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7 Chapter 7: Assessing Tasks, Students, and Lessons

Key Issues

  1. Teachers can assess their lessons before, during, and after their implementation.
  2. Teachers can assess student progress toward both content and language objectives and demonstrations of knowledge in both areas in student products.
  3. Assessments should be integrated into the lesson and focus on students’ ways of knowing.

As you read the chapter-opening scenario, think about the issues that it raises about assessment.

Li Lee had been in Ms. Hamilton’s class for 4 months. The second-grader was responding to the language objectives that Ms. Hamilton included in each lesson and appeared to be learning English quickly. Li also really enjoyed the hands-on science lessons in class, particulary when Ms. Hamilton could help Li make connections to her former life in Korea. Ms. Hamilton was perplexed, however, at Li’s science test scores: Li consistently scored at the lower end of the class on the short, multiple-choice exams, but her performance in class indicated that she should be doing much better. Ms. Hamilton wondered if Li needed more time with the ELL teacher or whether she might have some kind of disability


Assessment is an important component in both lesson design and implementation. It can be used to evaluate how the lesson meets guidelines for good pedagogy and how students react to the lesson. Many outstanding resources for teachers describe all aspects and types of assessment; this chapter focuses on a specific subset of principles that underlie the development and integration of effective assessment for diverse learners.[1]


Before reading Chapter 7, think about how you might discover why Li’s science test scores are so low.

Understanding Assessment

Some authors suggest that assessments be created by first identifying the desired results (learning targets), then deciding what evidence would be effective in measuring those results. In their view, the design of tasks and other parts of the instruction should then be built with the assessments in mind. Whether teachers use this backward design strategy (Bowen, 2017) or a linear, beginning-to-end design, the principles that guide the development of assessments do not change. Overall guidelines for assessing student learning include those in Figure 7.1.

Teachers usually cannot do much to meet the guidelines shown in Figure 7.1 when they are implementing major graduation or other standardized tests because the use of such assessments is usually closely prescribed. However, teachers can certainly consider the guidelines when constructing and using classroom-based assessments or those that are developed by the teacher for her classroom. Whether the assessment is of the lesson or task, the process or product, the more closely the assessment fits these guidelines, the more useful it will be in understanding students.[2]

Guideline Explanation
Directly related to objectives Measures progress toward and attainment of the lesson objectives.
Authentic and/or meaningful to the students Provides useful and accurate feedback. Helps guide students and instruction. Avoids evaluating students based only on testwiseness.
Occurs in multiple contexts Allows students to show what they know in different ways during and after the task or lesson.
Ongoing Used at various times during the task or lesson.
Integrative Assesses both language and content.
Balances depth and breadth Combines alternative assessments and standardized assessments.

Figure 7.1 General guidelines for assessment. Source: Adapted from Chao (2007).

It is easy to get confused by all the jargon surrounding assessment. The difference between assessment and evaluation is one crucial point that is often misunderstood. Assessment refers to the general process of gathering data about something or someone, while evaluation refers to a final judgment (i.e., assigning a grade or a rank). In other words, not all assessment is evaluation. Teachers can use assessments to make an evaluation, or they can use the data they gather for goals such as changing instruction, supporting students, and reviewing real achievements with students. Most teachers perform evaluations on a regular basis, but evaluation is certainly not the only purpose for assessment.

Purposes of Assessment

Assessment has many purposes: some are administrative or programmatic, others pertain mainly to the classroom teacher. Types of assessments that serve administrative or programmatic purposes include placement tests, standardized exit tests, program evaluations, and graduation tests. These assessments are useful to a variety of stakeholders; however, they do not provide direct lesson information to teachers but rather are measurements of accountability (evaluations).

Classroom assessments, on the other hand, include reviews of lesson design, student progress, and student products. Some are for evaluation purposes; others serve to monitor student progress and thus help learners move ahead, develop an awareness of their abilities and progress, and figure out what goals they should aim for. Traditional classroom assessments, or those that are typically used for evaluation purposes, include quizzes, tests, and structured papers. These assessments are the same for each student and typically require students to choose an answer. Traditional assessments generally provide a score that designates how students have mastered individual (discrete) content or language items. Alternative assessments are alternatives to traditional assessments and consist of any open-ended method that uncovers what students know and can do as students create an answer. Alternative assessments include verbal reporting, observation, oral interviews, demonstrations, retellings, role plays, portfolios, journaling, and many other activities. Some of these assessments are described in Figure 7.2. Alternative assessments are used to design or redesign instuction, showing student growth between assessments. Traditional assessments are often a required part of the curriculum, but teachers can also add a variety of alternative assessments in order to capture the varied and complex learning that takes place in classrooms.[3] Figure 7.3 contrasts traditional and alternative assessments.

