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2 Adult Literacy Assessments and Adult Education T his chapter begins with a discussion of the types of literacy demands adults encounter in their daily lives and the reasons for assessing their literacy skills. We then give a brief overview of the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) and its successor, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL). One of the chief uses of the results of the earlier survey was to determine needed programmatic interventions, many of which are offered through adult education systems. The chapter concludes with information about adult education services in this country. LITERACY DEMANDS AND THE NEED FOR ASSESSMENTS In a rapidly changing world, literacy is an essential skill, one that helps people thrive individually, socially, and economically. Literacy is important for all aspects of an individualâs life, from handling personal affairs, to raising children, to engaging in the workforce, to participating in a demo- cratic society. In the home, individuals use their literacy skills for a wide range of activities, such as reading mail, paying bills, handling contracts and leases, and helping children with school matters. Regardless of oneâs occupation, literacy skills are needed in a variety of work contextsâapplying for a job, traveling to and from work, choosing a benefits package, and understand- ing and handling paychecks. Adults also use their literacy skills to handle health and safety matters, such as reading and using product safety and nutrition labels, filling out 23
24 MEASURING LITERACY: PERFORMANCE LEVELS FOR ADULTS insurance forms, using tools and measurement devices, and reading dosage directions on prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Literacy skills are essential to keep family members healthy and safe and to assist elders as they make life-enhancing or life-changing decisions. Literacy skills are also needed for adults to participate in a democratic society. Such activities as keeping apprised of local and national issues, understanding oneâs rights and responsibilities, reading ballots, and voting all require literacy skills. Although some of these tasks can be accomplished in languages other than English (e.g., newspapers in various languages provide information; bilingual ballots are available in most states), American society places a high priority on literacy skills in English. Literacy in English accrues signifi- cant benefits to individuals in this country, including the opportunity to attain U.S. citizenship, to work in a well-paying job, and to fully participate in the democratic process. While literacy skills are important for individualsâ functioning and well- being, they are also critical for the social good and for a well-functioning society. Literacy skills have an impact on a nationâs economic status, the health and well-being of its citizens, the capabilities of its workforce and military, and its ability to compete in a global society. Deficiencies in lit- eracy skills and mismatches between the skills of citizens and the needs of an economy can have serious repercussions. Policy makers rely on assessments of literacy skills to evaluate both the extent of such mismatches and the need for services that provide basic literacy skills to adults. Such assessments can provide the foundation and impetus for policy interventions. The NALS, mandated by the Adult Educa- tion Amendments of 1988 (amendments to the Adult Education Act of 1966), was designed to provide such information. This legislation required the U.S. Department of Education to evaluate the nature and extent of literacy among adults. In response, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Office of Vocational and Adult Education planned a nationally repre- sentative household survey to assess the literacy skills of the adult popula- tion in the United States. The NALS was administered in 1992; it was revised and repeated in 2003 under a new name, the NAAL. A great deal of information is available about the two assessments on the NCES web site (http://www.nces.ed.gov). In this chapter, we briefly summarize the assess- ments to acquaint the reader with relevant background information, but interested readers are referred to the NCES web sites for further details about the assessments.
ADULT LITERACY ASSESSMENTS AND ADULT EDUCATION 25 LITERACY ASSESSMENTS At the time that NALS was being designed, two prior large-scale assess- ments of subsets of the adult population in the United States had been conducted: the Young Adult Literacy Survey (YALS),1 conducted in 1985, and the Department of Labor Survey of Workplace Literacy,2 conducted in 1990. The group appointed to guide the development of NALS, called the Literacy Definition Committee, recommended adopting the same concep- tual framework for NALS as was used for these two prior surveys. One reason for this decision was to enable comparisons of trends between NALS and the prior surveys. As a result of this decision, the methodologies and approaches used for the prior surveys were applied to NALS, and about half of the literacy tasks developed for the earlier surveys were readministered. In addition, much of the Technical Manual for NALS (Kirsch et al., 2001) covers procedures used for the earlier surveys. The stated goals of NALS and NAAL are to describe the status and progress of literacy in the nation. Both assessments were comprised of the following: an introductory screening interview, a background question- naire, and a literacy assessment. The total time for the interview is about 90 minutes. Scores are reported for three types of literacyâprose, document, and quantitative. Description of the Literacy Tasks The definition of literacy that guided the development of NALS was the same as for the prior surveys (Kirsch et al., 2001, p. 70): âLiteracy is the ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve oneâs goals, and to develop oneâs knowledge and potential.â As noted earlier, NALS and NAAL are considered to be measures of functional literacy in English, in that they focus on how adults use printed and written information. The assessments are intended to evaluate literacy demands encountered in everyday settings at home, in the workplace, and in the community and to profile adultsâ literacy skills in these contexts. Each assessment task includes a stimulus, which is designed to simulate 1Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, YALS assessed the literacy skills of a nationally representative household sample of 3,600 young adults between the ages of 21 and 25 living in the 48 contiguous states (http://www.nces.ed.gov/naal/design/about85.asp). The assessment evaluated literacy skills in the contexts of everyday life, including home, school, work, and social environments. 2The Department of Labor Survey of Workplace Literacy profiled the literacy skills of a national sample of nearly 20 million participants in two U.S. Department of Labor programs: job seekers in the Employment Service/Unemployment Insurance programs and eligible appli- cants for the Job Placement and Partnership Act training.
