Canadian Language
Benchmarks (CLB)
Presented by
Elena Durette, Kerry Louw and Bonnie Nicholas
EDPY 593
March 3, 2008
L2 Assessment in Canada before
the CLBA
At our school, if
students know the past
tense, we put them in
an intermediate class.
I have a student who
just moved from
Ontario. He was in an
intermediate class
there, but here he’s a
high beginner.
What are the Canadian Language
Benchmarks (CLB)?
 1991: Immigration Canada report to Parliament
 1992: Consultation workshops
 1993: National Working Group on Language
1995: Draft CLB document field-tested
2000: CLB 2000 published
Ongoing: CLB are used for Language Instruction
for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) classes, Stage
I, Benchmarks 1 through 4
Stages II and III are used at higher levels
Schematic Structure of the
Canadian Language Benchmarks
 12 benchmarks, divided into three proficiency stages
The benchmarks are . . .
 a descriptive scale of communicative proficiency
 a framework of reference
 a national standard
 competency-based
 criterion-referenced
 learner-centred
 on a continuum
 task-based
 subjective
 analytical
The competency-based approach
 Focuses on ‘what’ learners should be able to do
 Is concerned with attainment of specific standards
criterion-referenced not norm-referenced
 Was first adopted in vocationally-oriented education and later
accepted by policymakers and leaders in curriculum
development as a “state-of-the-art” approach to ESL
 A CLB competency statement contains a task and a number of
of ‘how well’ or standard statements (example of Writing Benchmark 3)
Task: Write a short text about a personal or familiar situation.
Performance Indicators: Conveys the message, reader can follow, uses
appropriate language and content, describes time and location with precision,
makes few errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling
Source: Integrating CLB Assessment into your ESL Classroom (2005).
Development of the CLB
Assessment Tools
 1995: Peel Board of Education (Ontario)
contracted to develop assessment instruments
(Pierce and Stewart)
 1996: CLBA kit developed
 1998: Federal funding for the CCLB
 1998 - present: ongoing development of new
assessment tools by CCLB
 2002: CLBPT developed
 Now: free online assessment PD offered
from CCLB
CLB Tests and Assessment Tools
for Adult ESL
CCLB Centre for Canadian
Language Benchmarks
(Canadian Language
Placement Test)
LPT (Literacy
Placement Tool)
CLB Classroom
CLB Summative
(Workplace Language
(Canadian English
Benchmarks Assessment
for Nurses)
Centre for
Education and
Training (CET)
Canadian Test of English
for Scholars and Trainees
(Canadian Language
(Canadian Language
Benchmarks Literacy
CLB Assessment in Edmonton
LARCC (Language Assessment, Referral and
Counseling Centre) at Catholic Social Services
Pre-screening by intake workers
Less than 6 years
of education in
home country (L1)
Literacy Placement Tool
(LINC; low-stakes)
Source: Annette Kreider, Catholic Social Services
More than 6 years
of education in
home country (L1)
CLB Placement Test
(LINC; low-stakes)
(non-LINC client;
higher stakes)
An example of the streaming process
CLBA was designed to be:
Accountable to stakeholders
User-friendly (efficient, reliable, cost-effective)
Able to place learners on a continuum
Culturally accessible (not culture-free)
Sources: Norton Pierce, B. & Stewart, G. (1997). The Development of the Canadian Language Benchmarks
Assessment. TESL Canada Journal, 14, 2.
Norton, B. & Stewart, G. (1999). Accountability in Language Assessment of Adult Immigrants in
Canada. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 56, 2, 223-244
What is the CLBA?
 “a task-based assessment instrument
 assesses English proficiency from Benchmark 1 to
Benchmark 8
tests English Listening / Speaking through one-onone interview
tests Reading by means of passage and response to
short answer / multiple choice questions
tests Writing by means of authentic, life-applicable
The CLBA is recognized by language and adult
training providers cross Canada and has
attracted international interest.”
