Assessment and bilingual education

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Thanks to prof. Ana Halbach I had the chance to meet some of the teachers who started the bilingual project in Madrid in 2004. We were researching their training and perceptions about the project. At that time, many of them stated that they wanted to seize this opportunity as one that would grant students an authentic experience of language learning. “Communication will be the focus now “, most of them said.

Seven  years later many of those teachers find that, although they have achieved a communicative classroom working THROUGH English, assessment fails to be parallel to this progress.  “I don’t understand why children should be exposed to such a pressure when their language gains are evident”. “ I sometimes think that the administration does not trust us as evaluators of their progress” “English exams move the focus to language again, and everything we we’re fighting for is lost with this kind of assessment”. These are some of the comments I have heard along the last months and that prove that something must be done with assessment procedures.

I believe that good bilingual teaching does not need for external evaluators to check children’s language proficiency. What is more important is that children can use the language in natural contexts and can engage in high-order thinking process using English. This can be checked by observing students work in the classroom.  Language exams could be then used to check progress after some years (at least let’s wait for children to reach 11-12yrs old and have some abstract thinking!).

Watch out. We run the risk of teaching “for the exam” again. I see many teachers working at bilingual schools preparing long lists of vocabulary and structures which “are in the exam”. If that’s the only reason to teach them and not communicative aims, English will again be a dead language.

How is assessment organised in your country? Which other types of assessment could be included?  Do you consider Trinity/Cambridge exams a good option?

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