26 MEASURING LITERACY: PERFORMANCE LEVELS FOR ADULTS materials adults frequently encounter, and a series of questions about the stimulus. The questions are presented before the stimulus to represent the way adults often approach a task in real life, in which functional reading is often driven by a need to know. Questions are open-ended, not multiple choice, again out of a desire to mimic realistic tasks. The tasks are catego- rized into the three types of literacy: Prose literacy: the knowledge and skills needed to locate, understand, and use information contained in expository and narrative prose text, such as editorials, newspaper articles, poems, and stories. Document literacy: the knowledge and skills required to locate, under- stand, and use relevant information found in documents, such as job applications, bus schedules, maps, payroll forms, indexes, and tables. Quantitative literacy: the knowledge and skills needed to apply basic arithmetic operations, alone or sequentially, to numbers embedded in printed materials, such as entering cash and check amounts onto a bank deposit slip, balancing a checkbook, completing an order form, and determining the amount of interest from a loan advertisement. The 1992 assessment consisted of a total of 165 tasks, of which 82 were newly developed and 83 were reused from the prior surveys. Develop- ment of the new tasks was guided by a test blueprint that specified the characteristics of the items according to the structure of the stimulus (expo- sition, narrative, tables, graphs, forms, maps, etc.), the cognitive process required to respond to the question (locate, integrate, generate, add, sub- tract, etc.), the difficulty of the item, and the context from which the stimulus was drawn. The materials were drawn from six contexts of every- day life: home and family, health and safety, community and citizenship, consumer economics, work, and leisure and recreation. Additional infor- mation about item development can be found in Chapter 4 of the Technical Manual (Kirsch et al., 2001). Changes Implemented with NAAL In 1992, there were some participants who had such limited literacy skills that they were able to complete only part of the assessment, and others who attempted to perform the literacy tasks they were given and were unsuccessful (Kirsch et al., 1993). In order to provide literacy tasks that even very low-literate adults could complete successfully, NAAL added a new component, the Adult Literacy Supplemental Assessment (ALSA), designed to assess skills in identifying numbers, letters, and comprehension of simple prose and documents. This component is interactive and uses a one-on-one format. The assessor presents each item to the respondent and
ADULT LITERACY ASSESSMENTS AND ADULT EDUCATION 27 then asks questions orally. This format is designed to minimize the chance that low-functioning respondents fail to respond correctly to an item be- cause they misunderstand the written directions or have difficulty with texts appearing outside their everyday environments. NAALâs literacy assessment begins with a relatively easy set of seven literacy tasks, referred to as the âcore questions,â that are used to decide whether test takers should take the main NAAL assessment or the supple- mental ALSA. Individuals who performed well on the core questions were assessed using the main NAAL, and individuals who performed poorly on the core questions were assessed with ALSA. NAAL consisted of 152 tasks, 54 prose tasks, 52 document tasks, and 64 quantitative tasks. ALSA was designed to use highly familiar stimulus materials that are real and contextualized. The materials offer respondents the opportunity to see items as part of the product in which they appear in real life. For example, rather than just reading recipe directions on a printed page (e.g., for making soup), the respondent is asked to read directions that appear on the actual package (e.g., on the soup can).3 Similarly, respondents may be asked to point to letters or words on a product (e.g., point to the words âapple juiceâ on a juice can), identify the price of a food item on a grocery flyer, or interpret the directions on a medicine warning label. ALSA begins with simple word and letter identification tasks presented in context; pro- ceeds to short, simple prose texts and documents (e.g., advertisements, road signs); and concludes with several tasks that involve location of informa- tion in documents that contain more distracting information, such as news- papers or more complicated advertisements. Oral directions and questions are provided in either English or Spanish by the interviewer. ALSA also allows participants to answer in either English or Spanish, although the stimulus materials themselves contain only English text. Also new to the NAAL is a component designed to evaluate reading fluency. The fluency assessment uses speech recognition software to assess decoding, word recognition, and reading fluency. All participants in NAAL complete the fluency assessment after they have answered the background questionnaire, the core questions, and either the main NAAL or ALSA. Fluency tasks include lists of words and numbers as well as text passages to be read aloud by the respondent. Oral directions and questions are pro- vided in English or Spanish, depending on the respondentsâ preference, but the text itself appears only in English, and answers must be given in English. Only a bilingual interviewer, fully proficient in English and Spanish, is allowed to give directions or ask questions in Spanish when such support is 3Because the test questions are secure, these examples are intended to represent the types of questions included on ALSA, but are not the actual questions.
