Reporting Student Progress

Evaluating Students’ Work

An important part of any evaluation system is the manner in which information is reported to students, parents, teachers and administrators as it relates to the communicative performance of students during the course of a lesson, a unit, a semester, or the entire year. Moreover, it is equally important that reporting instruments be reflective of the philosophy predicated by the program of studies, in addition to being congruent with the manner in which students have been evaluated. Therefore, all evaluative instruments and reporting procedures need to mirror each other in order that the same type of information is transmitted. In this sense, reporting procedures will need to provide information which has been derived from evaluation instruments which have measured the language skills both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Nevertheless, the methods used for reporting student progress will vary, either by the school jurisdictions’ evaluation policy and/or the grade level of the student. However, student progress does not necessarily need to be limited to a mark. Anecdotal reporting procedures provide another alternative to quantitative grading, by describing to parents what a student can do in French. Observation or objectivation charts are excellent tools which can be used effectively for reporting student progress on a continual basis or anecdotal reports can be prepared for report card use. Below are two examples of anecdotal reports which could be written on the comments section of a report card. These comments are based on formal observations and on the completion of a particular communicative task.

This type of information is useful to parents as it provides them with insight as to what kinds of concrete activities the students are carrying out in the classroom. However, most schools will expect teachers to prepare a formal mark (letter grade or percentage) which is based on a number of evaluation activities, including the final mark on educational projects and the accompanying listening, reading, writing and speaking activities of these projects. In fact, this mark will more than likely be based on a wide sampling of student work and will need to be balanced out so that it properly reflects the amount of time spent on each language skill.

However, in order to provide students with a better understanding of their language development, other forms of reporting need to be provided. This involves assessment procedures which go beyond the standard notation format (e.g., percentages) and are composed of a variety of evaluative instruments which provide students with information on their progress over the course of the school year. In order to carry out this type of assessment successfully, it is important to formalize an evaluation plan which identifies how the data will be gathered and the recording procedures which will be used to quantify and qualify this information. These assessment procedures can be carried out in a number of ways. One of these is through the use of task-based assessments which principally judge students’ performance by means of criteria, indicating what they know and how well they are be to apply this knowledge. Other formats include self-, peer evaluations and portfolio assessment. Assessment of this sort focuses on learning and student success. Moreover, it also assists teachers, students, parents and administrators in identifying the students’ weaknesses in a more positive fashion and in turn, facilitating in the identification of more effective teaching and learning strategies. This can result in student improvement in these areas and help decrease the chances of learning deficiencies remaining undetected.

A reporting procedure which is becoming increasingly popular as a means of discussing students’ progress is through the use of portfolios and language competency profiling. A portfolio involves the organized collection of a variety of examples of students’ work in the four language skill areas which is illustrative of the attainment of instructional objectives and performance-based outcomes. The examples are also accompanied by an analysis and description of each piece of work for two purposes:

  • 1) to relate to students important information regarding their success in different areas and
  • 2) to provide diagnostic information to future teachers regarding the students’ language proficiency.

The portfolio, then, contains examples of how students are demonstrating their oral and written comprehension in a variety of texts and examples of what students are capable of doing orally and in written form. Thus, portfolios represent the “students’ language learning journey” (Powell) as they progress through the proficiency levels and are made up of selections of the students’ most representative works and not every piece of student work.

The annotated descriptions which accompany the portfolios are given in holistic terms which inform students, parents, and any other interested parties of the range of authentic communicative tasks which the students are capable of carrying out and to what degree. In addition, the portfolio illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the students’ abilities as they relate to each of the language skills and the components of the program of studies. Portfolios also include students’ reflections on their own work and may include parental feedback if so desired. Including students’ participation in the development and maintenance of the portfolio requires students to actively participate in the learning process and the acquisition of the language skills. Portfolios also allow students the autonomy to decide what should be contained in their portfolio as a means of making them more accountable for their own learning. Thus, the use of portfolios provides teachers, students and parents with an overview of what has been accomplished in terms of students’ learning over a period of time and promotes active student participation and responsibility in the learning process.