Type Explanation
Observation Teachers can make informal observations of students during tasks or use a more formal checklist to look for specific items.
Oral or written interviews Teachers can interview students individually or in groups on any aspect of the task or theme.
Demonstrations The use of props (realia) can help students remember what they want to say and to follow a structured plan for expressing themselves.
Oral or written retellings After a reading, the students retell what they understood. Teachers can understand how students comprehend, e.g., whether they focus on details or main ideas.
Role plays For students who do not have a lot of productive language or who feel comfortable with drama, acting out understandings can help them show what they know.
Portfolios Teachers help students indicate what they know by assembling and explaining a variety of their work.
Journaling Dialogue journals, double-entry reading journals, math journals, and even group journals can help students express their understandings without fear of being evaluated.

Figure 7.2  Alternative assessments.

  Traditional Assessments Alternative Assessments
Overall purpose Evaluate knowledge of discrete items. Review process and product; gather a more holistic understanding of student knowledge and abilities.
Audience Parents, administrators, government stakeholders. Parents, teachers, students.
Examples of methods Multiple-choice and true-false tests, structured essays, discrete-item quizzes. Verbal reporting, observation, oral interviews, demonstrations, retellings, role plays, portfolios and journaling.
General use of results Document aspects of student learning; screen and/or diagnose, place, and exit students; determine graduates. Improve instruction, provide student examples and progress reports to parents, help students understand their strengths and weaknesses.

Figure 7.3 Traditional and alternative assessments.


Before reading further, list the assessments that you have used, experienced, or read about. Note what and who they can be used to assess.

Assessing Student Process and Product

Adapting Traditional Classroom Assessments

Traditional assessments do have disadvantages; most problematic is the idea that all students should be measured in the same exact way. However, they are often efficient, simple, and useful for getting a general overview of class performance. Because they are so predominant (and often required) in classrooms, teachers can consider adapting traditional assessments where possible to work more like alternative assessments. For example, hybrid test or quiz questions include features of both traditional (e.g., multiple-choice and true-false) and alternative (open-ended, student-centered) assessments. Hybrid multiple-choice and true-false questions can include a box in which students can explain their answers, providing teachers with information about both the effectiveness of the question and the students’ answering process. This is particularly useful with diverse learners, who may understand the questions or answers in a variety of ways. Examples of hybrid questions are shown in Figure 7.4.

  1. The Milky Way galaxy is shaped like a
  2. doughnut.
  3. pretzel.
  4. ball.
  5. spiral.

Why did you choose this answer?

  1. T F In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen is making fun of the food of her era.
    If you chose “False,” make the statement true.

Figure 7.4 Examples of hybrid test questions

Alternatively, teachers can ask students to rate the questions and/or the test, indicating what they thought was fair or not fair, clear or unclear, important or unimportant. Even a review with students at the end of a commercially produced, standardized classroom test can help teachers and students understand what their next goals should be.


What other ways can you construct hybrid assessments from traditional assessments?

Student Roles in Alternative Assessments

The Chapter 6 guideline “Do not do what students can do” also applies to designing assessments. Students can and should be involved in the creation and review of classroom assessments. This involvement helps them to understand the objectives, empowers them by engaging them in their own evaluation, and provides clear direction for the language and content that they need to access during the lesson. The process of working with the teacher on assessment can also facilitate the building of classroom trust and understanding. Students can participate by writing test questions, providing individual or group assessment choices, developing instructions and rubrics[4] for projects that express relevant outcomes, and even scoring and providing feedback for other students.[5] Teachers can use the student assessment creation process as an assessment in itself: it can assess how students understand what they are supposed to learn and how they are to learn it.

Lesson Examples

Chapter 11 provides complete lessons with assessments integrated into them. For the purposes of this chapter, Figure 7.5 shows the relationships in three lessons among the essential lesson components described in this text. Note how the lesson objectives are explicitly related to the connections that students are asked to make, and that they also determine the tasks and assessments. Some of the lessons choose less formal (ungraded) assessments, which are quite appropriate for initial lessons in a unit. Other lessons include assignments that will be graded. All of them use a variety of assessments and follow some of the guidelines presented previously in Figure 7.1. Assessments can be preplanned into the lesson, as in Figure 7.5, but there should always be room to add additional assessments if the teacher or students see a need to collect further information.