28 MEASURING LITERACY: PERFORMANCE LEVELS FOR ADULTS desired. The fluency tasks are administered at the end of the assessment, in an attempt to preserve comparability of the main NAAL with the 1992 assessment. The 2003 NAAL also includes tasks that require application of literacy skills to the understanding of health-related materials and forms. Some health-related tasks were included on NALS, but the number of such tasks was increased for NAAL to allow reporting of a âhealth literacyâ score.4 There are 28 health-related tasks as well as 10 health-related background questions. Additional information about the new features included on NAAL can be found at http://www.nces.ed.gov/NAAL/design/about02.asp#C. Administration of the Literacy Assessment NALS and NAAL are designed to provide reliable group-level estimates of literacy skills. The assessment is not designed to provide reliable scores for individuals (although statistical estimates of individualsâ performance on the assessment can be derived and used for research purposes). Because individual scores are not reported, the assessments can utilize a matrix sampling approach to the assignment of test questions to individuals. The approach involves splitting a large set of tasks into smaller sets, or blocks. A similar design has long been used for the National Assessment of Educa- tional Progress; it provides a means to minimize the number of test ques- tions an individual must take and is efficient when the goal of an assessment is to provide reliable estimates of group-level performance. With this approach, literacy tasks are assigned to blocks that can be completed in about 15 minutes, and these blocks are compiled into book- lets, so that each block appears in each position (first, middle, and last) and each block is paired with every other block. Blocks of simulation tasks are assembled into booklets, each of which could be completed in about 45 minutes, although there were no time constraints placed on the participants for completing the tasks. Additional information about this can be found at http://www.nces.ed.gov/naal/design/design92.asp#design. Measuring Trends Between 1992 and 2003 One chief aim of the 2003 assessment is to measure the trend from the previous assessment. NAAL consists of 13 blocks of tasks, 6 that were 4Health literacy has been defined as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appro- priate health decisions (Ratzan and Parker, 2000).
ADULT LITERACY ASSESSMENTS AND ADULT EDUCATION 29 repeated from 1992 and 7 newly developed for the 2003 assessment. The new blocks were based on the 1992 frameworks and were designed to be similar to the replaced blocks of items with regard to skills measured, content, and item statistics. After collection of the 2003 data, statistical linking procedures were used to place NALS and NAAL scores on the same scale. The Department of Education plans to make NAAL data publicly avail- able to researchers and others interested in conducting studies on the re- sults. The results can be grouped according to the score ranges used for the old 1992 performance levels or the new 2003 levels. Trend comparisons will be possible based either on the 1992 levels or on the new levels adopted for NAAL. The Sample for NALS and NAAL For both assessments, data were collected via a household survey of a stratified random sample of adults age 16 and older. Additional samples were obtained in specific states in order to provide state-level results; this portion of the assessment was referred to as the State Adult Literacy Survey. In 1992, 12 states participated (California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wash- ington); in 2003, 6 states participated (Kentucky, Maryland, Massachu- setts, Missouri, New York, and Oklahoma). For both assessments, an addi- tional sample was obtained of individuals incarcerated in federal and state prisons. Approximately 26,000 individuals age 16 and older participated in the 1992 NALS. Of these, 9.8 percent reported speaking a language other than English at home. The overall number included 13,600 selected as part of the national sample as well as about 12,000 (1,000 per state) selected through the State Adult Literacy Survey. The survey also included 1,147 inmates from 87 state and federal prisons who were selected to represent the inmate population in the United States. Their participation helped to provide better estimates of the literacy levels of the total population and made it possible to report on the literacy proficiencies of this important segment of society. See http://www./nces.ed.gov/naal/design/about92.asp for additional details about the sampling. Sampling procedures were similar for the 2003 NAAL. The nationally representative sample of 19,714 adults included 18,541 participants living in households, about 6,500 of whom were selected from six states (approxi- mately 1,000 per state). An additional 1,173 participants were selected from adults living in state or federal prisons.