The advantage of portfolio assessment is that the language samples can be used for placement as well as diagnostic purposes. In addition, this type of assessment demonstrates to students, and others who wish to view the portfolio, the progress which has been made in concrete terms, as opposed to the sole reliance on a mark for information. This can be quite motivating for students, because they can trace their progress from the beginning to the end of the school year, or semester, or from year to year. It also allows them access to their own communicative growth, so that they can see how the same communicative tasks can be carried out at different language levels and how the same tasks will vary in their richness and precision as students move along the levels’ continuum. This information should be shared not only with students, but also with parents, other teachers, administrators and future employers as an indication of the students’ language proficiency as it relates to the program.

The process of incorporating a portfolio assessment procedure into an already established evaluation plan can often be a complex and arduous task, which takes time and careful planning, but once in place, becomes a routine rather than a burden. However, in order for portfolios to have educational value, an organized system for gathering examples of student work and a marking schema must be in place from the start. Students must be informed right from the beginning as to what will be contained in the portfolio and what criteria will be used to judge the portfolio. Students also need to know the reason behind the use of portfolios and how they fit into the entire evaluation schema; i.e., what value is being attributed to the portfolio, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in relation to other summative evaluation instruments, such as the marking of assignments and tests. Further, they need to be informed of the fact that portfolios can also be used for placement purposes as it relates to the next proficiency level. Thus, it is very important to determine the role of the portfolio and to indicate to the students how the portfolio will be evaluated and used to inform others of their progress and language development.

To facilitate the assessment of the portfolio, a “Language Competency Profile” can be used to describe what students are capable of doing in each of the four language skills and to what degree. It provides a global picture of students’ language performance as it relates to the learner objectives of the program of studies. If necessary, the global statements can be quantified using a rubric system which will further define whether the students are performing at the desired level or not. “Language Competency Profiles” can also be used for each language skill. In this way, they can be used for diagnostic or reporting purposes such that they can detail the students’ strengths and indicated areas which are in need of improvement for a particular language skill. What is most important to bear in mind, though, is that portfolios can consume a lot of time in their evaluation if evaluation checklists are not prepared beforehand and a maximum amount of time is allocated to their evaluation. Thus, the use of portfolios must be planned for in advance otherwise its use can become a harrowing experience for both the teacher and the students. However, if portfolio use is well planned, it can become an enriching experience for all.

What follows are examples of how student data can be profiled for assessment purposes. The first example (Figure 20) illustrates how a teacher could write a profile for a particular skill, in this case oral production, based on data gathered from a formal evaluative situation. One reason for reporting students’ progress in this manner, may be to assist a student in gaining confidence with the language in a way that is less threatening than a mark. Or, it can be used in addition to the mark, so that students can see where they are doing well and what areas need to be improved. Or, the profile could be sent home so that the teacher could communicate to the student’s parents how their child did in a particular communicative situation as a means of reporting student progress in between formal report card periods. Although Figure 20 is presented in a qualified manner, language competency profiling can be quantified in terms of percentages or through the use of a point system. This decision will need to be taken by the teacher in keeping with school jurisdiction requirements.

The second example demonstrates how a year-end language competency profile may be written so as to provide information on placement for the following year, in addition to describing the degree of attainment of the level as it relates to the achievement standard (Figure 21). This type of reporting can be valuable for the students, their parents, other teachers and administrators, especially in the case of placement. This information defines, in clear terms, what the student is capable of doing in all four language skills and in relation to the objectives of the program of studies.

As the examples will demonstrate, reporting student progress is no longer limited to a mark; rather, it requires that a number of different methods be used in order to inform students of their progress, to let them know where their strengths lie and to indicate what areas are in need of improvement. This form of reporting, then, will assist students in not only improving their ability to use the language, but will increase their confidence and motivate them to learn.

Formative Evaluation Techniques

Evaluating Students’ Work

Formative or as it is sometimes referred to informal student evaluation is an integral and ongoing part of the learning process and needs to be a part of one’s daily classroom routine in order to provide students with valuable feedback on their learning. Some of the evaluation techniques presented in this section can be carried out on a daily basis (ongoing evaluation techniques) whereas others will have to be specifically planned for when unit/educational project plans are being made. Various techniques will be described and suggestions as to how they can be carried out and when it is appropriate to use them will also be provided. Figure 9 provides an overview of these different techniques and how they relate to different steps in the instructional process.