Context Objectives


Connections Tasks Assessments
Third-grade science:


  • Identify what plants need to stay alive.
  • Define and use plant vocabulary.
  • Recognize good discussion skills.
  • Write complete sentences.
  • What are some things that you need every day to stay alive?
  • We’ll study what living organisms need to stay alive.
  • What’s an organism? What is a plant?
  • Vocabulary word wall.
  • Review how to participate in a classroom discussion.
  • Brainstorm.
  • Complete diagrams with vocabulary words.
  • Journal according to model.
  • Observation of discussion.
  • Class rating of discussion.
  • Observation of vocabulary use during tasks.
  • Final product completion and accuracy.
  • Journaling to check complete sentence use, questions, and interests.
Eighth-grade English: persuasion
  • Identify persuasive techniques.
  • Organize thoughts to be persuasive.
  • Use adjectives to illustrate an idea.
  • How many of you have seen an ad that made you want something?
  • Review the meaning of opinion and other vocabulary words.
  • Discuss persuasive techniques and the role that adjectives play.
  • Add adjectives to word wall.
  • Analyze ads and complete a worksheet on techniques, pointing out adjectives.
  • Observation during discussion
  • Worksheet review
  • Matching/fill-in-the-blanks test on identifying techniques.
Fourth-grade social studies: wood
  • List common products that come from trees.
  • Explain how this natural resource can be renewed.
  • Write complete sentences.
  • What products do you use that come from trees?
  • “We studied about tree rings and how trees clean the air. Now we will see . . . .”
  • Review and practice how to write complete sentences using tree products information.
  • Ogranize a scavenger hunt for wood products.
  • Discuss the treasure hunt.
  • Observe during brainstorm to see what students know.
  • Observe/discuss with groups of students during the treasure hunt.
  • Short written quiz that students answer with complete sentences.

Figure 7.5 The relationships among lesson components.


Review the assessment plans in Figure 7.5. How do they follow the guidelines presented in this and other chapters? Suggest adaptations for any issues that you see.


Another commonly used form of practice and assessment is homework. Homework often consists of worksheets or reading assignments. For ELLs and other diverse students, particulary if they do not have help in English at home, these tasks are not very effective. More effective might be activities and assessments that incorporate the characteristics of engaging tasks noted in Chapter 6. Interactive homework (VanVoorhis, 2001; Epstein & VanVoorhis, 2001; Epstein, Simon, & Salinas, 1997) is one type of homework that can be effective for all learners.

Interactive homework assignments are “homework assignments that require students to talk to someone at home about something interesting that they are learning in class” (Epstein et al., 2002, n.p.). Parents (or other guardians) have a small but essential role in interactive homework tasks. One of the bases for interactive homework is the idea that family involvement in a child’s schooling can result in higher achievement (Egbert & Salsbury, 2009). Schools can also benefit from the knowledge brought to school by parents and other family members, particularly those of diverse backgrounds (Egbert & Salsbury, 2009). Interactive homework includes the following features:

  • Teachers guide involvement and interaction.
  • Parents do not “teach”—students are responsible for learning and sharing.
  • Parents interact with children in new ways.
  • Teachers show children that they understand the importance of family interaction.
  • Tasks are engaging and challenging.
  • Interactive homework is assigned two to four times per month. Family interaction is expected to be 10 to 15 minutes per task, and two to three days may be given for completion.
  • Tasks are content- and language-based, relevant, interactive, and written in simple language.
  • Teachers provide follow-up and student sharing (Egbert & Salsbury, 2009).

Interactive homework assignments that focus on content can be conducted in the language of choice for ELLs, making it more likely that they will understand the content and be able to complete the tasks. If this homework is being used as an assessment of student understanding, this is an important advantage over worksheets.

Examples of interactive homework tasks for the lessons in Figure 7.5 are the following:

  1. Plants: Students will create interview questions about plants to ask their family member. They can record, write down, or draw the answers they receive. Questions and prompts can include “What is your favorite plant?” or “Tell me about something you’ve grown.”
  2. Persuasion: The student briefly explains persuasive techniques to the family member. The student then interviews the family member, asking which technique is most persuasive to her or him and why. The student records the information and adds whether he or she feels the same way as their family member. In class, students compare answers and discuss.
  3. Wood: The student and the family member hunt for wood products in their home and the student records the findings. The student interviews the family member about which wood product is most valuable to her or him and why. The student shares the findings with the class.

