This is our third and final post in the series on "Jagged Profiles". The majority of our posts relate to the experience of learning English from the perspective of the learner, however this post is focused on the teacher.
The majority of language schools will ask students to take some kind of entrance exam, moreover, the majority of these entrance exams will not focus on all four skills - it's simply not practical. Usually this is dictated by the cultural expectations, and at others it is in effect luck of the draw when the Director of Studies has a very strong belief about which skill(s) best represent overall ability.
When I was studying Chinese in China, the entrance exam was reading and writing. Even though I was at that time already able to speak and listen at a B1 level, they put me in the level that was second from the bottom. I moved up two level and still found the oral component of the class was pitched slightly below what I needed, but the reading and writing was more than challenging enough to occupy my mind for all four hours of the daily classes. Chinese prioritise reading and writing over speaking and listening, it's cultural.
For English teaching institutions, the tendency is to focus on speaking and listening, but for the sake of efficiency, it is still easiest to test for reading and writing. Setting up a listening test, and then marking it, is a pain. If a student can complete a reading and writing task at their own speed then the overall adminstrative requirements are quite a lot lower than if there is a speaking or listening assessment. A short discussion with the DoS usually will enable them to contextualise the students reading and writing performance, so to this degree, English teaching schools are often quite even handed in their treatment of students.
All of that said students will still come into an Intermediate class with Upper Intermediate speaking and Pre-Int writing.
The solution is to actually draw up a diagram and explain to students about the concept of a Jagged Profile - and ask students to reflect on their own level and think of strategies to bring their weaker skills up.
It is essential that you don't pair students who are too different in speaking level with each other. If students are too different, they will feel that it is either a waste of time, or intimidating. The other skills are usually completed individually, so they are less of a concern.