Observation is an important formative evaluation technique, since it gives students direct access to information regarding their learning and language development. This technique involves teachers in playing the role of facilitator by freely providing individual guidance and error correction as the students interact in both communicative and experiential/communicative activities. This type of technique can be easily integrated into daily teaching practices as it can be applied immediately to any situation to provide students with information on their progress on a continual basis.

Observations can be done informally or formally, depending on what kind of data the teacher wishes to gather. Informal observations do not involve a recording process; rather, students are given immediate feedback on their learning, either in the form of praise, encouragement or error correction. Informal observation practices allow teachers to evaluate both the learning activity and the students’ performance by ascertaining whether or not the designated activity is unfolding as it should and whether or not the students have the sufficient linguistic elements required to carry out the task. This is done by listening to individual or group language samples to determine if students are on track. If sufficient numbers of students are experiencing difficulty then adjustments can be made to the activity or the task. Teachers can also focus their attention on individual students by supplying these students with the help they require in order to carry out the activity. Another important aspect of this technique involves providing students with language correction to ensure that students are using the language they have learned as accurately as possible. When students are being observed using the language it is important to know when it is appropriate to provide students with linguistic corrections which will foster their language use and not discourage them to take risks. In essence, this technique, when used informally, allows teachers to encourage students to tolerate ambiguity and to take risks, by praising them for their efforts and giving them constructive feedback on their language knowledge in an environment which is positive and where errors are considered a part of learning.

Observations can also be carried out in more formal ways. Checklists or observation charts, which are based on either general or specific learner objectives, are used as a means of formally providing students with information on their learning. These checklists can be maintained and carried out periodically in order to monitor students’ language development over the course of the year. This observation data can be used by teachers to inform parents and administrators of how the students are progressing. Or, for reporting purposes, this data can provide teachers with additional information which can be used in the writing up of students’ language proficiency profiles.

Record-keeping can be done when students are working in pairs or as they are working in small groups such as in a cooperative learning activity. It is not necessary to evaluate every student all at once; rather, one group can be done in one class period and others in different classes, providing that the checklist provides that kind of flexibility. An observation checklist or chart is developed, based on what kind of information is to be shared with the learners. Thus, an observation checklist can be very general in nature, if the information is pertaining to a student’s overall performance for a given level (as shown in Figure 10) or more specific, if the type of information is dealing with a student’s ability to perform a given task (Figure 11), or it can be tied to specific language learning strategies (Figure 12), which will be observed during the entire course of the year. The checklists should be written up in such a way that both students and parents can easily understand what has been observed. Therefore, it is important to leave a section for writing comments which can be used to provide more precise information relating to the student’s knowledge, abilities and attitudes.

Formal observations play an important role in language development in that they can be used for diagnosing students’ strengths and their weaknesses. This information can then be shared with each student or their parents as a basis for a discussion on the student’s language performance. Further, these observations can become the basis for anecdotal reporting if required. This data gathering process can also assist teachers in making instructional decisions as to whether the students are ready to continue on or whether they require more work on a specific linguistic element or language task. Therefore, this form of evaluation is a powerful means of gathering data for both instructional and evaluative purposes and is one which is easily incorporated both formally and informally.

Error Correction

This technique is an important part of ensuring that students will be able to use the language with precision. Yet, teachers face the dilemma of deciding between promoting spontaneity in communicative growth and encouraging accuracy of expression. In this light, the resulting question becomes, if errors are totally ignored, then, will they become fossilized; i.e., will the grammatical rules and language structures that are stored incorrectly in memory remain that way (see Selinker, 1972 for more information on this process)? However, the other side of the coin becomes, when I decide to correct what should the role of error correction be in the classroom? The answers to these two questions are not easy ones and will depend largely on the nature of the task and the learning situation. Nevertheless, the decision to correct students’ errors should not be taken lightly; rather, teachers need to be aware of the consequences of too much correction or too little and to develop their own personal philosophy which coincides with good instructional practices and the objectives of the program of studies.