30 MEASURING LITERACY: PERFORMANCE LEVELS FOR ADULTS The Interview Process The assessment is administered in the home by trained interviewers. The first step in the process is to administer the âscreener,â a set of ques- tions used to determine the number of eligible respondents (e.g., age 16 or older) in the household. The screening process involves recording the names, relationships, sex, age, and race/ethnicity of all household members at the selected household. Some bilingual interviewers are trained to administer the screener in either English or Spanish. Interviewers can also ask a house- hold member or a family friend to translate the screening questions into Spanish or other languages, although there is no check on the accuracy of the translation. To select respondents, interviewers list the names and ages (in descend- ing age order) of all eligible household members and then refer to a sam- pling table. In households with three or fewer eligible household members, one is randomly selected for the interview; in households with four or more eligible persons, two are selected. Selected participants receive an incentive payment for participating in the assessment ($20 in 1992, $30 in 2003). See http://www.nces.ed.gov/naal/design/data92.asp#collection for additional details about the data collection process. After completion of the screener and selection of participants, the back- ground questionnaire is administered. The background questionnaire can also be administered in Spanish or English. If the participant does not speak Spanish and is not proficient enough in English to understand and respond to the interviewer, the interaction is terminated and the person is classified as having a language problem. These procedures were changed slightly in 2003 in an effort to obtain literacy information from as many participants as possible. In 2003, participants who did not speak Spanish or who were not sufficiently proficient in English to respond to the entire background questionnaire, were allowed to skip one or more of the background ques- tions that they were not able to answer and move to the literacy assessment. Interviewers recorded each skipped background question as âdonât knowâ and documented the reason for skipping the question. The background questionnaire collects general background informa- tion about language experience (e.g., language spoken at home), educa- tional background and experiences, political and social participation, labor force participation, employment and earnings experiences, health, literacy activities and practices, and demographic information. The background questions are read to the respondent by an interviewer who then marks the answers on an answer sheet. The actual background questionnaire used in 1992 can be found in Appendix G of the Technical Report and Data File Users Manual for the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey (http://www./ nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2001457). The background questionnaire used in 2003 is available from NCES.
ADULT LITERACY ASSESSMENTS AND ADULT EDUCATION 31 After administration of the background questionnaire, the interviewer proceeds to the literacy assessment. The literacy tasks (a stimulus and a set of questions) on the assessment are presented one at a time. There are no time limits for responding. Participants continue until they reach the final item or they choose to stop. When a participant stops before finishing the set of tasks, the reason for stopping is recorded. USES OF RESULTS OF ADULT LITERACY ASSESSMENTS There are many uses for the results of adult literacy assessments. Over the past decade, NALS results have been used by a wide variety of audi- ences, including those concerned about the status of the workforce in this country and for evaluating the need for training programs, officials in the public health sector who are concerned about the extent to which adults make wise and informed health and safety decisions, researchers studying the relationships between literacy and participation in civic activities and political processes, and experts in family literacy evaluating the extent to which parents are able to participate in their childrenâs educational process. NALS results have been widely cited in the research literature and continue to be used to argue for needed resources for adult education services. Although NALS results have been used in a variety of ways, one of the chief uses over the past decade has been to determine the extent to which adult basic education services are available to meet the needs of adults with low levels of literacy. In the next section, we provide a brief overview of the adult education system in this country to provide context for discussions that appear in later sections of the report and several of the decisions the committee made about performance levels for NAAL. Adult Education in the United States Ideally, literacy skills are acquired as people progress through the K-12 education system in this country. However, this system does not always work for all who pass through it, and many who have immigrated to the United States have never participated in it. In addition, increasing societal and workplace demands may exceed what is taught in school, creating situations in which the skills of the populace are not aligned with the needs of the nation. The adult education system is intended to remedy basic skill deficien- cies and mismatches between skill requirements and adultsâ proficiencies and to provide developmental English language and literacy services to immigrants and refugees not yet proficient in English. The adult education system is, for the most part, guided legislatively by the Adult Education Act of 1966 and the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, Title II, Adult
32 MEASURING LITERACY: PERFORMANCE LEVELS FOR ADULTS Education and Family Literacy Act. Through a combination of federal, state, and local funding, the adult education system sponsors adult basic education (ABE) programs through which individuals can improve their literacy skills and prepare for the general educational development (GED) assessment, the test taken to acquire the equivalent of a high school di- ploma. According to recent statistics available from the Office of Voca- tional and Adult Education, 2,891,895 individuals age 16 and older were enrolled in adult education in 2000 (http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ ovae/pi/AdultEd/2000age.html). In 2001, over 600,000 adults were issued GED credentials after passing the test (GED Testing Service, 2004). The adult education system also provides courses in English for speak- ers of other languages (referred to as ESOL programs), designed to assist immigrants to learn and function in English. Of the close to 3 million adults enrolled in ABE programs in 1999, 1 million were enrolled as ESOL stu- dents (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003). ESOL programs serve people with a wide array of literacy skills in English and in their native language. For example, immigrants to the United States may not be literate in English, but they may have strong literacy skills in another language, skills that are likely to transfer to English literacy once their English skills improve. Other immigrants may struggle with literacy both in the native lan- guage and in English, such as those who had only an elementary school education or less in their native country. Acquiring an education is a sub- stantial challenge for this group as a consequence of their weak foundation in literacy (in any language) and lack of the background knowledge that others obtain through formal schooling. These individuals, most of whom are immigrants from Mexico and Central America and refugees from Haiti, Laos, and Africa, will need adult education services that are quite different from those offered to their more educated counterparts. Both groups, highly literate and low-literate English learners, may need services that focus on oral communication skills along with literacy. Newcomers may need skills and strategies associated with acculturation to the United States as well. In that respect, the services that adult language learners require are quite different from those provided for adult learners who grew up speaking English. The relative literacy skills of a third group, often referred to as âgenera- tion 1.5,â may need to be considered as well.5 These individuals are gener- ally bilingual young adults who were born elsewhere but partially educated in the United States or who were born and educated in the United States but 5See http://www.cal.org/resources/digest/0305harklau.html and http://www.american.edu/ tesol/Roberge_article.pdf.