 CLBA materials
•CLBA kit is task-based
•Tests all four skills in
three separate
•Administered individually
(writing component can be
done in a group)
•Can take up to 4 hours to
•No cost to client at
federally-funded centres
 streamlined placement test; maximum 80 min
 can be administered in a group setting
 used to place adult learners in ESL programs
 4 parallel versions
 task-based
 has been “validated
to the CLBA scores”
The CLBLA and the LPT
 Assessment tools for literacy learners
 Both measure the degree of literacy in the
learner's first language, and are used to
place clients in literacy classes
 CLBLA is available in 26 languages
Original use of the CLBA
“. . . there has never been
any suggested purpose for
the CLBA other than ESL
classroom placement.”
Source: Stewart, G. & Cohen, C. (2001). A response to a “Critical Review of the
CLBA”. Contact, Spring 2001, p. 24
Current uses of the CLBA
The following are uses for the CLBA endorsed by the CCLB:
 to allow learners to understand their progress in learning ESL
 As a proficiency test for:
 eligibility determination for language training programs,
 needs assessment,
 referral to appropriate training;
 facilitating initial placement into programs or classes,
 development of programming to meet specific language skills
 to provide teachers, program administrators and funders with a
potential program effectiveness indicator (Note: applicable
only if the program has a CLB-based curriculum or curriculum
 to provide assistance to employers in the development of
appropriate training programs for their ESL learner employees
Reliability and Validity Measures
 “The final (CLBA) tests are sufficiently
reliable. . . In a low-stakes placement
test, these findings were deemed
satisfactory. If this had been a highstakes, gatekeeping test for college
entrance. . . We could not have been
Source: Norton Pierce, B. & Stewart, G. (1997). The Development of the Canadian Language Benchmarks
Assessment. TESL Canada Journal, 14, 2.
Assessing the CLB Assessment
 CLBA takes up to 4 hours and measures what a
client can do
 CLBPT takes less time and measures what a client
cannot do well¹
 CLBPT is “not as reliable as the CLBA. It has not
been sufficiently validated.”²
 CLBPT “is validated to be reliable within 1 benchmark
95% of the time” but “the study on the test is not a
public document”. ³
³private correspondence with Jennifer McKay, Project Manager, Assessment, CCLB
CLB Assessor Qualifications
 Knowledge of second language acquisition:
300 hours ESL teaching experience and
ongoing PD and
formal training or professional portfolio
Experience in adult ESL assessment
Cultural sensitivity
Interview skills
Decision-making skills
Proficiency in English
CLB Assessor Training
 CLBA certification requires 5 days of
“intensive instruction, skill application and
 CLBLA (Literacy Assessment) requires CLBA
certification, and is an additional 1.5 days of
 CLBPT requires a one-day training
 Cost: $750 for a license and material for 1
assessor; $325 for each assessor
Summative Assessment Manual for
Teachers (SAM) at CLB 4
 Measures student achievement only after exposure to
thematical and functional instruction
For ESL teachers with adult learners in publicly funded
programs (LINC and non-LINC)
Based on the CLB framework, standards and curricula
Piloted for reliability, validity and practicality
Easy to use and administer
Learner and context-sensitive
NOT TO BE USED FOR: literacy students, placement purposes or
general proficiency testing, or for testing without prior instruction
in the theme
SAM is not for:
 Students with literacy needs in their first language
 ESL learners who are literate in a non-Roman
alphabet/script (i.e. Russian, Chinese, Arabic,
Punjabi) who are in the early stages of applying their
literacy skills to English
 “Administering SAM to literacy learners is not a fair
assessment practice.” They should be assessed
separately with a literacy-oriented tool.
p. 3
Key Concepts in SAM Assessment
 Reliable: designed to produce consistent
results if all the teacher-assessors use the
scoring criteria on the same tasks in the same
 Valid: designed to measure what it claims to
measure - the achievement of selected CLB
standards demonstrated through familiar
topics and discourse/text formats.
SAM’s Security Considerations
 “Validity depends on the security of its formal
(standardized) assessment tools.”
All teachers must ensure the security.
“Care must be taken that the test is not compromised
by rote memorization.”
Not to be viewed by unauthorized people
Should be stored in designated locked units
Integrity rests on a firm commitment of teachers to
securely handling and disposing of task copies and to
safe record-keeping.