Consequently, in the context of a multidimensional curriculum, teachers need to be aware that error correction is no longer limited to linguistic code corrections, but includes more subtle and indirect methods such as providing students with language learning strategies which will assist them in improving their ability to understand and communicate in French. Error correction also involves finding ways in which to encourage students to develop their language skills while at the same time applying their linguistic, cultural and strategic knowledge in as precise a manner as possible.

When students are working on communicative or experiential/communicative activities, teachers will need to find helpful and unobtrusive ways to guide students in accurately clarifying their communicative intents. In these situations, error correction should not be primarily focused on pronunciation and accuracy of specific linguistic elements, as this can become disruptive and threatening for students as they are attempting to convey personal meaning while at the same time trying to sustain the communication. In these instances, teachers need to be judicious when correcting students and should resort to techniques such as providing the student with the correct word or linguistic form if the comprehension of the message is being impeded by these factors. Or, teachers can verify students’ intent by paraphrasing or repeating what they have said or by questioning them in much the same way as would be done in natural discourse in order to facilitate the comprehension of the message.

Further, before students are asked to understand or produce something, they might be given checklists to use along with the activity or task, in order to encourage them to reflect upon the way in which they are going to plan for learning or to use reference materials, such as their notes or dictionaries which will assist them in achieving this precision. In addition, students can be given certain language formulae which they can use for asking for assistance. In all these cases, students are given the opportunity to learn and to develop the language in a non-threatening manner. As such, the teacher’s role is that of facilitator and coach whose primary task is to encourage students to use their language knowledge to understand and express themselves to the best of their ability.

However, error correction can also occur in a more controlled fashion. In this case, teachers will need to pay particular attention to the way in which students are using the language both orally and in written form. In these situations, students are more than likely working on contextualized linguistic activities which will assist them in learning how to manipulate a certain grammatical structure. When students are involved in these types of activities it is important to note, on a consistent basis, what it is the students are doing in order to provide then with immediate feedback regarding the accurate use of the structure. This is a vital step in ensuring that students will be able to properly store the structures for use in real-life communicative tasks.

Therefore, the most important aspect to bear in mind with error correction is that it needs to be seen as a valuable part of the learning process and a needed element for the acquisition of the language. Furthermore, error correction needs to be carried out in an accepting and supportive environment so that learners feel that making a mistake is not something to avoid, but, rather, is a natural part of language hypotheses testing. Effective error correction, then, assists students in becoming better language learners who are willing to tolerate ambiguity and to take risks.


Even at the very beginning stages of language teaching/learning, teachers are encouraged to use the target language as much as possible. In this way, each class will involve further development of listening comprehension skills as teachers carry out direct instruction, learning activities or classroom procedures. To further enhance this development, teachers will also need to use, on a consistent basis, a verification procedure which involves paying careful attention to what students are saying and doing and how they are reacting to a particular learning activity. By verifying how students are functioning with the instructional process, teachers are able to begin a new activity, to continue the current one they are working on or to stop to rephrase instructions and redirect students’ attention in order to ensure that all students are actively engaged in what is going on in the classroom. Teachers can also confirm if students have understood instructions for a class activity by asking verification questions such as: “A quelle page es-tu?”, “Qu’est-ce que vous devez faire?”, Est-ce que tout le monde est prêt?”, “Est-ce que vous avez compris?”, “Avez-vous des questions?”, or by asking students to paraphrase instructions either in French or English. In this way, teachers can ascertain that all students will be able to actively participate in the learning activity.

When students start group work, teachers can begin verification procedures by asking a quick question to the group or by listening attentively for a moment to verify that students are on task. This type of technique will usually provide sufficient evidence that students have understood what it is they are supposed to do. Continuous verification is necessary to monitor classroom dynamics and to ascertain that both the teacher and students are always “on the same wavelength”. Thus, this type of formative evaluation can assist teachers in providing them with immediate feedback as to how the lesson is proceeding in order to determine if any quick changes will be warranted so as to meet the needs of the students. It is also an efficient means of determining who is experiencing difficulty so as to be able to assist this student in becoming an active member of the class, without singling out any particular student. Finally, it is possible to easily incorporate this technique on an ongoing basis, and it is an effective means of keeping students attentive and on task.


