Case Study 3: Students with English as an additional language (EAL)

Schools often ask for guidance on how to administer CAT4 to students for whom English is an additional language. Whether to include such students in the administration of the whole or just part of CAT4 will depend on many factors, some of which are set out below. The decision will also depend on the purpose of testing with CAT4 which may include the need to assess a whole cohort to build up an accurate overview of their ability.

Research over three decades has shown that students who are taught in a language that is not their home language may take up to seven or even 10 years to achieve parity in educational outcomes with their first language peer group. Building on work done in Canada (Cummins, 1981 1), large-scale studies in the US (Collier and Thomas, 1989,2 1997 3) found that students of this type aged between eight and 11 were the fastest achievers and that, for students in this age range, two years of education in their first language in their home country was a significant variable with a positive impact on academic achievement in their additional language. Collier and Thomas also found that, after two years, attainment in functional English was comparable to their mainstream peer group. In Mathematics, attainment was actually well above average, demonstrating that, for aspects of language which are taught directly (such as Grammar and Punctuation) and where knowledge and skills can be transferred, English language learners do as well as or better than their peers.

...[It] takes between five and seven years for a child to be working on a level with first language speakers as far as academic language is concerned.

The same study found that students entering the education system between the ages of 12 and 16 had the lowest scores on standardised tests at the equivalent of Y11/S5: these students run out of time to acquire the level of English proficiency to perform at the same level as their mainstream peer group.

Cummins coined the term CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) and, as the name suggests, this is the basis for a child’s ability to cope with the academic demands placed upon him or her in the various subjects across the curriculum. Cummins states that, while many children develop native speaker fluency (which he calls Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills, or BICS) within two years of immersion in the target language, it takes between five and seven years for a child to be working on a level with first language speakers as far as academic language is concerned.

These studies focused on a particular group of students entering the US or Canada, which is only partly representative of students in UK schools who have English as a second language. This is because many will enter school having been exposed to the English language from birth and speaking English and their home language with family and friends. Maintaining a student’s development in their first language is an important factor in CALP: concepts that are understood in the first language may readily be understood in the acquired language once appropriate vocabulary has been learned. Understanding a new concept and simultaneously learning the language to express that understanding is more demanding.

Concepts that are understood in the first language may readily be understood in the acquired language once appropriate vocabulary has been learned.

A student’s environment will have an impact too. In the same way that cultural and social factors influence first language speakers, students with English as an additional language will be affected, for example by their socio-economic group, level of parental support, school attendance, etc.

Schools across the UK will be working to support students like those in the research findings described above. Other students, however, will be from established communities with different levels of proficiency in English and many will be bilingual.

Deciding whether to administer CAT4 to students for whom English is an additional language will depend on several factors and should be based on a range of information about an individual student. However, three out of the four batteries in CAT4 have very little language content and so students can be supported where necessary by translating administration instructions. This is straightforward for the paper edition where instructions are given orally but may be more problematic for the digital edition where administration is delivered through the integrated voiceover. In this case the voiceover may be turned off and, as all text appears on screen, it is possible for the school to translate this for the student.

1 Cummins, J. (1981) Bilingualism and Minority-language Children. Toronto: Oise Press.

2 Collier, V. and Thomas, W. (1989) ‘How quickly can immigrants become proficient in school English?’ Journal of Educational Issues of Language Minority Students, 5, 26–38.

3 Thomas, W.P. and Collier, V.P. (1997) ‘School effectiveness for language minority students.’ National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition (NCELA) Resource Collection Series, No. 9, December 1997.

Issues for consideration

  • The length of time the student has been educated in English in the UK:
    • If this is less than five years, adaptation, such as the translation of administration instructions, may be considered to ensure that CAT4 is accessible.
    • If this is two years or less, it may be inappropriate to give the Verbal Reasoning Battery but the administration of the other batteries can be adapted to ensure accessibility.
  • The point at which the student entered school in the UK may be significant:
    • Children who have entered a UK school when older may well be more disadvantaged than those in the eight to 11 age range, for example.
  • The student’s attainment in subjects across the curriculum and level of English language acquisition demonstrated:
    • BICS may be highly competent.
    • Aspects of CALP may also be average or above (for example, in functional English and Mathematics).
    • Higher order skills in Reading and Reading Comprehension in the acquired language should be part of the decision on how the tests are provided too.

Some implications of testing

  • Indicators are likely to be an underestimate of eventual attainment if based on all the batteries of CAT4 and where a student’s level of English language acquisition disadvantages them in the Verbal Reasoning Battery (and assuming that a student in, say, Y7/S1 continues to learn English and so improve their CALP). In such cases it may be better to omit the verbal tests for now, retesting with the verbal tests when English language acquisition is more advanced, at Y9/S3 or above.
  • Indicators for English and Modern Foreign Languages are usually based on the Verbal Reasoning Battery, so these may contain a greater degree of error when based on the mean score from the other three batteries.
  • Indicators will be based on the mean of the scores from the Nonverbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Spatial Ability Batteries, where the Verbal Reasoning Battery is omitted.
  • The Nonverbal Reasoning Battery involves reasoning with both language – the student will think through the tasks in his or her language – and spatial reasoning (with shapes or patterns), so the score from this part of CAT4 will be especially useful when supporting students for whom English is an additional language as it requires the mustering of two types of reasoning.
  • The Quantitative Reasoning Battery also uses a mixture of verbal and spatial reasoning, although the verbal element is more limited than in the Nonverbal Reasoning Battery. For example, it may only involve recalling things like ‘three times two is six’, whereas the Nonverbal Reasoning Battery can necessitate finding words to describe a wide range of shapes and operations.