(BUT . . . if you have $100, you can purchase a copy
from the CCLB.)
Administering a formal SAM
5-task sequence
 Task 1: Speak-Listen – Student/teacher
 Task 2: Listen
 Task 3: Speak
 Task 4: Write
 Task 5: Read
(7 – 8 minutes)
(15 minutes)
(2 – 3 minutes)
(20 minutes)
(20 minutes)
65 minutes
You be the ESL test-taker:
You be the ESL assessor. . .
SAM Reporting
 Language Competency Report: reports what
the learner can do at Benchmark level and is
issued at the student’s request for reference
purposes outside of ESL programs.
 Teacher Recommendations: A form for office
use to record the assessing teacher’s
The greatest challenge using the
CLB is assessment
It is important to me that what we do in the classroom is
relevant and meaningful to learners. I don’t want to teach to
a test. How can I assess learners based on the kinds of
activities we do in class on an everyday basis?
I teach in an academic bridging program that has begun to use
the CLB. We’ve always had end of semester tests that
include reading, writing, and grammar. How can I develop
ongoing assessment related to the CLB that is relevant to
learners’ academic goals?
I’ve just started teaching in a program that uses the CLB
standards. This CLB document looks overwhelming. How will
I know whether learners are achieving what is expected at
Benchmark 2? Where do I start?
(Integrating CLB Assessment)
Integrating CLB Assessment into
your ESL Classroom (2005)
Helps teachers with assessment practices
Integrates teaching and learning activities into the classroom
Relates to the CLB standards (CLBPT and CLBA)
Meets program goals and the needs and interests of learners.
Formative assessment
- ongoing feedback about how learners are doing
- identifies what they need to work on
- assists teachers with planning activities
Summative assessment
- measures achievement of specific CLB outcomes
Assessment for Learning Principles
 Clear outcomes and assessment criteria
 ‘How’ students learn along with ‘what’ they
learn is embedded in teaching
 Emphasizes progress and achievement
 Shared understanding of goals (CLB CanDO
posters explain expectations)
 Constructive guidance on how to improve
 Self-assessment leads to self-management
Effective Assessment Practices
Lead to Significant Improvements in Learning
 Sharing expectations and criteria with learners
 Focusing on comments-only feedback
 Encouraging self assessment
CLB Assessment improves learning and motivation.
Teachers become focused in giving feedback.
An Assessment Process Model
Planning for Learning and Assessment
Using Information for Planning
Setting Up Tasks and Collecting Information
Analyzing Information and giving Feedback
Back to: Who uses the CLB 2000?
 TESL professionals in educational institutions
 Adult ESL learners are the primary intended
 Learners become aware of the CLB mostly through
their ESL instructors who share and interpret the
main ideas and can help them achieve a CLB
( CLB 2000 )
ESL schools use the CLB 2000
for teaching and testing
 12 levels of English listening, speaking, reading and writing.
Level 1 students have little or no English
Level 12 students are fluent speakers of English
Level 9 or above usually have enough English for university,
college or professional communication.
Post-secondary institutions and employers refer to CLB levels.
 The CLB tells what people can do in English in daily communication.
Can you answer questions about your name, address and phone
Can you fill out an application form or write a memo?
Can you listen to a news report on the radio?
Can you write a report for your boss?
The CLB summary checklists at each level help ESL learners mark
language-learning progress and articulate goals.
CLB Resources for the Teacher
The CLB framework helps teachers plan units of work that support
learners to develop their communicative language skills through
real world tasks and activities.
