- Constructing assessments for dual language learners with a student’s linguistic skills in mind can more accurately assess their academic and developmental skills.
- Bilingual staff in classrooms who students feel comfortable with can also help dual language learners show what they understand by giving them the option to communicate in their native language.
- “Allow children to show you what they can do in their own way and across both languages,” said Iliana Alanís, professor of early childhood and elementary education at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “Realize that DLLs will blend language in various patterns to communicate with others. They will code-switch and translanguage to communicate and gain understanding. This is not a sign of confusion but rather a complex understanding of languages.”
When developing assessments, districts and schools should consider testing dual language learners in their native language, or at least allow students to respond in a blend of both English and their second language. This will give educators a more complete picture of a student's academic and developmental progress.
“Assessing in both languages provides a more reliable picture of what children can do,” said Alanís, who is also the co-author of “The Essentials: Supporting Dual Language Learners in Diverse Environments in Preschool & Kindergarten.” “If we do not determine what DLLs can do across both of their languages, we develop a partial and inaccurate view of children’s vocabulary development. Essentially, we underestimate their capabilities.”
Working with a dual language learner's family can also help educators round out their understanding of a pupil’s abilities. What a student is doing at home versus at school may differ. Students learning a second language may go through what Alanís calls a “silent period” at school. They may not share out loud but still engage in lessons.
Schools should encourage teachers to look for alternate ways to assess academic progress. That can include talking with families and gathering details of what students are doing at home, or using assessments aside from tests — including hands-on activities or drawings.
When giving dual language learners reading assessments, schools should offer them in a student’s native language, said Lillian Duran, an associate professor and associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Oregon College of Education, in an op-ed for The 74. This can help correctly assess literacy skills. If testing is only in English, a lack of fluency could incorrectly lead to a diagnosis of a reading disability.