n Journal for Language Teaching = Ijenali Yekufundzisa Lulwimi = Tydskrif vir Taalonderrig - Lessons from small-scale standardised testing of English reading and writing performance in two types of primary schools in South Africa




The multilingual composition of South African schools and the choice of English as the preferred language of teaching and learning (LoLT) have created well-documented academic challenges for English second language learners (ESL) and their teachers. Poor performance in English is associated with poor performance among ESL learners across the curriculum. Small-scale standardised testing for ESL performance is an assessment strategy that can contribute to identifying specific needs at a particular school. Standardised testing, as a sub-component of the broader concept of assessment which includes a range of assessment options, is defined as any form of test that requires all test takers to answer the same questions in the same way. This paper reports on a study which implemented small-scale, standardised testing of English reading and writing performance of ESL Grade 7 learners in two types of primary schools in a semi-rural area in Limpopo Province (a public fee-paying school and an independent for-profit school). The overall findings indicate that learners in both schools performed extremely well in the English writing performance test; however, learners in the public school outperformed learners in the independent school in both English Reading and Writing performance tests, although the difference in the Writing performance test was minimal. The superior performance by the public school can partly be explained by teachers teaching experience, most of them have been teaching for more than ten years and greater community support for the school. It is recommended that data produced through small-scale standardised testing should be used by school management teams to design instructional improvement plans and by individual teachers to make data-driven decisions about improved language instruction.


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