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Teaching the Language of Maths to ELLs and Testing New ELLs – is PAT relevant and should translators be used?

Kia ora

 Teaching the Language of Maths to ELLs

I found an interesting research paper online on the topic of “imageLanguage Factors that affect Mathematics Teaching and Learning of Pasifika Students” by Viliami F Latu, University of Auckland which you may like to read. The study was looking at secondary students but it has some interesting findings that are also relevant at the primary level.

 … Both Tongan and Samoan languages have mathematical discourses but they have not yet been fully developed. Thus bilingual students are unfamiliar with many mathematical terms, and phrases both in the translation and in English.  The complexities of mathematical sentences have been shown to provide extra challenges for these students learning. …There is enough evidence in this study to support the theory that students who use their mother tongue while learning in English perform better than those who don’t.

There are a number of NZ resources available to help you think about what language needs to be taught and how to assess and report in relation to the national Standards, including the following:

·         imageSupporting English language learners with the language of mathematics  on NZ Maths

·         image Ensuring maths units meet the needs of ESOL students on ESOL online

·         imageELLP professional support modules particularly module 4- Reporting, primary

The following are American sites and articles but they have lots of helpful teaching ideas and advice. There is a lot of helpful ideas online so if you want to read further just do a google search.  

·         Math Instruction for English Language Learners, by: Kristina Robertson (2009) on Colorin Colorado.  

·         imageStrategies for Teaching Mathematics to English Language Learners by Beatrice Moore-Harris

·         imageELL Considerations for Common Core-Aligned Tasks in Mathematics

·          Supporting English language learners in Maths Class Grades K-2, chapter 1, imageTeaching Maths to ELLS (Maths Solutions)

 Testing New ELLs – is PAT relevant and should translators be used?

Cathy-Ann also raised the question of testing new ELL’s who have just arrived in New Zealand in their own native language? They are looking at doing some testing (STAR/PAT) using a Samoan translator and wanted feedback on this proposal and whether others have tried this.  If anyone has tried this it would be interesting to hear effective you found it to be.

My response is that you need to be very clear about why you are using a particular assessment tool or process and know how appropriate it is for ELLs. You also need to consider how the results of the tests will be used.  I would recommend carefully reading the MOE, ESOL Progress Assessment Guidelines (PAGs) and thinking about your reasons for using the tests and whether they will offer any new insights on the student’s learning. (PAGS should be located in the large Green MOE ESOL Folder provided to all schools with ESOL Funded Students).

In PAGs the advice says, “The results of some assessments may lead to ELLs being inappropriately labelled as “educationally disadvantaged” or perceived as “underachieving”. This deficit model fosters low expectations of students. In reality, these students are generally following a normal developmental pathway for additional language acquisition.  Assessment results need to be carefully analysed, taking into account students’ levels of proficiency in all learning areas and the quality and duration of the English language programmes they have experienced. “

Another consideration for the use of any standardised test is the consistency needed in the procedures used in administering and marking the test or the results might be invalid. This might become an issue when a translator is used so you would need to provide very clear instructions to them about what they can say and do.  

Another useful place to think about which assessment tools and processes to use and what is appropriate is the National Standards Professional Learning Module image- Meeting the needs of English language learners Module .  “English language learners need to have appropriate levels of English language proficiency before information on them is drawn from assessment tools that have been normed for native speakers of English. If overall teacher judgments include data from such tools, they may not be reliable judgments about English language learners' cognitive ability, but, rather, judgments about their ability to function in English-medium classrooms.”

Once you have weighed up all the factors then you can make a decision as to whether the use of any test is appropriate on a case by case basis. Also, you will better understand whether the use of a translator is appropriate or not. A translator is certainly often used when making an initial diagnostic assessment when students first enter school in New Zealand to help you to determine a student’s level of learning in their first language.

 ELLP/National standards Assessment Results

In relation to Caroline’s question I am not aware of any list of National Standards/ELLP equivalent assessment results in Reading and Written Language. She wanted to know where to access these? Unless you are talking about the NZCER research that they did for the MOE in order to establish a relationship with the MOE ESOL funding application process and to develop some typical student profiles for English language acquisition. As far as I am aware these profiles are still being developed and the results have not yet been made public.  

Teachers need to have a clear understanding of both what the National Standards and the ELLP are.  The National Standards are the expected signpost for reading, writing and mathematics progress at each year level. They have been developed on largely native English speakers.  Whereas the ELLP progressions are a tool for tracking English language acquisition progress for students who have English as an additional language.  Each ELLP stage can apply to students from across a range of year levels from year’s 1-13 dependent upon their stage of English learning because of this the descriptors in the ELLP matrices use often use broad terms.  Because the purpose for the standards and the progressions are different it is not really possible to match assessment results against each other in an equivalent manner. However the level of English acquisition an ELL has will affect the student’s performance in relation to the National Standards and may hide what they know and can do. Which is why I am pleased that in New Zealand we can also use teacher observations and make an Overall Teacher Judgement rather than relying on the results on one test.

The MOE requires ALL students to be reported on in relation to the National Standards this includes all ELLs. While they recommend that teachers also report using ELLP for ELLs.   


Kind regards

Janet McQueen