ADULT LITERACY ASSESSMENTS AND ADULT EDUCATION 33 who grew up in linguistically isolated communities in which a language other than English was spoken at home. Their conversational skills in both the home language and in English may be quite strong, but some generation 1.5 adults are still learning formal, written English, while others have learned a nonstandard form of English that carries over to their writing.6 The literacy education needs of these adults are varied. Some of them may benefit from traditional ESOL programs. Others may benefit more from mainstream education with an emphasis on identifying and correcting the errors associated with the use of nonstandard English. In many ways, this second group of generation 1.5 adults has similar characteristics to native- born young adults who grew up speaking English but are academically unprepared. While most individuals enroll in adult education programs voluntarily, some are encouraged or required to do so by their employers. Still others are required to attend classes in order to receive funds or services that are contingent on participation in education or training, including ABE/ESOL programs. Some individuals receiving income support through Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (commonly known as welfare) and displaced workers receiving stipends under the North American Free Trade Agree- ment fall into this category. Increasingly, adult education programs are offered in the nationâs pris- ons. Recent statistics (1999) indicate that 25 percent of jail jurisdictions offer an ABE program (National Institute for Literacy, 2002). According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2000), 80 percent of state prisons, nearly all federal prisons, about 70 percent of private prisons, and over half of jails offered high school level classes, which generally focus on GED prepara- tion. In some states, completion of the GED preparation program and passing the GED result in early release from prison (e.g., Nevada, personal communication with Sanford Marks; and Indiana, Lawrence et al., 2002). Studies of reincarceration rates for adults in Virginia, Ohio, Minnesota, and Maryland suggest that enrolling in literacy and ABE education pro- grams lower the likelihood of recidivism (Wedgeworth, 2003). Research also indicates that only 7 to 10 percent of inmates who qualify for literacy education programs actually take advantage of the opportunity (Langley, 1999), despite the fact that 70 percent of incarcerated adults are estimated to read below the fourth-grade level (Haigler et al., 1994). 6See http://www.cal.org/resources/digest/0305harklau.html and http://www.american.edu/ tesol/Roberge_article.pdf.
34 MEASURING LITERACY: PERFORMANCE LEVELS FOR ADULTS Legislative Oversight of Adult Education Programs An important aspect of adult education programs is an accountability system, known as the National Reporting System (NRS), that was imple- mented through Title II of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-220).7 As part of the NRS, adult education participants are ad- ministered an assessment (stateâs choice) upon entry into an adult education program and take a posttest after a period of instruction as determined by each state. Results for the assessment are reported in terms of the NRS educational functioning levels, a set of six levels that include brief descrip- tions of the skills that students are expected to demonstrate in the areas of reading and writing, numeracy, and functional and workplace skills. There are separate level descriptions for ABE and ESOL (see Tables 2-1 and 2-2). States report the percentage of adult education participants who move from one level to the next as measured by pre-posttest gains in a program year. The Workforce Investment Act includes a system of incentives provided to states based on their studentsâ test performance as well as on other criteria. The lowest NRS level (i.e., beginning literacy) ranges from an indi- vidual having âno or minimal reading and writing skillsâ to being able to ârecognize, read, and write letters and numbers, but has a limited under- standing of connected prose.â The second NRS level (i.e., beginning basic education) is described as equating to reading grade levels of 2.0-3.9 on standardized tests and includes individuals who can âread simple material on familiar subjects and comprehend simple compound sentences in single or linked paragraphs containing a familiar vocabulary.â The third NRS level (i.e., low intermediate basic education) is described as equating to reading grade levels 4.0-5.9 on standardized reading tests and includes individuals who can âread text on familiar subjects that have a simple and clear underlying structure (e.g., clear main idea, chronological order)â and âcan interpret actions required in specific written directions.â The fourth NRS level (i.e., high intermediate basic education) is described as equating to reading grade levels 6.0-8.9 on standardized tests and including readers who can âread simple descriptions and narratives on familiar subjects or from which new vocabulary can be determined by context.â They can also âmake some minimal inferences about familiar texts and compare and contrast information from such texts, but not consistently.â The adult education field relies on information from assessments such as NALS/NAAL to project program needs. Most individuals served by adult education programs have skills in the ranges described by the current 7See http://www.thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d105:HR01385:|TOM:/bss/d105query. html [accessed Dec. 2004].
