly in a quantified fashion, as it directly relates to learning outcomes. It takes place at specific times in the instructional sequence such as at the end of a project/unit, a term or a course, in order to determine the degree of success students have had in attaining the program’s objectives. Students’ progress can be reported by way of a mark (e.g., percentage, letter grade), an anecdotal report or a language proficiency level. The report usually goes to the student, parents and/or school administration. This information is often used to make decisions about promotion or the awarding of credits (at the senior high school level) and can be used to inform teachers about the effectiveness of the program.

This type of evaluation is often equated with culminating activities such as progress tests which are designed to provide students’ with specific information on their cultural, language and strategic knowledge. Performance testing, on the other hand, is intended to give a more global perspective on what students are able to do with their communicative, cultural, linguisitic and strategic knowledge. This form of test attempts to analyze the degree to which students are attaining the program objectives for a sub-level or level of language proficiency. These tests and their development will be discussed later on in this section.

In essence, then, students can receive information on their learning in a number of different ways, both qualitatively and quantitatively. A good evaluation plan involves both forms so that students can be given access to information which will assist them in recognizing what they do well and becoming aware of what areas require improvement. Teachers need to plan for evaluation in the same way as they plan for instruction. In fact, they are inherent and as teachers are planning lessons, they should also be thinking about which activities will be evaluated formatively and which summatively. Furthermore, some evaluation activities will become a part of one’s daily teaching practices, while others will be given at specific points in the unit, during the course of the term/school year or at the end of a sub-level. What is important to know, then, is what kind of evaluation will take place when and what kind of information can be obtained from a specific evaluation format.

Two Guiding Principles for Student Evaluation in Second Language

To assist in the implementation of a systematic evaluation scheme, a program of student evaluation needs to be based on principles which are consistent and congruent with the philosophy of the program of studies. To that end, the following guiding principles are proposed:

1. Overall student evaluation procedures need to reflect an integrated, multidimensional approach to language learning as outlined in the Second Language program of studies (1994).

2. Evaluation of students’ language learning needs to be comprised of a balanced combination of formative or ongoing evaluation techniques, in conjunction with summative appraisals, which are to be used for purposes, such as student placement, grading, reporting on student progress, awarding of credits and so on.

Practical Application of the Principles

Principle 1

An integrated, multidimensional approach to language learning reflects the complexity of language through the integration of the four components (experience/communication, culture, language and general language education). For each of these components, the program of studies outlines a progressive sequence of objectives from the Beginner level to the Advanced level. Within each of these language levels, objectives pulled from a sub-level can be developed through specific teaching units or educational projects. These objectives become the basis for lesson planning, language instruction and the evaluation of language development. In order for the program’s objectives to be properly and effectively evaluated, teachers need to know how the components can be evaluated in an integrated fashion and how each component will have a different focus in its form of evaluation, depending on what kind of skills, knowledge and attitudes are to be evaluated. In this perspective, the evaluation of students’ proficiency is best carried out by performance-based testing which will mainly focus on the experience/communication component with the three other components playing a lesser role in this type of testing, whereas cultural, linguistic and strategic knowledge will best be evaluated by progress tests or classroom activities, where the focus can be specific and isolated. The following discussion will explain in more detail the main aspects of this principle.


Student progress in this component is mainly assessed by measuring the students’ ability to comprehend authentic texts and to produce oral and written messages which are related to real life and in keeping with the field(s) of experience under study. Since the teaching methodology should be based on the development of communicative growth within given contexts, evaluation instruments need to reflect the same orientation; that is, this component is best evaluated in terms of authentic tasks in context. Further, this component focuses on how well a student has performed on a particular task. As a result, the nature of these tasks is determined by the field of experience, a real-life context, the students’ linguistic level and cognitive maturity.

To evaluate listening and reading comprehension, teachers will need to use authentic texts and have students carry out tasks which replicate the ways in which these two skills are used in real life. The most common means of using these two skills is in the form of note-taking. This can involve filling in missing information or pulling out information in order to complete a form. For example, in the field of experience “Food”, Beginner level students can be asked to jot down a list of food items needed for a party so that later the students can decide who will bring what, whereas in a unit on “Crime and Violence”, an Intermediate student might take down information left on the school’s answering machine regarding the theft of some school equipment so as to be able to pass this information on to a police officer. In both these examples, the tasks involve the students in carrying out authentic tasks for real reasons.

