Impact Insights

Assessing Students Beyond Placement Tests

Lana Learn instructors in Vietnam implement additional ways of assessing students beyond placement tests to level students appropriately.

With the arrival of the summer in earnest, the Lana Learn team in Hanoi has begun another semester of English language training at Unit 871. Most attendees are new to the Lana Learn American Language Course (ALC) program. However, we are happy to see the return of 12 officers from the Vietnam Coast Guard (VCG). Seven VCG officers scored high enough on the English Comprehension Level (ECL) test the previous semester to qualify for follow-on training (FOT) in the U.S. The first order of business was administering the American Language Course Placement Test (ALCPT). Their scores allowed us to place students into appropriate class levels based on their English ability. Additionally, the instructors are assessing students beyond placement tests.

Placement Tests

Upon arrival, students must complete tests created by the Defense Language Institute English Language Course (DLIELC). These tests give a quantitative means to assess a student. They cover listening and reading in the form of multiple-choice questions.  However, there is often a variation between a person’s ability to score well on the test and their ability to use English effectively in an applied setting. In the past, a few students scored reasonably well on their initial ALCPT, yet they could neither understand spoken English nor speak it. In contrast, a few students have scored quite low, yet they demonstrated a surprising competence in everyday English usage. Lana Learn instructors further assess their students to accurately place them into classes.  

Types of Assessments

One option is to use different speaking exercises to demonstrate a person’s listening comprehension and production capabilities. One method is holding short interviews and asking simple conversation questions like, “Where are you from?” “What are your hobbies?” “Why did you decide to become an officer in the military?” This would better show a person’s ability to understand spoken English and communicate basic information.

Another way to assess English levels is to give students the opportunity to speak freely without question prompts. One exercise includes showing students a photograph and asking them to describe what they see. Additionally, students could be asked to give a short monologue on a topic like describing a vacation or their childhood home. These methods show how well a person utilizes vocabulary in meaningful communication. They also show students’ fluency and pronunciation which are critical to correct class-level placement.  

Air Force Feedback

This issue was brought up by our Air Force Security Assistance Training Squadron (AFSAT) Program Manager, Maria Johnson, during her site visit to Hanoi. She said that the biggest challenge for Vietnamese officers in the U.S. was their inability to understand spoken information. They also struggled with speaking clearly and correct pronunciation. Therefore, it’s critical for us to not only place students in a class level which is commensurate with their vocabulary and grammar knowledge but also with their speaking and comprehension abilities.  

Caleb with Class Alpha at Unit 871 in Hanoi.
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