Assessing young foreign language learners: When assessment serves learning

  • Claudia Mewald
  • Sabine Wallner Pädagogische Hochschule Niederösterreich


This paper is about the first in a series of diagnostic tests developed for young learners of English as a foreign language (EFL) in year one of primary education.  In Lower Austria, learners who transit from kindergarten to primary school have already made their first experiences in EFL. This suggests that starting from scratch with little or no information about what the learners already understand or can do in the foreign language would be a waste of time and a loss of opportunities for new input. Thus, a diagnostic test has been developed which can be used by primary school teachers to assess their learners’ current ability in the foreign language to be able to plan and guide their teaching in a more informed way. The playful and communicative organisation of the test allows diagnosis without putting stress on learners or teachers and fits into classroom practice without disturbing the regular workflow. As the retrieval relies completely on pictorial input, the test can also be used to assess other languages, if the instructions are translated accordingly. This paper presents the test specifications of the test, several item exemplars and links to the test materials which are available on-line.


Claudia Mewald
Claudia Mewald is a lecturer at the University College of Teacher Education in Lower Austria. She specializes in early FL education, learner autonomy, and testing and assessment. She has researched the input and output in CLIL classes and portfolio assessment in teacher education. Since 2004 she has been involved in the development of educational standards and standardised testing at lower secondary level. Her current research interest is the washback of testing on teaching and learning.
Sabine Wallner, Pädagogische Hochschule Niederösterreich
Sabine Wallner is lecturer in Department 6 of the University College of Teacher Education in Lower Austria.


Alderson, C. J., Clapham, C., & Wall, D. (2004). Language Test Construction and Evaluation (Eighth printing ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Alexander, R. (2008). Towards dialogic teaching. Rethinking classroom talk (4th ed.). Thirsk: Dialogos.

Allan, D. (1999). Distinctions & Dichotomies: Testing and Assessment in ELT. FELT Newsletter, 2(1). (T. F. Ireland, Ed.) FELT.

Bachman, L., & Palmer, A. (2010). Language Assessment in Practice. Oxford: OUP.

Bialystok, E. (1982). On the relationship between knowing and using forms. Applied Linguistics(3), pp. 181-206.

BIFIE (Ed.). (2011 - 2014b). Standardüberprüfung. Retrieved 03 10, 2014, from

BIFIE (Ed.). (2011-2014a). Kompetenzen und Modelle. Retrieved 03 10, 2014, from

Black, P., & William, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education (5), pp. 7-74.

Black, P., & William, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan 80(2), pp. 139-148.

Buchholz, B. (2006). Facts & Figures im Grundschulenglisch. Eine Untersuchung des verbindlichen Fremdsprachenunterrichts ab der ersten Klasse an österreichischen Volksschulen. Wien: LIT Verlag.

Buchholz, B., Mewald, C., & Schneidhofer, M. (2007). Untersuchung zum Fremdsprachenunterricht an Volksschulen mit Schulversuch "Sprachintensivierung Englisch". Retrieved 01 10, 2015, from Pädagogische Hochschule Niederösterreich: Publikationen:

Cameron, L. (2010). Teaching Languages to Young Learners. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Chappuis, J. (2009). Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning. Boston: Pearson.

Council of Europe, E. (Ed.). (2001). Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cummins, J. (2003). BICS and CALP: Origins and rationale for the distinction. In C. B. Paulston, & G. R. Tucker, Sociolinguistics: The essential readings (pp. 322-328). London: Blackwell.

Davies, A., Brown, A., Elder, C., Hill, K., Lumley, T., & McNamara, T. (1999). Dictionary of language testing (Studies in Langauge Testing 7 ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dodge, J. (2009). 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom. New York: Scholastic.

Ellis, R. (2010). The Study of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Eurydice Network. (2014). Eurydice Facts and Figures: Recommended Annual Taught Time in Full-time Compulsory Education in Europe 2012/2013. (E. Commission, Ed.) Retrieved 01 28, 2015, from EACEA: Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency:

Felberbauer, M., Fuchs, E., Gritsch, A., & Zebisch, G. (2012). GK 4- Grundkompetenzen „Lebende Fremdsprache“ - 4. Schulstufe. Retrieved 01 18, 2015, from ÖSZ:

Fleetham, M. (2008). Including Gifted, Able and Talented Children in the Primary Classroom. Cambridge: LDA.