The same principle holds true for reading comprehension. In a unit on “ Clubs and Associations”, Beginner students might be asked to fill in a registration form in order to join their favourite club, whereas Advanced learners, having studied the field of experience “Politics”, might be asked to read two different articles describing opposing positions and decide which of the two sides they support in preparation for a debate with political candidates running in a Federal election. Information that is cultural in nature can be pulled out of a text, but only if its extrapolation is done so for authentic reasons. For example, if the students have been studying “The International French-speaking community”, they might be asked to read articles pertaining to Francophone language rights in a minority situation to determine the varying points of view in order to write up a summary for their local francophone newspaper. However, with these two language skills, the evaluation of language use and in many cases, general language education is subsumed, since what we want to determine is what is it the students have understood, given the context, and how much they have understood.

On the other hand, oral and written production tasks are more integrative in nature. For example, in a unit on “Domestic Animals”, students might be asked to read and respond to a newspaper ad on domestic pets. Beginner students could be asked to leave a message on an answering machine regarding the purchase of a particular animal. In this case, students would be evaluated on the contents of the message, based on the criteria given to the students, such as leaving their name and telephone number, describing the animal they want to purchase, etc. The other components could be included in this evaluation, but to a lesser degree, by asking students to include a culturally appropriate conclusion to their message (culture), properly pronouncing their words and using the correct form of adjectives when describing the animal (language) and the strategy that could be evaluated would be taking the risk by leaving a message on an answering machine. This example illustrates how an oral performance task can be carried out in an integrated fashion.

Written production can also be integrative in nature. For example, Beginner level students can be asked to write a classified ad in order to sell their used bicycle. Students could be asked to include in their description, the colour of the bicycle, the type of bicycle, the selling price, which in this case would mean placing the monetary symbol in the correct position, thus evaluating culture, possibly adding the appropriate expression for “if you need more information, call”, etc. They would then have to write out the ad as it would appear in the classified section, evaluating their knowledge of text types which forms a part of the general language education component. Advanced level students, on the other hand, need to be given tasks which will demonstrate their ability to link a number of ideas together in a coherent and cohesive fashion. For example, after having studied a French-Canadian novel, students could be asked to write a critique, which would include a summary of the main events of the story and a discussion of the student’s impression of the work. The students’ work would be evaluated on the students’ ability to logically link ideas, with accuracy of expression playing a part of the evaluation, in addition to evaluating the students’ ability to follow the standard format of a critique.

Thus, it is these kinds of tasks which will assist students in becoming more involved with their language development if they are assessed according to meaningful, real-life communicative situations which they might confront outside the confines of the classroom. Evaluation of this type adds a dimension of motivation as to how students will perceive their language development and the evaluation of their language performance.


In this component, students are expected to be able to identify, research, analyze and interpret cultural knowledge meaningfully, effectively and in context. The degree to which this can be done will depend on the language level and cognitive maturity of the students. Therefore, evaluation in this component will focus mostly on students’ cultural knowledge and will best be evaluated in progress type tests or classroom activities. However, students’ cultural knowledge can also be evaluated in performance tests in that their sociolinguistic knowledge can be measured directly by the manner in which it is being used. For example, teachers can evaluate if students have used appropriate social conventions for beginning and closing a formal telephone conversation or if the students have used the appropriate closing for a formal letter. As can be seen, both cases are productions and naturally lend themselves to this type of evaluation format; however, for listening and reading comprehension this knowledge becomes subsumed, unless the task asks for the extrapolation of this information in an authentic fashion. Therefore, the type of context and task will determine if culture can be evaluated directly or indirectly.

For evaluation at the Beginner level, then, students need to demonstrate their ability to identify concrete aspects or facts concerning francophone cultures and other cultures in their surrounding area. These facts can be related to such information as the identification of: French names in the class, school, or local telephone book, streets with French names, flags, newspapers or signs in national parks. Evaluation activities can require students to list, check off or describe the elements of francophone cultures they have identified. If the task is performance-based, students can be asked to demonstrate the application of their sociolinguistic knowledge pertaining to simple tasks such as using the appropriate greeting when beginning a simple informal conversation with a friend.