These tasks allow students to share their knowledge, and they allow teachers to assess whether students understood both the homework assignment and the lesson.[6]


Find an interactive homework activity on the TIPS website at http://www.csos.jhu.edu/P2000/tips/index.htm. Adapt the activity to fit a class that you are teaching, have observed, or have participated in. Describe why you think this activity will work for the students you have in mind.

Additional Guidelines for Assessment

In addition to the suggestions above, two guidelines can help teachers design effective assessments during lesson development:

Guideline 1: Be Transparent
One important concept that affects assessment and supports student achievement is transparency. For example, teachers need to help students see the relationships among the lesson parts (connections, objectives, tasks, assessment). Students should also be aware of how task elements affect process and outcomes. In the same way that students should not wonder why they are addressing a topic or participating in a task, students should understand essential lesson components; this type of transparency leaves the components open for discussion and possible change, helping to keep students engaged and achieving.

Teachers can start with transparency at the beginning of the lesson by using the following suggestions:

  1. Make sure that students know what the language and content objectives are and how they will be assessed. Post them on the board, refer to them, and discuss them as needed.
  2. Model and explain the task, linking the task process to objectives.
  3. Explain what the product expectations are and how achievement can be demonstrated in relation to the objectives.

Such transparency also allows students to play a bigger role in assessment because they understand the focus and procedures of the lesson.

Guideline 2: Reconsider Grades
Grades do not indicate actual knowledge and performance, which are the goals for many assessments. Grades for content knowledge, particularly for ELLs, can be lower than they should be because of issues with the student’s language proficiency. However, teachers can score content knowledge separately from language proficiency. To score content knowledge, teachers can use the results of multiple assessments to determine how well ELLs understand key concepts, how accurate their responses are, and how well they demonstrate the processes they use to formulate responses. Language can be assessed on a scale of progress or according to a rubric based on the English language standards for the grade level and content area.

Figure 7.6 summarizes these guidelines. Additional guidelines are presented throughout this textbook.

Guideline Example
Be transparent Help students understand the role of assessment. Clearly list and discuss objectives and other components of the task or lesson.
Reconsider grades Separate language and content grades to provide a more realistic picture of student achievement.

Figure 7.6 Additional guidelines for assessment.

Assessing the Lesson

Once the lesson is complete and incorporates the essential components—including assessments—teachers can evaluate their lesson design to make sure that the lesson is appropriate and relevant and meets student needs. Whether the lesson design is effective for diverse learners, particularly ELLs, can be measured in a number of ways before, during, and after the lesson (Chapman & King, 2005). These evaluations can be used to improve the lesson. Suggestions include the following:

  1. Before
    • Use a component checklist based on ideas in the chapters. Teachers can create their own checklists with the components (objectives, connections, engaging tasks, assessment) and relevant guidelines, or they can use parts of the “Preparation” and “Building Background” sections of the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2016). An example of a component checklist is provided in Figure 7.7 (reproducible copies of this figure can be found in Appendix C and Appendix D).
    • If something is missing or does not meet the guidelines, adjustments can be made to the lesson before it is implemented.
  2. During
    • Teachers can use observation and discussion with students to determine whether the lesson is going as planned and whether that plan is appropriate for the students.
    • If there are problems with the lesson, teachers and students can make just-in-time adjustments, keeping the objectives, connections, and relevant processes in mind.
  3. After
    • Teachers can review the lesson, jotting down observations of individual students or the whole class. They can note when time on tasks and engagement were or were not obvious and where it seemed students needed more help in accessing the language and/or content. Teachers can also observe to what extent the objectives were met and create ideas for revising the lesson.
    • Teachers can have others review the lesson, including asking students how it went, what the most effective parts of the lesson were, and how the lesson could be improved to better suit their needs.

This information can be incorporated into the next iteration of the lesson.

Assessment of the lesson is an important part of effective lesson design and provides a firm foundation for ongoing lesson design.

Language objectives

  1.  Are tied to standards.
  2. Are tied to content objectives.
  3. Are based on student needs.
  4. Are measurable.
  5. Are presented to students.