Foster-Cohen, S. H. (1999). An Introduction to Child Language Development. Harlow: Longman.

Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of Mind. The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. London : Fontana Press.

Green, A. (2014). Exploring Language Assessment and Testing. Language in Action. New York: Routledge.

Halliwell, S. (1992). Teaching English in the Primary Classroom. Harlow: Longman.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers. Maximising Impact on Learning. New York: Routledge.

Hughes, A. (2008). How to Teach Young Learners. London: Longman.

Jensen, E. (1996). Brain Based Learning. Del Mar: Turning Point Publishing.

Krashen, S. (1981). Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Krashen, S., Long, M., & Scarcella, R. (1979). Child-adult Differences in Second Language Acquisition. Rowley: Newbury House.

Marzano, R. J. (2006). Classroom Assessment and Grading That Work. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Marzano, R. J. (2010). Formative Assessment & Standards-Based Grading. Bloomington: Marzano Reserach Laboratory.

McKay, P. (2006). Assessing Young Learners. Cambridge: CUP.

Mewald, C. (2001). What should a first aid kit for new foreign language teachers contain? The perceived needs of practising foreign language teachers. In M. J. Raya, P. Faber, W. Gewehr, & A. J. Peck, Effective Foreign Language Teaching at the Primary Level (pp. 195-213). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Mewald, C. (2014). Practice what you preach – test what you teach.Testing English as a foreign language in heterogeneous groups. (P. H. Niederösterreich, Ed.) R&E-Source, 1, pp. 24-35.

Mewald, C., Gassner, O., Lackenbauer, F., Brock, R., & Siller, K. (2013). BIFIE. Retrieved 03 10, 2014, from

Olsen, L., & Samuels, S. (1973). The relationship between age and accccuracy of foreign language pronunciation. Journal of Educational Research 66, pp. 263-267.

Oyama, S. (1976). A sensitive period in the acquistion of a non-native phonological system . Journal of Psychological Research 5, pp. 261-285.

Richards, J. C., & Rogers, T. S. (2001). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (Vol. Second Edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schrödinger, E. (1944). What is life? The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell. Cambridge University Press.

Smith, J. (2012a). Scientific writing. Calypso Journal.

Smith, J. (2012b). The art of writing. Telemachos.

Snow, C., & Hoefnagel-Höhle, M. (1979). The critical age for language acqisiton: evidence from second language learning. Child Development 49, pp. 1114-1128.

Statistik Austria. (2013). Fremdsprachenunterricht der Schülerinnen und Schüler im Schuljahr 2012/13. Retrieved 01 10, 2015, from Statistik Austria:

Stevick, E. W. (1996). Memory, Meaning & Method. A View of Language Teaching. Boston: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.

Stiggins, R., Arter, J., Chappuis, J., & Chappuis, S. (2006). Classroom Assessment for Student Learning. Doing It Right - Using It Well. Portland: Educational Testing Service.

Swain, M. (2000). The output hypothesis and beyond: Mediating acquisition through collaborative dialogue. In J. P. Lantolf, Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Learning (pp. 97-115). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tomlinson, C. A. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. New Jersey: Pearson Education.

Tsagari, D., & Banerjee, J. (2014). Language Assessment in the Educational Context. In M. Bigelow, & J. Ennser-Kananen, Handbook of Educational Linguistics (Kindle Edition ed., pp. Loc 11332-11790 of 18996). New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group. Kindle Edition.

Vale, D., & Feunteun, A. (1996). Teaching Children English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Weir, C. (1998). Communicative Language Testing. Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Pearson.

Willingham, D. T. (2009). Why don't students like school? A cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

Wong Fillmore, L. (1979). Individual Differences in Language Ability and Language Behavior. New York: Academic Press.

Woolf, V. (1915). The Voyage Out. Ducksworth, London.

Wormeli, R. (2006). Fair Isn't Always Equal. Assessing & Grading in the Differentiated Classroom. Portland: Stenhouse Publishers.

Wray, A. (2002). Formulaic language and the lexicon. Cambridge: CUP.