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How is understanding and use of academic language assessed?

The Academic Language Assessment will show if the interventions in both STARI and Word Generation are having an impact on students’ academic language. Additionally, this assessment may show a relationship between students with high academic language skills and deep reading comprehension. This assessment does not assess content-specific vocabulary, but rather the components of academic language needed across all content areas. The assessment asks students to write formal dictionary definitions of familiar words, as well as match connective words and phrases to pictures representing a relationship, such as cause and effect.  The assessment also asks students to identify patterns of discourse by rearranging sentences in otherwise disorganized persuasive essays. Students will also be asked to change words into different forms, demonstrating an understanding of complex words. 

The ALA is an assessment of academic language skills designed to be administered to students in grades 4-8. The ALA of academic language proficiency:

Dimension 1: Information Packing and Unpacking Skills (Morphology, Syntax)
One dimension of academic language assessed by the ALA includes complex words, sentence structures and syntax typical of formal academic writing.

Dimension 2: Knowledge of Words that Link Ideas or Participants in Written Discourse (Connectives, Reference)
The second component of academic language proficiency assessed by the ALA, is character or idea through a text. Additionally, the aspect of how words called connectives (such as 'or') link ideas and signal relationships in written text.

Dimension 3: Knowledge of School Genres & Discourse Structures
The third component of academic language proficiency evaluated by the ALA is ideas in an organized sequence. The two school-relevant genres included in the ALA are: definitions and persuasive essays.

Dimension 4: Academic Language Register Awareness
One component of academic language proficiency is the ability to draw on knowledge of when to use informal language registers (like those used in many homes) and formal language registers (such as those used in many classrooms). The formal register of AL requires a set of various skills: precise vocabulary; abstract information packed into a few words; the use of stand-alone language; the language (and when to use it) that supports children in choosing appropriate language forms when speaking and writing in school. In addition to the components delineated above, the ALA assesses students' awareness of academic register.

sample items


vidVideo: A Closer look at the Assessment

In this video Catherine Snow explains:

that academic language, along with reasoning and perspective-taking, are thought to be linked to deep comprehension | both STARI and WG are designed to develop academic language among students therefore it is necessary to assess whether the curricula are effective

Paola Uccelli and Jayne Ogata dicuss:

how several ALA items are structured | prototypical fourth-grade and eighth-grade language examples | comparing a "information-packing" | the distinction between cross-content academic language skills and specialized vocabulary | "connecting ideas": items where the use of phrases such as "as a result" are tested | the reports teachers receive to see how their classes did on the assessment, and how they can use them to check whether students are advancing in various domains