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In most educational contexts, summative assessment – to evaluate student learning by comparing it against course objectives at the end of a period of study – is firmly entrenched.

In elementary and high schools, very few argue with the concept that grading students with summative assessment is important and necessary. Academic accomplishment is the primary method through which society determines a student’s future potential.

This continues in tertiary education, where you need to achieve passing grades in a course in order to get your certificate, diploma or degree to be considered for employment.

But English language schools often don’t have the same expectations around summative assessment.

One key reason why is because they have non-standardised curriculums, course objectives and testing. Unlike the educational institutions mentioned above, each school can do things their own way – they deliver ‘non-accredited courses.’

This has led to the development of a school of thought amongst some English Language Teaching professionals who work in English language schools that summative assessment isn’t that important when it comes to ESL students.

‘If a course isn’t accredited, why go to the trouble of giving tests and exams?’ is the argument given. ‘It’s just a lot of unnecessary work for the teacher and unnecessary stress for the students.’

However, I believe this view to be severely flawed. There are several compelling reasons why summative assessment is important for ESL students.

Reasons Why Summative Assessment is Important

1. Students need to know where they stand

It’s a good thing when students receive feedback through summative assessment on their achievement and rate of progress.

Feedback empowers them – after seeing where they currently are when it comes to learning English, they are able to make an informed decision (or their parents can, in the case of children) about how they want to respond.

2. Teaching Life Skills

An ESL course that includes summative assessment doesn’t just teach English. It also teaches important life skills. When students know they will be graded, they are more likely to try harder in the classroom, thereby developing the following skills:

  • Decision making: choosing an answer or how to explain an opinion.
  • Problem solving: how to improve in a particular area of study
  • Time management: finding time to complete homework and studying outside the classroom.
  • Working as a team: in pair or small group exercises and activities.

3. Better job prospects

Even if a potential employer knows that a promising job candidate has completed an ESL course that isn’t accredited, they are still likely to be interested in seeing a certificate or transcript that shows the candidate’s current level of English if one’s available.

How to Record Summative Assessment

It’s important for a teacher to provide a clear and comprehensive record of a student’s summative assessment when they complete their studies. This should be done in the form of a transcript. It can be added to a certificate or given as a stand-alone document.

Below, I’ve added a transcript template that includes all of the important elements. Student test scores (or an average of scores) are recorded on the transcript, along with a participation grade, attendance percentage and comments from the teacher.

The level descriptors on the second page of the transcript are linked to Common European Framework of Reference Global Scale Common Reference Levels (Council of Europe English Language Portfolio, 2011).

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