Every Ann Foundation volunteer instructor I’ve interacted with has told me about the improvement they see in their wards from week to week. While affirmations of this sort are undoubtedly gratifying, a more concrete form of assessment scheme is critical to gauging the success of this initiative and using that knowledge to inform and improve our teaching methods as we go forward.

The Dindigul project ESL volunteers and curriculum writers came up with an objective system of assessment founded on internationally recognized standards such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet Based Test (TOEFL iBT) scoring standards. The areas of assessment were identified to be speaking, reading and comprehension. The speaking test was a modified version of a standard preliminary TOEFL iBT (but with the general scoring rubric retained) administered for a fixed length of time and tested the examinee for clarity of speech, proper grammar and vocabulary to the activity, coherence of response in relation to the query and progression of ideas. The activities in the test were: answering questions about oneself, role-play (dialogue), and description of an image and speaks extempore on a given topic. Reading comprehension tests provided the examinee a simple passage to read aloud for a fixed length of time and answer questions relating to ideas and linguistic subject matter (vocabulary, grammar) in the passage. The first battery of tests administered to the children of the Dindigul project clearly identified the areas that need special attention, clarifying the object of lessons (and lesson plans) in the future and motivating the current philosophy of situational language instruction. The plan is to administer tests on a rolling basis; both general tests and topic based tests, to help fine-tune the instruction material and methods used by volunteers and hopefully also establish the salient features of the same.

Kumar Ravichandran is a teaching volunteer and project manager for Ann Foundation’s Dindigul Project. His volunteering experience includes work for the American Red Cross, the Columbia Lighthouse for the blind, the after-school mentoring program America Reads America Counts and a DC-based soup kitchen from time to time. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park.