In an increasingly globalized world the ability to exchange ideas and communicate in a language other than one’s first language has been considered highly important. The necessity of teaching foreign languages to Young Learners (aged 5-12 years old) has been widely recognized and, as a result, recent years have witnessed an explosion in the number of children learning English as a foreign language as part of their primary education. In fact, in many countries worldwide a tendency to lower the age at which school children begin their foreign language learning has been noticed. As young language learners comprise the most rapidly growing segment of the primary school population, there is an extensive interest in their learning. This entails a growth of concern about their appropriate assessment since assessment has always been regarded as an integral part of the everyday teaching practice (Ioannou-Georgiou & Pavlou, 2003; Linn & Miller, 2005; McKay, 2006).
Assessment is included in evaluation which is the umbrella term referring to all the types of activities that require the exercise of judgement. Even though the terms have frequently been used interchangeably in the relative literature, Bachman (1990) argues that their distinctive characteristics render their separate definitions necessary. More particularly, evaluation is a broad concept “primarily about decision making” (Genesee & Upshur, 1996: 4). Although it “is a natural and recurring activity of our daily existence” (Karavas, 2004: 151), when we engage in evaluation in an educational setting, its consequences are serious, powerful and far reaching. Evaluation involves making a wide variety of choices concerning instructional plans, methodological approaches, teaching materials and resources, curriculum and course design, school conditions and staffing and, certainly, language learning (West, 2004a). Since evaluation affects the lives of many people, it should be a systematic and well-thought-out process based on carefully defined criteria. As Genesee (2001: 144) so aptly summarizes it, evaluation is:
“a process of collecting, analyzing and interpreting information about teaching and learning in order to make informed decisions that enhance student achievement and the success of educational programmes”.
From an instructional standpoint, assessment is that part of evaluation that determines the nature and extent of student learning and development. It focuses on gathering data and deciding on “a learner’s level of skills and knowledge” (Nunan, 1990:62). According to Linn and Miller (2005), assessment answers the question of how well individuals perform. It includes a range of procedures that provide quantitative and qualitative information about student learning and help the formation of value judgments about their learning progress and growth. It must be underlined that the term is inclusive of both formal and informal methods of monitoring learner performance; that is,...