This form of evaluation involves the act of reviewing what has been learned during an activity, a class, or a unit/project. It is recommended that teachers involve students in reflection activities on a regular basis in order to obtain feedback on the learning that has taken place. This type of evaluation is an opportunity for teachers to verify the perceptions of students, to review what they have been doing and to determine to what extent they have learnt the material being presented. For teachers, this kind of feedback provides the input required to make revisions so as to meet students’ needs. As for the students, this type of evaluation can help to acknowledge their efforts and to give them confidence to continue taking risks with the language.

Reflection/feedback activities can take place at specific points in the unit/project or during closure activities at the end of a class. They can be as simple as a discussion of the learning activities carried out during the class or they can relate to the lesson plans for the next day. Such a discussion could involve teachers in asking students what they did in class that day so as to review not only the content covered but the language skills developed and to discuss how they can use this knowledge in the development of their unit/project or other communicative situations.

Another form of feedback could involve teachers and students in talking about how a particular set of learning activities that will be carried out during the course of the next day or days will be tied to learning activities that they are presently working on so as to assist the students in developing a mental and written framework. A brainstorming activity could be carried out in which a semantic map is created so that students now have a visual image of what progress they will be making at the end of specific points in the project. As each class goes by, students can add the activities they have been carrying out to the framework in order to be able to view the progress they have made in their language development. Brief discussions as to the success of each activity can also be carried out in order that students develop the ability to reflect upon their work and attribute value to what it is they are doing. These are only a few of the kinds of activities which can be carried out, but in essence, all of these types of activities will provide students with an opportunity to think about what is they have been learning as a means of developing metacognitive learning strategies. As can be seen, this form of evaluation involves students in becoming directly involved in their learning and helps them to take responsibility for what they have learned.

This technique is also quite simple to incorporate into one’s daily teaching practices and, as has been demonstrated by the examples given above, an effective means of making transitions between classes. However, it does need to be planned for so that teachers can obtain information from the students which will assist them in being able to determine the effectiveness of the lesson or unit/ educational project so that further instructional decisions can be taken to meet the needs of individual students or groups of students, such as the development of remediation or enrichment activities.

Self-Assessment/Assessment by Peers

Self assessment, or self-evaluation as it if often called, is a technique which provides students with the opportunity to reflect upon the degree to which they believe they can perform a given task. Or, it can be used to allow students to reflect upon their general behaviour as it pertains to the learning of the language. In essence, this technique involves students in judging for themselves the degree to which they have progressed in the acquisition of the language. This type of reflective process can provide students with the opportunity to develop more self-confidence with the language as they are being given the chance to think about how well they are able to carry out a task prior to being evaluated summatively. If, at this stage, they continue to be unsure of themselves, they can ask for assistance in order to be able to improve in those areas in which they are experiencing difficulty. This moment of reflection, then, can motivate students to do better by being more confident in themselves.

Self-evaluations can be administered at any given time during the instructional process, but it is always useful to do so just prior to the presentation of the cumulative task in the unit/educational project so that students may be given the opportunity to think about how successful they will be in carrying out the task. However, self-evaluations should be used sparingly as students will soon grow tired of the same routine. In this sense, it is recommended that self-assessment procedures be administered no more than three to four times a year so that students can truly feel as though they have progressed.

Self-evaluation checklists are created in terms of what students are expected to be able to do and are derived from a specific unit’s objectives or they can be written based on desired student behaviours. They can include as many columns as necessary for the self-assessment, in addition to a comments column which will allow the teacher an important opportunity to also reflect upon what the students see as their progress. The checklists need to be written in such a way that they encourage students to indicate the degree to which they can perform the various tasks. Older students may indicate their degree of success according to a predetermined scale, whereas younger children can indicate satisfactory or unsatisfactory performance through symbols such as happy/unhappy faces. Figure 13 is one example of how students might assess themselves in relation to a task and Figure 14 is an example of how students might assess desired behaviours.

Self-assessments, then, can also serve as an important mechanism for opening andialogue between the teacher and students or the teacher and parents as it provides a basis from which to discuss certain concerns the teacher may have already noted in the student’s language development. Using the students’ selfassessments may also help confirm for some students that they are in fact experiencing difficulty with a certain aspect of the unit/educational project so that further instruction can be carried out to address these needs.

