What is “the best” way to assess emergent bilinguals?

9 March 2017

Last month we published The Assessment of Emergent Bilinguals by Kate Mahoney. In this post, Kate explains how she came to dedicate her research to this topic and introduces us to her decision-making framework, PUMI (Purpose, Use, Method, Instrument), that can be used to better inform assessment decisions for bilingual children.

Since my first days as a teacher, I wanted to answer questions about how language and culture impact learning and schooling. I found myself teaching in Puerto Rican communities in New York, Navajo communities in New Mexico, Mexican communities in the Southwest, and in bilingual communities in Belize. Each experience drove an awakening clarity: assessment was an incredibly powerful influence on schooling and success, and language and culture strongly influenced assessment. In 1999, my then-advisor Dr. Jeff MacSwan at Arizona State University (ASU) suggested I adopt the study of tests and the testing process – within the context of bilingual learners – as a research topic. Admittedly, I was reluctant to begin a formal study involving psychometrics, language assessment and related methodologies, but I needed a multidisciplinary approach to answer questions. I was reluctant because the topic of testing seemed so frustrating and unfair, and seemed to privilege some students over others, based primarily on the relationship between culture and language. It was this reluctance that led me to begin my study of assessment, and from multiple disciplines. At the same time, I began teaching graduate courses in assessment for the multilingual programs at ASU. I’ve continued to teach this course throughout my career and today teach and conduct research at the State University of New York at Fredonia.

As I think back over the past 15-plus years of researching this topic, I’m continually struck by its complexity, and how difficult it can be for classroom teachers to learn about and stay abreast of the evolving methodologies. There is so much more to assessment than simply establishing a rubric and giving the test. Because of the complexity and multidisciplinary nature of assessment, it was difficult to deliver a course on assessment in a connected way to university students. That’s why I developed PUMI (Purpose, Use, Method, Instrument) for my first class on the subject back in 1999. I didn’t call it PUMI back then, but my students and I always discussed assessments within this framework, and it became an important way to make decisions and select appropriate assessments, while also understanding the complexities of emergent-bilingual assessment.

This book about the assessment of emergent bilingual learners is the culmination of teaching a university course for the past 18 years. I use the PUMI framework across the whole book; it’s a decision-making process teachers can use to make better assessment-related decisions. Also included are more in-depth topics in assessment that warrant full attention, such as validity as a theory, the history of the assessment of bilingual children, as well as testing accommodations and accountability topics.

Over the years, many people have approached me to ask about “the best” assessment or test for assessing Spanish or assessing math with emergent bilinguals. The answer is definitely not prepackaged, and not easy for that matter either. To begin to understand the answer to these types of questions, one must ask PUMI questions, and in that order. So, my response to questions about the best assessment is always first, what is the purpose “P” of the assessment and how will you use “U” the results. After considering the purpose and use, then we can begin to consider the best assessment method “M” and instrument “I”. Selecting an appropriate assessment for emergent bilinguals is not an easy task, but PUMI can guide us toward better assessment for this unique group of students.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you liked this, you might also be interested in Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism (6th Edition) by Colin Baker and Wayne E. Wright.


Measuring L2 Proficiency

31 July 2014

Having just published Measuring L2 Proficiency edited by Pascale Leclercq, Amanda Edmonds and Heather Hilton, we asked the editors to tell us a little bit more about how the book came about.

Measuring L2 ProficiencyAs all teachers, trainers and researchers know, assessment in any field and for any type of knowledge or skill can be difficult. For the person being assessed, performance can vary as a function of time of day, moment during the test, individual characteristics, and so on. On the side of the assessor, not every aspect of a given skill can be feasibly tested. Thus, performance on specific items or questions is generally intended to provide the assessor with a general idea of an assessee’s abilities. Most testing situations are thus required to assume that performance as measured with assessment tool X at time t is representative of general ability for a given skill or set of knowledge. However, as both teachers and students can attest, this assumption is often problematic.

Within the field of second language acquisition, proficiency assessment is a necessary building block for almost any research project. However, it has received relatively little direct attention. For example, institutional proficiency level (e.g., first year university students versus third year university students) are assumed to reflect a difference in language proficiency. Although we, as teachers, certainly hope that this is the case, most research projects do not attempt to verify this assumption, meaning that claims of development made in such studies are open to questioning.

As language teachers and researchers interested in how individuals acquire language, we have long been interested in assessment practices in both the language classroom and in the field of second language acquisition. In both contexts, a learner is on their way to acquiring a second language, a highly complex skill involving both knowledge of the new language and the ability to use it (involving both automatic and controlled processes). Assessing such a complex skill has long been recognized as a difficult enterprise. Our book grew out of challenges that we have personally encountered in both teaching and research contexts. We wanted to bring together researchers working in both of these contexts in order to reflect on how to create valid, reliable but also feasible assessment tools for language teachers and researchers alike.

The Common European Framework of ReferenceIf you would like more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting you might also like The Common European Framework of Reference edited by Michael Byram and Lynne Parmenter.


The Assessment of Bilinguals

3 September 2013

Issues in the Assessment of BilingualsThis month we are publishing Issues in the Assessment of Bilinguals and Solutions for the Assessment of Bilinguals by Virginia C. Mueller Gathercole. Here, her former colleague Colin Baker writes about why the books are so important to the field.