As students grow in communicative ability they can be expected, at the Intermediate level, to describe the differences and similarities between their own culture and local, national and international francophone cultures, in addition to other ethnocultural groups within and outside of Canada. Evaluation activities at this level could require students to design a chart highlighting similarities and differences in a specific area of life for a particular francophone or aboriginal culture. Or, students could be asked to write a paragraph describing similarities and differences between their culture and a particular francophone or aboriginal group in a given field of experience. At this level, students can demonstrate their knowledge of these differences or similarities by appropriately selecting the conventions which are in keeping with the task, such as using all the appropriate conventions employed in a formal letter.

At the Advanced levels, students are required to research, interpret and analyze the contributions of francophone cultures. For example, students might be asked to research and reflect upon such topics as the historical roots of the Quebecois nationalist movement, the advantages and disadvantages of bilingualism for Canada, the peoples and lifestyles of worldwide francophone cultures and/or variations in francophone dialects. Evaluation at this level might take the form of written responses where students are evaluated on mainly the basis of content, the depth of the analysis or development of their argumentation through examples and logic and to a lesser degree on accuracy of expression. In terms of performance, students could demonstrate their cultural knowledge in an oral production by presenting their opinions in a video letter to the Prime Minister of Canada, in which case they would have to use the appropriate register for the letter and employ a more formal tone to their presentation.

Evaluation activities for this component, then, need to be designed so that they lead students to develop heightened cultural awareness as they reflect on the similarities and differences between their own culture and the cultures they are studying. These activities need to allow students to demonstrate their knowledge in real, authentic contexts, in addition to providing them with the opportunity to apply this knowledge to carry out authentic, purposeful tasks. Thus, evaluation of this component needs to focus on ways in which students’ knowledge and understanding of themselves and of other cultures can be effectively tested.


The language component develops students’ ability to use the linguistic code accurately and appropriately as a means of achieving meaningful and purposeful communication. It is a tool that is developed and refined according to students’ communicative needs and to the type of communication taking place. An important dimension of this component, then, is knowing that the message is generally given priority over the form (use of the linguistic code). This does not mean, however, that linguistic accuracy is not important. Rather, a student’s communicative ability is viewed as the effective realisation of a communicative intent and the accuracy with which the message is expressed.

The evaluation of linguistic elements will depend on the language level of the learner, the task, and the field of experience. Evaluation at the Beginner level will focus more on the accuracy of pronunciation/spelling, appropriate vocabulary use, accuracy at the word level, and the correct order of words as it relates to the message. At the Intermediate level, students will continue to focus on appropriate use of vocabulary, agreement between words and correct word order, but they will also be expected to pay increased attention to correct verb tense usage in the present, past and future as it pertains to messages composed of a series of connected simple and complex sentences. At the Advanced level, students linguistic usage will continue to focus on grammatical accuracy developed at the lower levels, while including complex tense usage, and the development of fluency (the ability to communicate freely and coherently). Most importantly, though, one must bear in mind that the task will determine which linguistic elements will become the focus of the evaluation, since not everything can be evaluated nor do we want to discourage students from wanting to take risks with using the language they are presently developing.

Further, just as linguistic elements are presented and developed within a context and based on the students’ communicative needs, the evaluation of this component will also need to follow the same principle. This means that linguistic elements will also need to be evaluated in context. How they are evaluated will depend on what the focus is: knowledge or use. Therefore, the language component will need to be evaluated in two ways. One way will involve evaluating students’ language knowledge through the use of progress tests or contextualized classroom assignments. The other will involve evaluating the students’ ability to apply their knowledge in different situations and contexts through the use of performance-based testing. The following example will illustrate the difference between the two formats.

For example, students could be asked to identify the location of different objects in a room (testing their knowledge of prepositions and related vocabulary), by having the teacher read a descriptive paragraph relating to the location of these objects in a room. The reason would be so that students could leave a map for the painters, so that they could put the objects in the same place after painting the room. Students would paste the items in the correct location as they are described or write the name of the object, depending on their linguistic and cognitive level. In this case, the students would be evaluated on their accurate location of the objects and the correct recognition of vocabulary and in the case of writing, the correct spelling of the objects. On the other hand, to test their ability to use these same linguistic concepts in a similar situation, students could be asked to give the instructions to the movers who have just brought their furniture to their new home so that the movers can place the student’s personal objects in the correct place in the new bedroom. The language which would be evaluated would be the correct use of the imperative, the choice of appropriate vocabulary and the correct use of prepositions. As these examples have shown, when teachers design evaluation instruments for this component they will have to decide whether it is linguistic knowledge they want to evaluate or language use. This decision will determine whether a progress type test or a performance instrument will be used.