Therefore, self-assessments can be used in a number of ways which allow students to self-diagnose their strengths and weaknesses, in addition to providing valuable information to the teacher concerning the students’ selfconcept and learning needs.

Peer evaluation is another means of obtaining valuable information on student progress. Instead of assessing themselves prior to their presentation, the students can have their peers verify the degree to which they can perform the required task. As indicated above, these checklists can also be based on the specific unit’s objectives or they can be based on desired student behaviours. The purpose of peer evaluation is to also give students the opportunity to obtain feedback from another source before being evaluated summatively. This process also develops valuable strategies such as being able to point out errors in another person’s work, to work cooperatively with a peer and also to selectively attend to the task by being actively involved in assisting peers to edit their work.

Peer evaluations can also be used to actively engage students in their peers’ oral presentations. In this form of peer evaluation, students are asked to give their opinion on the presentations (see Figure 15). The benefit of this type of evaluation is that it can assist students in taking more responsibility for their work by giving their best performance. However, Once again, it is recommended that this form of evaluation be used sparingly as it could also intimidate some students into not wanting to perform at all.

In essence, then, these two techniques can be used to obtain other forms of information on students’ language development and acquisition.


Objectivation is an evaluation process that encourages students to step back from their work and reflect on the learning that has taken place. This technique can be carried out as either a teacher-led discussion or through the completion of a checklist. In this process students are involved in examining objectively what they have learned (knowledge, skills, attitudes, or strategies) and whether they have been able to apply what they have learned to the task at hand.

Objectivations, done either individually or as a class, can help in determining what was successful, what was unsuccessful, and how learning can be improved. This technique differs from self-assessment in that students must think about what it is they have learned and analyze it in terms of whether or not they have been able to apply it. On the other hand, self-assessment asks students to reflect upon how well they think they know what they have learned by using a rating scale to qualify their degree of success. The strength of the objectivation process, then, lies in the fact that it is carried out in a non-threatening manner by giving students the opportunity to assess their own work before it is formally evaluated. Furthermore, objectivations help students develop important metacognitive strategies such as self-monitoring and self-correction.

Objectivation checklists can be developed directly from the learner objectives for a specific task or unit. Each element that is to be included in the preparation of the task is listed and the necessary instructions for the completion of the checklist are also given. The use of yes/no is the usual format (see Figure 16).

Objectivation checklists, such as Figure 16, can be given to the students at the beginning of a unit or educational project in order to direct their planning and to guide their learning during the instructional/learning sequence. This encourages students to take greater responsibility for their learning and to further develop strategies which will lead them to become more autonomous learners. Moreover, the objectivation process assists students in acknowledging whether or not all the necessary steps leading to the successful completion of the task have been covered. By going through each step, students are given the chance to improve the quality of their work and to feel more successful in what they are doing. In the beginning, though, students will need to carry out this technique with the assistance of the teacher and will need to be encouraged to take on this task by themselves.

Objectivations also provide the means for a discussion between the teacher and the students in those cases where students have not understood what may have gone wrong in the carrying out of the task. Through the use of an objectivation checklist, the teacher and students can revisit the task by discussing each step needed to carry it out and together pointing out any steps which may not have been performed. This process assists students, then, in seeing where they have been successful and unsuccessful, in addition to becoming aware of the value of using the objectivation process as a means of verifying that one has indeed followed every step. By going through this process, students will become more cognizant of the importance of the use of objectivation as a means of verifying one’s work.

Finally, objectivation grids can also provide teachers with useful information in their preparation of anecdotal comments for report cards, in that objectivations can indicate what students can do successfully and what needs more work. The data gathered from objectivations can be transferred to teacher notes so that more explicit information can be reported to both students and parents as it relates to the students’ language development and acquisition.

In essence, this section has discussed a number of ways in which students can be given feedback on their work. It is important for teachers to determine which of these techniques can be incorporated into their daily teaching practices in order to provide students with data which will assist them in constantly improving their language development. The following section will discuss formative evaluation methods.


Government of the Northwest Territories (Canada).

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).