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Module 7: Assessing if Learners are Making Progress

This module will provide you with basic ways to assess learner proficiency levels and how to determine if learners are making progress.

What are the different learner class levels?

Adult education programs place learners into classes based on learners’ English proficiency levels. Here are the basic types of class levels:

  • Beginner

  • Intermediate

  • Advanced

The levels can be further divided into low beginner, high beginner, low intermediate and high intermediate. Some adult education programs also have pre-literacy levels for learners who are not literate in their native language.

How are learners' English proficiency levels determined?

Adult education programs use various methods to determine learners’ English proficiency levels. Many programs have a formal placement process that uses a standardized test to assess English proficiency levels. Other programs may determine learners’ proficiency levels by gauging how learners respond to intake questions and converse with others.

Why is it important to know learners’ English proficiency levels?

A program needs to know the learner’s English proficiency level to place the learner in the appropriate class level. If the class level is too advanced, the learner may become discouraged and stop coming to class. If the level is too easy, the learner may feel their educational needs are not being met and stop coming. Therefore, it is important to know each learner’s English proficiency level for each of the four skill areas: reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

Knowing the learner’s English proficiency level is also important for the instructional staff. Teachers, tutors, and volunteers can adapt lesson plans and instruction based on each learner’s level of English proficiency in the four skill areas. This allows the learner to receive instruction at the appropriate level. Establishing a starting proficiency level also helps the instructional staff determine how much progress the learner has made at the end of the class.

Finally, learners benefit from knowing their English proficiency levels. Learners often feel that they have a limited understanding and ability to speak English. Conducting an assessment provides them with a more accurate indication of their English skills.

How do I know if learners understand the information?

It is good practice to find out what learners already know about a topic before relaying new information. One way to do this is to ask questions about the topic. You can also use a K-W-L chart. This chart divides information into three categories (What I Know, What I Want to Know, What I Learned):


  • What I Know
  • What I Want to Know
  • What I Learned

Incorporating this chart in instruction can show what learners already know about a topic, what they want to know about the topic, and later, what they learned.

Another way to determine if learners understand information is to watch their facial expressions as you communicate with them. They may not understand what you are saying if they look confused or perplexed, lean forward to hear what you say, try to read your lips, or remain quiet. 

Here are some ways to check for comprehension:

  • Conduct an activity that reviews the information presented.

  • Find a comfortable and easy way to have learners provide feedback. For example, have them say or write on a piece of paper, “I understand” or “I don’t understand” and then share their response with you.

  • Have learners repeat or paraphrase the information.

After a lesson or an activity, find a way to obtain learners’ feedback. Ask if they understand the new information, what they liked learning about it, and why.

How often should I assess learners' progress?

You should continually assess learners’ progress. There are many types of assessments you can use in your class. You can informally assess progress by asking questions, watching facial expressions, and observing the actions of learners. Some adult education programs formally implement a standardized test, such as the Best Plus and Best Literacy TestCASAS (PDF), and TABE CLAS-E. (USCIS does not endorse a specific standardized test for adult education.) Additionally, your program may administer an informal assessment at the end of each lesson or a test at the end of the session to assess whether learners have mastered the material.

Since you are preparing learners for the naturalization interview and test, you can assess progress by conducting a mock interview and administering a naturalization test you create from the 100 civics questions (PDF, 295.55 KB) and English reading (PDF, 184.75 KB)and writing (PDF, 181.5 KB) vocabulary words.

Why is it important to gauge learners' progress?

Gauging a learner’s progress is important for everyone. Programs want to ensure that learners are making progress and meeting their educational goals. Instructional staff want to see learners advance since it reflects on their ability to teach. Learners want to feel that they are spending their time wisely. With many demands on their lives—jobs, families, and other responsibilities—learners who see their progress may be more motivated to stay with the program. 


This module was designed to provide you with information on class levels, learner English proficiency levels, and assessments. Remember to incorporate ways to assess learners’ understanding and progress. Show learners their progress so they feel the time they are dedicating to education is worthwhile.

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