ADULT LITERACY ASSESSMENTS AND ADULT EDUCATION 35 NALS Levels 1 and 2.8 Knowing about the skill levels of those likely to enroll in adult education programs assists policy makers and program coor- dinators in determining where to focus funding initiatives and in designing instruction programs.9 The greatest interest and concern among adult edu- cators relates to information about potential students at the lowest four NRS levels: beginning literacy, beginning basic education, low intermediate basic education, and high intermediate basic education. Adult students at the very lowest level may need one-on-one instruction and a good deal of guidance. Adult students at the next two levels can function a bit more independently but still are not ready to take classes focusing on the GED high school equivalency diploma. Adult students at the fourth level read at levels comparable to middle school students and are likely to be ready to pursue GED instruction. The committee was aware of the fact that the adult education commu- nity hoped to be able to map the performance levels adopted for NAAL onto the NRS levels. Although NAAL did not appear to have been designed for this purpose, we kept this desire in mind as we proceeded with our work and, as spelled out in the report, attempted to develop performance levels that would meet the needs of this community. 8A comparison of NALS assessments and GED examinees suggested that test takers who failed to pass the GED exams were likely to be included in the NALS Level 2 category (Baldwin et al., 1995). 9Individual states, for example Tennessee, often decide funding by using NALS Levels 1 and 2 to guide state appropriations for ABE programs. For Tennesseeâs state plan, see http://www.cls.coe.utk.edu/stateplan/ [accessed February 25, 2005].
36 MEASURING LITERACY: PERFORMANCE LEVELS FOR ADULTS TABLE 2-1 Educational Functioning Level DescriptorsâAdult Basic Education Levels Literacy Level Basic Reading and Writing Beginning ABE Literacy â¢ Individual has no or minimal reading Benchmarks: and writing skills. TABE (5â6) scale scores â¢ May have little or no comprehension of (grade level 0â1.9): how print corresponds to spoken Total Reading: 529 and below language and may have difficulty using Total Math: 540 and below a writing instrument. Total Language: 599 and below â¢ At upper range of this level, individual TABE (7â8) scale scores can recognize, read and write letters and (grade level 0â1.9): numbers, but has a limited understanding Reading: 367 and below of connected prose and may need frequent Total Math: 313 and below re-reading. Language: 391 and below â¢ Can write a number of basic sight words CASAS: 200 and below and familiar words and phrases. AMES (B, ABE) scale scores â¢ May also be able to write simple (grade level 0â1.9): sentences or phrase, including simple Reading: 500 and below messages. Total Math: 476 and below â¢ Can write basic personal information. Communication: 496 and below â¢ Narrative writing is disorganized and ABLE scale scores (grade level 0â1.9): unclear, inconsistently uses simple Reading: 523 and below punctuation (e.g., periods, commas, Math: 521 and below question marks). â¢ Contains frequent spelling errors. Beginning Basic Education â¢ Individual can read simple material on TABE (5â6) scale scores familiar subjects and comprehend simple (grade level 2â3.9): compound sentences in single or linked Total Reading: 530â679 paragraphs containing a familiar Total Math: 541â677 vocabulary. Total Language: 600â977 â¢ Can write simple notes and messages on TABE (7â8) scale scores familiar situations, but lacks clarity (grade level 2â3.9): and focus. Reading: 368â460 â¢ Sentence structure lacks variety, but Total Math: 314â441 shows some control of basic grammar Language: 392â490 (e.g., present and past tense), and CASAS: 201â210 consistent use of punctuation (e.g., AMES (B, ABE) scale scores periods, capitalization). (grade level 2â3.9): Total Math: 477â492 Communication: 498â506 ABLE scale scores (grade level 2â3.9): Reading: 525â612 Math: 530â591
ADULT LITERACY ASSESSMENTS AND ADULT EDUCATION 37 Numeracy Skills Functional and Workplace Skills â¢ Individual has little or no recognition â¢ Individual has little or no ability to of numbers or simple counting skills read basic signs or maps, can provide or may have only minimal skills, such limited personal information on simple as the ability to add or subtract single forms. digit numbers. â¢ The individual can handle routine entry-level jobs that require little or no basic written communication or computational skills and no knowledge of computers or other technology. â¢ Individual can count, add, and subtract â¢ Individual is able to read simple three-digit numbers; can perform directions, signs, and maps; fill out multiplication through 12. simple forms requiring basic personal â¢ Can identify simple fractions and information; write phone messages and perform other simple arithmetic make simple change. operations. â¢ There is minimal knowledge of, and experience with, using computers and related technology. â¢ The individual can handle basic entry- level jobs that require minimal literacy skills. â¢ Can recognize very short, explicit, pictorial texts, e.g., understands logos related to worker safety before using a piece of machinery. â¢ Can read want ads and complete job applications. continued
