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  1. #1
    ojaeger is offline Newbie
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    Need advice about ESL placement test

    Hello, I am an ESL Administrator at the community college in Pennsylvania. Needless to say, I test numerous of new ESL students on daily basis. Our college uses ESL Compass Test (Reading, Listening, and Grammar) accompanied by an essay question that students are asked to answer afterwards. While the Compass test provides us with pretty accurate results that we use for determination and placing students in certain classes, the writing portion of the test often frustrates us rather than helps. When the department came up with the prompts to use, we thought it would be better to ask students to write about something they know best and are most comfortable with Ė their families and themselves; therefore, two questions currently look like this (the students only have to respond to one):
    - Our lives are always changing. One of the greatest changes is moving to a new place. Think about the changes in your life because you moved to PA. Compare your life before you moved to your life here in PA. You may include topics such as your environment, your job, your school, your family, or your free time.
    - We often find that we are similar to our friends or to people in our families. Think of one friend or a family member; compare ways that the two of you are alike and the ways in which the two of you are different. You may include areas such as looks, personality, likes, dislikes, family, or jobs.

    However, overtime, I realized that in cases when students score really high on the test, these essay questions do not let us see their full potential, or oppositely, let us see good writing but on the primitive level. In other words, do you think these questions should be substituted for more academic topics and more sophisticated ideas that would require students to write at their fullest strength and skill? Unfortunately, we have a lot of instances when students score high on the test, provide a good sample, but then canít keep up with the most advanced course in the program: English for Academic Purposes, which they technically scored for. I would love to hear what you think. Should we change the questions? Should we give higher level students an opportunity to write on a more challenging level? Should we leave the things the way they are?
    Thank You.

  2. #2
    scott_teacher is offline Newbie
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    Re: Need advice about ESL placement test

    Although I am not an ESL teacher, I have a little experience in administrating placement testing. In my opinion, you should keep the old test questions because I am pretty sure you get more students whose ability and skills are not at the highest level, and who simply will not be able to provide any writing sample if you raise that bar. However, you should develop more academic essay questions for students who scored really high on the test (from what I understood, you see the test results before you give out the writing portion of the test?). This way you will not overwhelm lower level students and will get a better picture of where the higher level students stand.
    By the way, what happens if the student scores really high (95 to 100 if you are using "1 to 100" scale)? Does he still have to go through ESL program or can he "jump into" a college English classroom?

  3. #3
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: Need advice about ESL placement test

    They don't seem very good questions to test someone's ability to take a course in Academic English to me. Shouldn't the questions for this level in some way reflect what they will be required to do? Also, if the two questions are used repeatedly, then some learners may come to the test knowing what they will have to answer and have prepared directly for this.

  4. #4
    ojaeger is offline Newbie
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    Re: Need advice about ESL placement test

    Thanks for the input! I totally agree with what you are suggesting. Truthfully, I have been proposing it to the department for quite some time now. Hopefully, it will finally get changed at the beginning of the new school year.
    If the student scores really high and looks like a good candidate for a College English class, we offer him to write an academic essay on one of the more sophisticated topics (the topics and rubric are usually taken directly from College English syllabus). The essay is getting reviewed by an English department faculty and if it passes, the student is going straight to College English without taking any ESL classes.

  5. #5
    ojaeger is offline Newbie
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    Re: Need advice about ESL placement test

    I agree! The problem is that the department does not want to have different questions for different students (we do not know what levels students are until we see the placement test results), and wants to have the same prompts for everyone to make it "fair". Also, our practice shows that we mostly get lower intermediate to upper intermediate students whom these questions suit just fine. High level students are the minority among all the newcomers. Regarding the knowing beforehand and cheating in a way: students can't know what to expect unless they talk to some friends who are non-speakers and have taken the test already. Even if they do it will not help them if they can't write in English or performed poorly on the test and never made it to the writing portion of it. I do not see that aspect as a big problem.

  6. #6
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: Need advice about ESL placement test

    I used to teach on pre-sessional courses for people wanting to study at universities in the UK, and I suspect that there was a lot of communication with former students. Where people are desperate to get on a course, they get inventive.

  7. #7
    ojaeger is offline Newbie
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    Re: Need advice about ESL placement test

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    I used to teach on pre-sessional courses for people wanting to study at universities in the UK, and I suspect that there was a lot of communication with former students. Where people are desperate to get on a course, they get inventive.
    Oh wow, I wish we had desperate students like this as our enrollment has been really low lately. I see you point there now. If that was the case for us, we would definetely come up with various questions to eliminate this problem. Thanks for the input once again.

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