At the beginning stages of language learning, then, it is especially important that students be encouraged to take risks and experience the satisfaction of communicating messages that are personally meaningful. However, as they progress in their ability to express themselves more fully, students will need to recognize that, as they become more accurate in their language use, they will become more efficient and better communicators. Evaluation procedures, therefore, will need to reflect this progression towards desired accuracy of expression, keeping context and task in mind.

General Language Education

The general language education component includes a number of generally proven language learning strategies which can help students become more efficient and independent language learners. The key to evaluating growth in this component is the inclusion of objectives relating to this component in lesson plan preparation and in the construction of evaluation checklists for the unit/ project under study. Depending on the objective(s) to be taught/learned and evaluated, students can be asked to demonstrate the skills or strategic knowledge they are developing through a variety of techniques.

Like the culture component, language learning strategies can be directly or indirectly evaluated, depending on the context and the task. Once again to test strategic knowledge directly, it is best to use a progress test or a specific language activity, since it is often quite difficult to isolate or control specific strategies in authentic ways. For this same reason, in the case of performancebased tests, these strategies are most often subsumed. However, metacognitive strategies such as self-correction or the use of organizational strategies such as objectivation checklists can become a part of the test instrument in that students can be asked to reflect upon the processes they used to carry out the task. Further, in the case of performance testing, students need to be allowed to use the strategies that best suit their learning style in order to be successful in carrying out the task rather than attempting to restrict the types of strategies available to the students.

In light of these limitations, here are some examples of how language learning strategies can be evaluated directly. For example, to have students demonstrate their recognition of cognates (Beginner level) in reading, they can be asked to underline them and then use them to attempt to determine the essence of the message. Recognition of cognates in a listening exercise can be demonstrated by having students listen to an announcement which contains the listed words in front of them. Students would check off which words were said and later determine which ones mean the same as the English counterpart. As in the reading example, they could be asked to use these words to guess the main meaning of the announcement. Guessing the meaning of key words at the Intermediate level might be evaluated by having students list the key words relating to who, what, where, when, and why as these five W’s relate to the text they have just heard or read in order to determine its meaning. Or Advanced level learners may be asked to hypothesize the meaning of linguistic nuances as a means of better understanding the text. As can be seen by these examples objectives which, for the most part, relate to the use of cognitive strategies can be evaluated by assessing the product of the strategy being used.

On the other hand, objectives geared to developing the use of socio-affective and metacognitive strategies will focus more on process. For example, an objective such as “voluntarily correct mistakes or errors pointed out by someone else” (Intermediate level) may be assessed best by having students complete evaluation checklists or by teacher observation of the student in a communicative activity. In fact, most of the socio-affective objectives will need to be evaluated in this way whereas the metacognitive strategies can be evaluated through the use of self-evaluations and objectivation checklists. In essence, while some informal, unrecorded observations and evaluations will always be going on, well-developed observation and evaluation checklists will need to be used in order to formally evaluate these strategies. Through the use of student completed evaluation checklists, both teachers and students will have a clearer picture of which strategies are becoming automatic and which ones need more practice.

Thus, this component will best be evaluated in a teaching/learning situation and within the unit/project being developed. The use of observation, self- and peer evaluation checklists will assist teachers in fully evaluating this component. If teachers want to summatively evaluate students’ strategic use, it is recommended that progress test instruments or classroom activities be used, since a product can best be attained with this type of evaluation.

Principle 2

Student evaluation in the second language classroom needs to focus on the process of language learning, by making use of a wide variety of methods and strategies. Student evaluation also needs to encompass all dimensions of the learning process so that students can see that they are progressing in their learning and in their ability to use the language for meaningful and purposeful communication. Therefore, evaluation practices will need to be balanced between formative and summative activities. Therefore, a systematic evaluation schema must be incorporated and elaborated while learning activities are being planned.

The next two sections will discuss an overall evaluation plan and the different techniques which can be used to evaluate both formatively and summatively within this schema. The following table provides some of the key points to remember when developing an evaluation plan within the framework of a unit or educational project or during the course of a school year.


Government of the Northwest Territories (Canada).