38 MEASURING LITERACY: PERFORMANCE LEVELS FOR ADULTS TABLE 2-1 Continued Literacy Level Basic Reading and Writing Low Intermediate Basic Education â¢ Individual can read text on familiar Benchmarks: subjects that have a simple and clear TABE (5â6) scale scores underlying structure (e.g., clear main (grade level 6â8.9): idea, chronological order). Total Reading: 723â761 â¢ Can use context to determine meaning. Total Math: 730â776 â¢ Can interpret actions required in specific Total Language: 706â730 written directions, can write simple TABE (7â8) scale scores paragraphs with main idea and supporting (grade level 6â8.9): detail on familiar topics (e.g., daily Reading: 518â566 activities, personal issues) by recombining Total Math: 506â565 learned vocabulary and structures. Language: 524â559 â¢ Can self- and peer edit for spelling and CASAS: 221â235 punctuation errors. AMES (C and D, ABE) scale scores (grade level 6â8.9): Reading (C): 525â612 Reading (D): 522â543 Total Math (C): 510â627 Total Math (D): 509â532 Communication (C): 516â611 Communication (D): 516â523 ABLE scale scores (grade level 6â8.9): Reading: 646â680 Math: 643â693 High Intermediate Basic Education â¢ Individual is able to read simple Benchmarks: descriptions and narratives on familiar TABE (5â6) scale scores subjects or from which new vocabulary (grade level 6â8.9): can be determined by context. Total Reading: 723â761 â¢ Can make some minimal inferences Total Math: 730â776 about familiar texts and compare and Total Language: 706â730 contrast information from such texts, TABE (7â8) scale scores but not consistently. (grade level 6â8.9): â¢ The individual can write simple narrative Reading: 518â566 descriptions and short essays on Total Math: 506â565 familiar topics. Language: 524â559 â¢ Has consistent use of basic punctuation, CASAS: 221â235 but makes grammatical errors with AMES (C and D, ABE) scale scores complex structures. (grade level 6â8.9): Reading (C): 525â612 Reading (D): 522â543 Total Math (C): 510â627 Total Math (D): 509â532
ADULT LITERACY ASSESSMENTS AND ADULT EDUCATION 39 Numeracy Skills Functional and Workplace Skills â¢ Individual can perform with high â¢ Individual is able to handle basic accuracy all four basic math operations reading, writing, and computational using whole numbers up to three digits. tasks related to life roles, such as â¢ Can identify and use all basic completing medical forms, order forms, mathematical symbols. or job applications. â¢ Can read simple charts, graphs, labels, and payroll stubs and simple authentic material if familiar with the topic. â¢ The individual can use simple computer programs and perform a sequence of routine tasks given direction using technology (e.g., fax machine, computer operation). â¢ The individual can qualify for entry- level jobs that require following basic written instructions and diagrams with assistance, such as oral clarification. â¢ Can write a short report or message to fellow workers. â¢ Can read simple dials and scales and take routine measurements. â¢ Individual can perform all four basic â¢ Individual is able to handle basic life math operations with whole numbers skills tasks such as graphs, charts, and and fractions. labels, and can follow multistep â¢ Can determine correct math operations diagrams. for solving narrative math problems â¢ Can read authentic materials on and can convert fractions to decimals familiar topics, such as simple and decimals to fractions. employee handbooks and payroll stubs. â¢ Can perform basic operations on â¢ Can complete forms such as a job fractions. application and reconcile a bank statement. â¢ Can handle jobs that involve following simple written instructions and diagrams. â¢ Can read procedural texts, where the information is supported by diagrams, to remedy a problem, such as locating a problem with a machine or carrying out repairs using a repair manual. continued