Classroom teaching resources referenced to the CLB:
CLB 2000 A Guide to Implementation (2001)
CLB 2000 Additional Sample Task Ideas (2002)
LINC Classroom Activities
Books 1 – 4
NorQuest College
Canadian Snapshots
Level 3 and 6 Longman
CLB 2000 ESL for Literacy Learners (2001)
CLB publications and resources
CLB / CLB Assessments I
national standardization
teaching to the test
accountability to funders
restricts the language learning to
“survival-English” skills
teachers lack training and power
to administer CLBPT
There are no objective means for
deciding that one functional item is
more complex than another
many LINC classes have nonliterate in L1 as L2 learners
 CBLT supports our social order
and need for a working class &
is designed to teach compliance
Teacher-friendly assessment tool
in SAMs
Functions can be expressed in
many different ways and at many
different levels of complexity
CBLT (competency-based
language teaching) is a rational
approach to adult education
CBLT is geared towards adult
learners successfully functioning as
equal members in a changing
 Has become high-stakes
testing for some
CLB / CLB Assessments II
Readily-available resources, and
CLB drives the market
more being published (books and
online resources)
Thematically-based, contextembedded
CLB gives a framework for
beginning teachers
Complexities of funding issues
Reliability and validity issues
Themes can be restrictive for
CLB can be overwhelming for
beginning teachers
Few testing centres; assessment
training is expensive
Reliability and validity issues
ESL schools often retest students
who have been assessed at testing
Disconnect from ESL learners in
the K-12 system
Transformative Education
 While not perfect, it is possible that
“competencies become tools in service of a
transformative education, rather than a
constraining framework for instruction.”
Auerbach (1988)
Auerbach, E. R. (1988). Competency-based ESL: one step forward or two
steps back? TESOL Quarterly, 20.
Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks.
CLB 2000. Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks. Citizenship and
Immigration Canada
Centre for Education & Training. (CLBA website)
Cohen, Carolyn. (2003). From Art to Science with Art: LINC Assessor as ESL
Professional. Association of Teachers of English as a Second Language of
Ontario, Contact, Vol. 29, No. 2, Spring 2003.
Fox, J. & Courchêne, R. (2005). The Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB): A
Critical Appraisal. Contact, Vol. 31, No. 2, Special Issue 2005.
Hudson, T. (2005). Trends in Assessment Scales and Criterion-Referenced
Language Assessment. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics (2005) 25, 205–
Integrating CLB Assessment into your ESL Classroom (2005). Centre for
Canadian Language Benchmarks. The Government of Alberta and
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Norton Pierce, B. & Stewart, G. (1997). The Development of the Canadian
Language Benchmarks Assessment. TESL Canada Journal, 14, 2.
Norton, B. & Stewart, G. (1999). Accountability in Language Assessment
of Adult Immigrants in Canada. The Canadian Modern Language Review,
56, 2, 223-244
Rossiter, M. J., & Pawlikowska-Smith, G. (1999). The use of CLBA scores
in LINC program placement practices in western Canada. TESL Canada
Journal, 16, 39-52.
SAM (2004). Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks. The
Government of Alberta and Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Stewart, G. & Cohen, C. (2001). A response to a “Critical Review of the CLBA”.
Contact, Spring 2001, p. 24. (Note: we were unable to locate a copy of the
original article.)
Watt, D.L.E. & Lake, D.M. (2001). The CLBA-TOEFL Comparison
Study.Contact, 27(2), 10-13.
Thanks to Annette Kreider, LINC team Leader, Catholic Social Services
and Jennifer McKay, Project Manager, Assessment, Centre for
Canadian Language Benchmarks.
Selected online resources
This is the home page of the Canadian Language Benchmarks. The site can be a bit confusing to navigate,
but there is a wealth of information here.
This is the homepage of the CLBA and the CLBLA.
This link will take you to the CLBA Projects, Benchmarks Competency Assessment training: A Guide to
Assigning Benchmarks.
This is the CLBA information package published by SAIT for its students.
A comparison of which proficiency tests the U of Calgary accepts and the cost of each test.
This page shows equivalencies among CLBA, TOEFL and other standardized tests accepted by NorQuest
Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) was the impetus behind the development of the CLB. This is a
summary of a 2004 government report on linc, including a very interesting section on “The Adequacy of the
Assessment Tools.”
Proceedings of the Immigration, Integration and Language Public Policy Conference, held in Calgary in
This is an annotated bibliography on assesment alternatives.
This is the website for CAELA, the Center for Adult English Language Acquisition, which seems to be the
U.S. equivalent of our CLB.

Canadian Language Benchmarks Assessment