Courses and assessment
Language courses and language assessment are at the core of provision for migrants seeking to improve their skills in the language of the country to which they have migrated. The design and quality of the courses and the tests are of critical importance both for migrants themselves and for the national or provincial authorities who establish the goals and often provide funding for the provision.
This section covers three interlinked areas – provision of courses, tests and other forms of assessment aimed at migrants, and quality assurance issues surrounding such courses and tests. For each area there are various resources prepared under Council of Europe auspices are available. These include:
- background papers with analysis and guidelines;
- case studies describing specific approaches to courses and assessment;
- tools that can be used by teachers and managers.
Provision of language courses for students who are adult migrants
Council of Europe member states are increasingly requiring adult migrants to attain certain minimum levels of proficiency in the language of the country before they are granted the right to long-term residence and, beyond that, to citizenship. In support of such policies, many member states directly provide or fund the provision by other entities of language courses for adult migrants who do not yet have the level of proficiency in the language that is required. Such provision evidently involves careful reflection on various aspects of course design and delivery, for example the way in which adult migrants’ individual needs are assessed and taken into account in specifying the objectives, structure and content of the language courses offered to them.
Resources relating to needs analysis and course design:
Learning the language of the host country for professional purposes - Outline of issues and educational approaches: this paper focuses in particular on adult migrants’ need to be supported in acquiring the necessary language skills to enter the job market. It examines various approaches that have been taken to providing language training for this purpose.
Language learning, teaching and assessment and the integration of adult immigrants - The importance of needs analysis: this paper proposes a model for analysing the individual needs of migrants and proposes a task-based approach to their language training and to assessment.
European Language Portfolio (ELP) for Adult Migrants learning the language of the host country – A guide for Teachers – chapter 7: this chapter of the guide outlines how individual profiles of students entering language courses can be drawn up and how the profiles can then be drawn on in course planning.
Tailoring language provision and requirements to the needs and capacities of adult migrants: this paper discusses the language learning needs of adult migrants arising from their particular social needs and their background prior to migration.
Resources in the form of case studies that examine language provision for adult migrants in different contexts and from different points of view:
Responding to the language needs of adult refugees in Ireland: an alternative approach to teaching and assessment – this case studies looks at an innovative solution to the provision of language support for a diverse group of migrants and refugees in Ireland.
The role of literacy in the acculturation process of migrants – this case study discusses the impact of low literacy and different educational backgrounds on adult migrants attending courses in France, and describes some of the difficulties students encounter and the implications of these for policy makers and providers.
Language learning in the context of migration and integration – Challenges and options for adult learners: this case study considers the situation of illiterate migrants in Austria and the approaches used to help them to acquire basic literacy in the context of their language courses
Education: Tailor-made or one-size-fits-all? A project commissioned by the Nederlandse Taalunie: this case describes a project in which techniques were successfully designed and used for drawing up individual profiles of adult migrants in the Netherlands, as well as to provide guidance and motivation in their language courses
Assessment of adult migrant students before, during and after courses, and testing of adult migrants in countries where tests are a requirement for residence and other permits or for citizenship
Assessment of adult migrants’ language ability is carried out for various purposes and may take various forms:
i) In relation to language courses for adult migrants, the main functions of assessment by the course providers are:
- To assess students’ language level and needs before they are placed in a class so that the course they are placed in is suitable.
- To assess students’ progress during the course and to identify difficulties that individual students may be experiencing so that teaching is adapted to learners’ needs. This kind of assessment can be done in a wide variety of ways, including through continuous assessment by the teacher, assessment of students while they are carrying out a language learning tasks, etc...
- At the end of many courses, learners’ achievement may be assessed so that they can be awarded a certificate.