  • Are based on student interests, needs, backgrounds, abilities.
  • Tie current topic and tasks to past lessons.
  • Tie current topic to students’ personal lives.
  • Tie lesson tasks to students’ personal lives.
  • Are assessed for relevancy and accuracy with students.

  • Address both content and language objectives.
  • Are engaging, authentic, relevant, multimodal, explicit, and implicit.
  • Break language down as necessary.
  • Are culturally responsive.
  • Are learner-centered and/or -produced.
  • Focus on process and product elements.
  • Provide students with reasons to listen.

  • Is ongoing.
  • Is authentic.
  • Uses multiple measures.
  • Provides practice and review.
  • Is transparent to all participants.
  • Homework is relevant, engaging, and interactive.

Figure 7.7 Example of a lesson-component checklist.


After reading Chapter 7, what advice would you give to the teacher in the chapter-opening scenario about Li’s low science test scores?


Chapter 7 presented principles and guidelines for the measurement of both lessons and student processes and outcomes. Teachers can use a large array of assessments for assessing student progress toward both content and language objectives. Most important for the assessment of diverse learners is to focus on students’ ways of knowing, providing them with opportunities to express their understandings and how they came to those understandings. In turn, teachers can use this information to design effective lessons.


For Reflection

  1. Reviewing tests. Find examples of standardized tests that your current or future students may take. Think about how you might help ELLs and other diverse students be successful on these tests.
  2. Use your personal experience. Think about your teacher education classes. Did you have an opportunity to show what you knew? Did you ever feel that you were evaluated unfairly? Why? What can you apply from this experience to your own teaching?

For Action

  1. Justify your grading. Write a letter to your principal explaining why you are including a grade report for each student that has separate grades for language and content and what these grades mean.
  2. Meet the guidelines. Choose an assessment type (for example, oral retelling or a portfolio) from a lesson or book. Describe how this assessment contributes to a lesson meeting the general guidelines for assessment listed in Figure 7.1.


Bowen, R., (2017). Understanding by design. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Available from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/understanding-by-design/.

Chao, C. (2007). Theory and research: New emphases of assessment. In J. Egbert & E. Hanson-Smith (Eds). CALL environments: Research, practice, and critical issues (pp. 240–277). Alexandria, VA: TESOL, Inc.

Chapman, C., & King, R. (2005). Differentiated assessment strategies: One tool doesn’t fit all. Thousand Oaks. CA: Corwin Press.

Echevarria, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2016). Making content comprehensible for English learners (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

Egbert, J., & Salsbury, T. (2009). Out of complacency and into action: An exploration of professional development experiences in school/home literacy engagement. Teaching Education., 20 (4), 375–393

Epstein, J., Sanders, M., Simon, B., Salinas, K., Jansorn, N., & Van Voorhis, F. (2002). School, family, and community partnerships: Your handbook for action (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Epstein, J., Simon, B., & Salinas, K. (1997). Involving parents in homework in the middle grades. Phi Delta Kappa Research Bulletin, 18.

Epstein, J., & Van Voorhis, F. (2001). More than minutes: Teachers’ roles in designing homework. Educational Psychologist, 36, 181–194.

Van Voorhis, F. (2001). Interactive science homework: An experiment in home and school connections. NASSP Bulletin, 85, 20–32.

  1. For a great assessment resource, download O'Malley & Pierce’s Assessment for English Language Learners from https://www.academia.edu/36896224/Authentic_Assessment_for_English_Language_Learners_Amazing_English
  2. Testwiseness is the understanding of how to take tests well. Students can be weak on understanding content, but if they are testwise, they can figure out ways to use the test structure to pass.
  3. For a variety of great information and links, see Kathy Shrock’s Guide to Everything —Assessment and Rubrics, at https://www.schrockguide.net/assessment-and-rubrics.html.
  4. A rubric is a scoring tool for alternative assessments. It contains criteria, developed by teachers and/or students, that are linked to the content and language learning objectives. Rubrics can be used by students to self-assess or by other members of the classroom community to comment on student process and product.
  5. Understand, create, and find free rubrics at rubistar.4teachers.com, teach-nology.com, and rubrician.com
  6. For more useful information, see Battle-Bailey (2003) at http://www.ericdigests.org/2004-4/homework.htm


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Chapter 7: Assessing Tasks, Students, and Lessons by Gisela Ernst-Slavit and Joy Egbert is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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