Ginny Gathercole has the well earned reputation as an outstanding researcher on language. Meticulous as a top academic, she has gained considerable applause on both side of the Atlantic for innovative and creative research and writing that pushes forward boundaries by a large leap rather than a short jump. As editor of these two books, she has gathered an outstanding set of chapters, meticulously compiled, and created two books that will transform our understanding of the assessment of bilinguals and multilinguals.

Solutions for the Assessment of BilingualsThese books on assessment are sorely needed. There is a dearth of authoritative books on the assessment of bilinguals and multilinguals, and the two books uniquely help fill the enormous gap in our knowledge.  This topic is complex as it includes children and adults with different cognitive, academic and socio-economic profiles. Yet the books cover such complexity and variety by both raising the issues, and then suggesting solutions.

These two books are likely to become classics in the understanding of assessment in bilinguals and multilinguals. Every library should buy a copy of both books, as they will stand the test of time, place and importance.

Both books are available on our website with a special discount of 30%. Click here to find out all the details.


Communication Disorders Across Languages

22 May 2013

As we’re just about to publish the 10th book in the Communication Disorders Across Languages series, Deirdre Martin’s Researching Dyslexia in Multilingual Settings, we asked the series editors Martin Ball and Nicole Müller to tell us a bit about how the series started and how it’s developed.

Our series was founded due to a coincidence. The coincidence was that we were at the same conference as Mike and Marjukka Grover ten years ago: the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism, at Arizona State University, Tempe, in 2003. We had both been involved with work in multilingualism but were earning our livings as clinical linguists and, in discussions with Mike and Marjukka, we came to realize that the intersection between these two fields really needed more attention; indeed, it needed a book series! As it’s now ten years since those initial discussions, and we are about to publish the tenth book in the series, now would seem to be a good time for a retrospective.

Communication Disorders in Spanish SpeakersFrom the outset we envisioned two main themes for the series that would result in books with two different approaches. One theme would involve studies of particular geographical areas and/or languages and explore what speech and language pathology resources and research were available for the multilingual population of that area or speakers of that language. As an example, our very first volume was devoted to Spanish speakers (both in Europe and the New World): Communication Disorders in Spanish Speakers: Theoretical, Research and Clinical Aspects edited by José G. Centeno, Raquel T. Anderson and Loraine K. Obler in 2007. This book was timely, as the increasing number of Spanish speakers, or bilingual Spanish-English speakers in the US has highlighted the paucity of speech language therapy services through the medium of Spanish. The book aims to contribute to evidence-based clinical procedures for monolingual Spanish and bilingual Spanish-English children and adults with communication disorders, and was one of the first to appear in this area.

Multilingual Aspects of Fluency DisordersOther books in the series that followed this path are Research in Logopedics: Speech and Language Therapy in Finland, edited by Anu Klippi and Kaisa Launonen in 2008; Language Disorders in Speakers of Chinese, edited by Sam-Po Law, Brendan Weekes and Anita M.-Y. Wong also in 2008; and Communication Disorders in Turkish, edited by Seyhun Topbaş and Mehmet Yavaş, published in 2010. There are still potentially fascinating areas to explore in this part of the series, and we hope one day to commission volumes dealing with, for example, South Africa, India, and Russia.

Multilingual Aspects of Speech Sound Disorders in ChildrenThe second theme takes a specific area within the field of communication disorders and examines multilingual and crosslinguistic aspects of that area. In the beginning we envisioned a dozen or so such areas from developmental speech and language disorders through to acquired neurogenic impairments. So far, six books have appeared following this theme. The first was Multilingual Aspects of Fluency Disorders, edited by Peter Howell & John Van Borsel, 2011: the first volume to examine stuttering and related fluency impairments from a multilingual viewpoint. This collection has been followed by books on children’s speech disorders, aphasia, voice disorders, and – most recently – literacy. Sharynne McLeod and Brian Goldstein edited Multilingual Aspects of Speech Sound Disorders in Children which appeared in 2012; later in 2012 was published Aspects of Multilingual Aphasia, edited by Martin Gitterman, Mira Goral and Loraine Obler. This was followed in early 2013 by International Perspectives on Voice Disorders, with Edwin Yiu as editor. Our most recent volume is Researching Dyslexia in Multilingual Settings, edited by Deirdre Martin. Volumes on Sign Language, child language disorders, and motor speech disorders are also in preparation, with still other areas at the planning stage (e.g. traumatic brain injury, and specific language impairment).

Interestingly, as the series has developed, a third theme has emerged: assessment and multilingualism. This theme covers both the provision of assessment materials in a range of languages (many of which have had little in the way of communicative disorders assessment provision in the past), and the assessment of multilingual clients. The first book in this theme was Assessing Grammar: The Languages of LARSP, edited by Martin Ball, David Crystal and Paul Fletcher, which extended the LARSP grammatical analysis profile to 12 languages other than English. Future volumes are planned that will cover up to another 40 languages. Another collection within this theme is in an advanced state of preparation; its working title is Methods for Assessing Multilingual Children: Disentangling Bilingualism from Language Impairment, and is being edited by Sharon Armon-Lotem, Jan de Jong and Natalia Meir. We hope to encourage further submissions within this theme.

What of the future? As noted, we have already commissioned further books for the series, and several of these are near completion so we hope that the series will continue to grow and provide essential resources for researchers and practitioners.

Martin J. Ball and Nicole Müller
Series editors, Communication Disorders Across Languages


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