What is Portfolio-Based Language Assessment?

Portfolio-Based Language Assessment (PBLA/ELBP) may be a new term but many of its principles and methods are common practice in second-language training for adults. PBLA/ELBP strengthens and formalizes approaches already used by many ESL/FSL teachers, while adding new elements that will further benefit learners, teachers and administrators.

PBLA/ELBP incorporates recognized best practices in the teaching and assessment of second-language skills:

Teacher-led and classroom-based

PBLA/ELBP provides an alternative to traditional testing practices, in particular the use of standardized or externally developed tests at the end of a term.

In the PBLA/ELBP model, the teacher carries out ongoing assessment in the classroom, providing multiple opportunities for teachers and learners to reflect on and make plans to advance the learner’s journey towards ESL/FSL proficiency.  

A fundamental part of the teaching/learning cycle

PBLA/ELBP embeds assessment into the teaching/learning cycle, building on decades of research into “assessment for learning” principles. Teachers can provide immediate constructive feedback to learners and can more readily make adjustments in the course of teaching.

Learners are more actively involved in assessment and in collaboration with the teacher, can set realistic learning goals and monitor their progress — which increases their capacity for self-directed learning.  

Aligned with the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB)

Instruction and assessment in PBLA/ELBP are aligned with the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) — Canada’s national standard for describing, measuring and recognizing the proficiency of adult immigrants and prospective immigrants in English as a Second Language (ESL).

The CLB standard is a descriptive scale of language ability in ESL, written as 12 benchmarks or reference points along a continuum from basic to advanced.


Learning journey and assessment progress documented in portfolios

In PBLA/ELBP, each learner has a “portfolio” — a binder known as the Language Companion that documents their learning journey and collects evidence of their progress in language tasks over time.  

Key features of the Language Companion:

  • It includes drafts and revisions, not just final products, which allows a learner to see how they have progressed in their language skills.  
  • It contains information on the learner’s specific needs and goals (many of them identified by the learner), in relation to the CLB.
  • It provides the opportunity for a learner to comment on their work, and to reflect on their achievements and what they are most proud of — both on their own and in conversation with the teacher. Giving learners the tools to undertake self-assessment and reflection has been shown to have a positive effect on learning.

How Was PBLA/ELBP Developed?

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