The development of PBLA was undertaken as a CIC priority in response to recommendations in several pivotal studies on language training in Canada. Makosky (2008) and Nagy and Stewart (2009) had noted that assessment in LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada) programs was ad hoc and inconsistent. This raised concerns about the reliability of the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) outcomes of language training reported to the federal government. The reports recommended that the federal government implement a teacher-based assessment protocol in federally funded language training programs. An intergovernmental study of settlement language training across Canada advised CIC to adopt a language portfolio assessment system nationally to capture language-development progress.1 This section introduces Language Assessment and Evaluation and Portfolio Assessment and Language Learning.
Language Assessment and Evaluation
Although the terms assessment and evaluation are often used interchangeably, they in fact have different meanings:
Assessment: Assessment is the process of collecting information about learner learning. Throughout the learning process, assessment is used to inform teaching and learner learning. As a result of assessment, teachers can adjust their teaching. Regular descriptive feedback to learners enables them to modify what they are doing so as to become more effective learners.
Evaluation: Evaluation is the process of reviewing collected evidence and making a judgment about how well learners have learned what they have been studying. Evaluation is used to tell learners how well they have performed according to a set of standards. Typically, evaluative feedback is encoded: that is, it is reported using numbers, letters, or grades.
Traditionally, assessment and evaluation have several purposes:
Diagnostic assessment – assessment of discrete strengths and weaknesses
Formative assessment – assessment for learning (i.e., to enhance learning)
Summative assessment – assessment of learning (i.e., to determine what has been learned)
Evaluation – judging learning outcomes Formative and Summative Assessment
NOTE: For placement purposes, the results of the CLBPT scores indicate the learner’s general level of proficiency. For example, a learner assessed as a CLB 2 has achieved proficiency at CLB 2 and will be placed in a class to work towards CLB 3 outcomes.
Traditionally, formative and summative assessment practices have had discrete purposes. Formative assessment has been carried out by teachers as an ongoing, frequently informal process of assessment for learning. Learners use feedback from formative assessment during the instructional cycle to modify their learning strategies and become more effective language learners. Teachers use formative assessment to adjust their teaching strategies and plans to better meet learner needs.
All assessment – whether diagnostic/placement, formative, summative, self, or peer – should inform and enhance learning
Summative assessment has typically been carried out to determine the result of the learning process (assessment of learning). Traditionally, it is a formal process that generally occurs at the end of a period of instruction, such as at the end of a term2 or course. Teachers typically administer formal assessment tasks developed by external experts to collect performance data for evaluation.
Current conceptions of assessment consider formative and summative assessment to be interrelated and on a continuum. Research has determined that all assessment should be carried out formatively (Black and Wiliam, 1998): that is, it should promote learning. PBLA builds on the interrelatedness of assessment purposes and is premised on the belief that assessment and evaluation practices should have the following characteristics:
Be central classroom practice
Benefit the learners
Reflect the curriculum developed and delivered in response to the needs and goals of the learners
Yield accurate, reliable results
Be part of effective planning
Enhance exemplary teaching
Portfolio Assessment in Learning Language
Portfolios have been increasingly used worldwide in language learning for assessment purposes. Several particular uses of portfolio assessment in language learning have influenced the PBLA model, including the European Language Portfolio (ELP) and, in Canada, Manitoba’s Collaborative Language Portfolio Assessment (CLPA).
European Language Portfolio (ELP)
In ESL instruction one of the most influential uses of portfolio assessment has been by the Council of Europe. The European Language Portfolio (ELP) is based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR).
The ELP is a self-assessment tool used to evaluate, describe, and document individuals’ language learning and proficiency using the Common European Framework; to inform anyone concerned about their proficiency; to set personal language-learning goals; and to plan further learning.
The ELP was piloted from 1998 to 2000 and was introduced on a pan-European scale by the Council of Europe in 2001.
More than 100 models of the ELP in more than 30 countries and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) have been validated.
To date, more than two million copies of ELP models have been distributed.
For more information about the ELP, including numerous downloadable resources, visit the ELP website at www.coe.int/portfolio.
Manitoba Collaborative Language Portfolio Assessment (CLPA)
In Canada, Manitoba has been successfully using portfolio assessment in government-funded language-training programs for a number of years. Portfolio assessment is used successfully for both adult ESL and ESL Literacy learners at a range of CLB levels and in a variety of programs, including settlement-focused programs, workplace programs, English for Specific Purposes (ESP), and academic preparation courses. This includes part-time and full-time ESL, programs with set- and continuous-intake policies, and homogeneous and multilevel programming.
Work began on the development of CLPA in 2003, guided by a working group of experienced Adult ESL teachers from a variety of programs with learners at a range of CLB levels, including ESL Literacy. Their work resulted in the production of Collaborative Language Portfolio Assessment: Manitoba Best Practices Guide, which includes suggestions and materials for using portfolio-based language assessment with different types of learners at different levels or in different learning contexts.
CLPA was introduced in three core Winnipeg programs in 2004 and was phased in throughout the system, including regional programs, from 2005 to 2008.
In 2008, Manitoba’s Adult Language Training (ALT) Branch project officers reviewed the consistency and effectiveness of implementation through regular program monitoring.
As a result, the CLPA protocol and expectations were standardized in 2009. The CLPA Binder Divider was introduced, and the CLPA: Manitoba Best Practices Guide was revised.
Feedback collected in 2010 from teachers and learners on the use of CLPA indicates that the majority of learners and teachers like using CLPA and find it helpful.
1 Federal, Provincial, Territorial Forum. 2009. “Pan-Canadian Environmental Scan.” Prepared by Alberta Employment and Immigration Policy and Programs Branch, Calgary.
2Term is used to describe both a term or semester in a program year.