Institutions using tests in these ways need to ensure that they are valid and reliable.
ii) Self-assessment by learners of their own language proficiency can also be useful and motivating. The version of the European Language Portfolio designed specifically for adult migrants and accompanied by a guide for teachers and self-assessment checklists, serves this purpose. It enables adult migrants regularly to assess and record their progress in any of the languages in their repertoire including the language of the country they have migrated to.
iii) In some countries, migrants are asked to take official tests in order to demonstrate that they have reached a level required for residence, citizenship or even for family reunion. Increasingly, they are asked to take such tests before they leave their home country. There is, of course, a possibility that such tests are disproportionate and discriminatory. In addition, examination bodies offer public examinations which adult migrants and other language learners can take or are advised to take in order to demonstrate that they have achieved a given level of proficiency. As with all language tests and examinations, great care is needed to ensure that they are valid, fair and reliable, and that migrants have access to relevant training to help prepare for the examinations.
Resources relating to tests of a formal nature:
Language tests for social cohesion and citizenship – an outline for policymakers: this is a paper prepared by the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) provides a useful overview of policy considerations to ensure that tests are valid, reliable and fair.
Language learning, teaching and assessment and the integration of adult immigrants. The importance of needs analysis : this paper proposes a model for analysing the individual needs of migrants and proposes a task-based approach to their language training and to assessment (also referred to under ‘provision of language courses)
Resources relating to self-assessment by adult migrants of their developing language proficiency:
European Language Portfolio (ELP) - Learning the language of the host country - Adult Migrants: this version of the ELP has been created specifically with the needs and situation of adult migrants in mind to enable them to consider their existing skills in various languages, and to track and reflect on their progress in learning the language of the host country. It is generic in the sense that it is designed to be adapted to suit the needs of particular contexts.
European Language Portfolio (ELP) for Adult Migrants learning the language of the host country – A guide for Teachers : this provides teachers with detailed guidance on how to use this version of the ELP. It also contains a chapter on profiles and levels (also referred to under ‘provision of language courses’) and on how to create an ELP for low-level learners.
Quality assurance of language courses and testing
Language education provision for adult migrants varies in quantity, price and aims from country to country, and the same is true of tests and other forms of assessment which adult migrants are subject to. Language training for adult migrants is critically important from the point of view of social and economic integration, and the amount of effort and money being invested in it are rightly considerable. There is therefore a need to ensure that such language learning and language assessment services are relevant and effective in delivering the intended outcomes, and are supported by a system for ensuring that the quality both of the educational experience and of the outcomes remains consistently high and that opportunities for continuous updating and improvement are identified and responded to. National education authorities organise ‘inspections’ or other forms of external assessment at school level, but there is commonly a less systematic approach to quality assurance in further and adult education, whether in the state or in the independent sector. However, evaluating and managing the quality of language courses and tests for adult migrants is essential, both for the benefit of those taking the courses and the tests, and for the authorities who are responsible for organising and funding the courses, which in many member states are wholly or partially financed from taxes.
Resources relating to the quality of language course provision:
Providers of courses for adult migrants - Self-assessment Handbook is a tool in the form of an extended questionnaire designed to help managers and staff working in centres providing courses for adult migrants to look in depth at and reflect on all areas of their work with a view to assessing whether quality improvements are desirable or indeed necessary. It may also be useful for those in state authorities charged with overseeing the provision.
Quality assurance in the provision of language education and training for adult migrants – guidelines and options – this paper examines the reasons for a quality approach and the main areas which need to be considered when assessing and assuring the quality of language courses.
Resources relating to the quality of tests and other forms of assessment:
Language tests for social cohesion and citizenship – an outline for policymakers, which was prepared by the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) provides a useful overview of policy considerations to ensure that tests are valid, reliable and fair (also referred to in section iii)
Relating Language Examinations to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: : Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR) - A manual is to be found in a dedicated section of the Council of Europe’s website. It sets out procedures for linking language tests to the levels of the Common European Framework of Reference, and is accompanied by The Toolkit – the CEFR and Language Examinations, The Manual for Language Test Development and Examining, and various other documents relating to language tests.