Adaptations to the administration

  • Administration in the student’s first language must be carried out separately from the group administration and, if more than one additional language is to be accommodated, separate test sessions or rooms must be arranged.
  • Translation and administration of instructions and examples should be carried out by a teacher, teaching assistant, learning mentor or similar practitioner whose first language is the same as that of the student. A friend or family member is not an appropriate person to translate and administer CAT4. The test items must not be translated.
  • Translated administration instructions should be prepared in advance and must follow those in the published test as closely as possible. Translated material should be written down before being read out so that all students tested in any language are given the same instructions.
  • All timings must be adhered to and no assistance should be given in accessing the actual test questions. So, for example, the questions in the Verbal Reasoning Battery must not be translated nor should any other elaborations be made to any of the other batteries, such as explaining the transformation rules that underpin the quantitative questions.


An example of how students with English as as an additional language are successfully included in CAT4 testing is seen in a primary school in Berkshire. This is a larger than average primary, serving a culturally diverse area. About three-quarters of the students are from minority ethnic groups, many with English as an additional language.

When children come into school, those with English as an additional language receive intensive language support, which has a big impact on their achievement. The Head Teacher says: “Our programme to support these children has been very successful and we find that by the end of Year 1 many are outstripping their peer group. Such is the success of this approach that a similar support programme is being implemented with first language English-speaking children whose language skills are delayed, and we anticipate similar results.”

There is special provision for children on the autistic disorder spectrum, of whom there were eight in the school at the time of writing. Wherever possible, all children are included in CAT4 testing

CAT4 is administered in January each year to Years 4 and 5 and is used to:

  • assess the ability of the whole year group, which does vary year-on-year
  • contribute to provision mapping for SEN children
  • provide indicators for KS2 SATs
  • set targets for individual students.

The Head Teacher comments: “It is important to the school to know about the ability of a whole year group, and for this reason we tend to include all our students in CAT4. As long as we are aware of any factors that might affect a student’s scores it would be our preference to test all the students. Our cohort is fairly stable, although we do have a number of students joining higher up the school who need English language support.”

The Head continues: “We use Assessing Pupil Progress as our main tool for tracking progress and CAT4 adds information that complements teachers’ own assessments and results from optional SATs given in Years 3, 4 and 5. CAT4 data is a useful additional source of information about a whole year group. For example, when Ofsted inspectors are reviewing our results in Literacy and Numeracy, CAT4 offers objective evidence of the ability levels across the group.”

Two groups of children were tested as part of the CAT4 standardisation. Proper interpretation of CAT4 profiles necessitates setting the scores in context by considering background information about the children. For example, three Year 6 children tested with CAT4 Level C obtained a similar profile, indicating an extreme spatial bias. However, once some background information was factored in and the CAT4 scores given a context, it is possible to see the different reasons for this bias that has been revealed through testing with CAT4. Two of the children have special needs which mean their spatial abilities are genuinely higher than their verbal abilities. The remaining child has a verbal score that is probably being suppressed by the fact that he is still learning English. He may in fact have a balanced intellectual profile.

The children’s scores are as follows:

Both Arif and Omar have English as an additional language. However, Arif has been in school from Reception, whereas Omar, whose first language is Arabic, joined at the beginning of Year 6. An important consideration for Arif is that he has a diagnosed speech delay which may well make the tests in the CAT4 Verbal Reasoning Battery especially difficult for him. His strengths in the Quantitative Reasoning and Spatial Ability Batteries will help him do well in Maths and Science and can be drawn on to support and develop his verbal skills. The report for Arif recognises that support for literacy will be required (and he is receiving this).

The Individual report for teachers for these three students says:

  • Arif (and/or Omar and Ellie) should be encouraged to explain his or her understanding of spatial activities and reflect critically on them to develop his or her verbal reasoning skills.

Omar’s spatial skills are also above average. His score on the Nonverbal Reasoning Battery is of interest as it may be lower than his score on the Spatial Ability Battery because Omar’s verbal reasoning is below average. However, it is highly unlikely that his score on the Verbal Reasoning Battery is an accurate reflection of his verbal skills. So, retesting in Year 8 or Year 9 might offer a much more accurate profile of his skills which may then be more evenly balanced and in the above average range rather than as his current Year 6 test results suggest. However, including Omar alongside his peer group in the test session is more than appropriate, as CAT4 has allowed him to demonstrate his skills in all areas, especially his particularly strong spatial ability.

Ellie, whose first language is English, has dyslexia, although her teacher reports that she is doing extremely well in Reading and making good progress. Ellie is clearly able to bring together her verbal and spatial reasoning skills in the Nonverbal Reasoning Battery (SAS 111), but it is likely that her strengths are more spatial than verbal and that she will go on to do well in a range of subjects at secondary school – Science, Design and Technology and Geography, for example – as long as her literacy is supported and continues to improve.

“We will continue to include all our students when we test with CAT4” says the Head Teacher. “We have just decided to use the Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS), which can be used alongside CAT4 and teacher assessment to give an even fuller picture of our students’ potential and how to make sure they do the best they can.”