40 MEASURING LITERACY: PERFORMANCE LEVELS FOR ADULTS TABLE 2-1 Continued Literacy Level Basic Reading and Writing Communication (C): 516â611 Communication (D): 516â523 ABLE scale scores (grade level 6â8.9): Reading: 646â680 Math: 643â693 Low Adult Secondary Education â¢ Individual can comprehend expository Benchmarks: writing and identify spelling, TABE (5â6) scale scores punctuation, and grammatical errors. (grade level 9â10.9): â¢ Can comprehend a variety of materials Total Reading: 762â775 such as periodicals and notechnical Total Math: 777â789 journals on common topics. Total Language: 731â743 â¢ Can comprehend library reference TABE (7â8) scale scores materials and compose multiparagraph (grade level 9â10.9): essays. Reading: 567â595 â¢ Can listen to oral instructions and write Total Math: 566â594 an accurate synthesis of them. Language: 560â585 â¢ Can identify the main idea in reading CASAS: 236â245 selections and use a variety of context AMES (E, ABE) scale scores issues to determine meaning. (grade level 9â10.9): â¢ Writing is organized and cohesive with Reading: 544â561 few mechanical errors. Total Math: 534â548 â¢ Can write using a complex sentence Communication: 527â535 structure. ABLE scale scores (grade level 9â10.9): â¢ Can write personal notes and letters that Reading: 682â697 accurately reflect thoughts. Math: 643â716 High Adult Secondary Education â¢ Individual can comprehend, explain, and Benchmarks: analyze information from a variety of TABE (5â6) scale scores literacy works, including primary source (grade level 11â12): materials and professional journals. Total Reading: 776 and above â¢ Can use context cues and higher order Total Math: 790 and above processes to interpret meaning of Total Language: 744 and above written material. TABE (7â8) scale scores â¢ Writing is cohesive with clearly (grade level 11â12): expressed ideas supported by relevant Reading: 596 and above detail. Total Math: 595 and above â¢ Can use varied and complex sentence Language: 586 and above structures with few mechanical errors. CASAS: 246 and above AMES (E, ABE) scale score (grade level 11â12):
ADULT LITERACY ASSESSMENTS AND ADULT EDUCATION 41 Numeracy Skills Functional and Workplace Skills â¢ The individual can learn or work with most basic computer software, such as using a word processor to produce own texts. â¢ Can follow simple instructions for using technology. â¢ Individual can perform all basic math â¢ Individual is able or can learn to functions with whole numbers, follow simple multistep directions and decimals, and fractions. read common legal forms and manuals; â¢ Can interpret and solve simple â¢ Can integrate information from texts, algebraic equations, tables and graphs, charts, and graphs. and can develop own tables â¢ Can create and use tables and graphs. and graphs. â¢ Can complete forms and applications â¢ Can use math in business transactions. and complete resumes. â¢ Can perform jobs than require interpreting information from various sources and writing or explaining tasks to other workers. â¢ Is proficient using computers and can use most common computer applications. â¢ Can understand the impact of using different technologies. â¢ Can interpret the appropriate use of new software and technology. â¢ Individual can make mathematical â¢ Individuals are able to read technical estimates of time and space and can information and complex manuals. apply principles of geometry to can comprehend some college level measure angles, lines and surfaces. books and apprenticeship manuals. â¢ Can also apply trigonometric functions. â¢ Can function in most job situations involving higher order thinking. â¢ Can read text and explain a procedure about a complex and unfamiliar work procedure, such as operating a complex piece of machinery. â¢ Can evaluate new work situations and processes, can work productively and collaboratively in groups and serve as facilitator and reporter of group work. continued
42 MEASURING LITERACY: PERFORMANCE LEVELS FOR ADULTS TABLE 2-1 Continued Literacy Level Basic Reading and Writing Reading: 565 and above Total Math: 551 and above Communication: 538 and above ABLE scale scores (grade level 11â12): Reading: 699 and above Math: 717 and above SOURCE: National Reporting System (2002).
ADULT LITERACY ASSESSMENTS AND ADULT EDUCATION 43 Numeracy Skills Functional and Workplace Skills â¢ The individual is able to use common software and learn new software applications. â¢ Can define the purpose of new technology and software and select appropriate technology. â¢ Can adapt use of software or technology to new situations and can instruct others, in written or oral form, on software and technology use.
44 MEASURING LITERACY: PERFORMANCE LEVELS FOR ADULTS TABLE 2-2 National Reporting System Levels for Non-English Speakers Literacy Level Speaking and Listening Beginning ESL Literacy â¢ Individual cannot speak or understand Benchmarks: English, or understands only isolated CASAS (Life Skills): 180 and below words or phrases. SPL (Speaking): 01 SPL (Reading and Writing): 01 Oral BEST: 015 Literacy BEST: 07 Beginning ESL â¢ Individual can understand frequently used Benchmarks: words in context and very simple phrases CASAS (Life Skills): 181â200 spoken and slowly with some repetition. SPL (Speaking): 2â3 â¢ There is little communicative output and SPL (Reading and Writing): 2 only in the most routine situations. Oral BEST: 16â41 â¢ Little or no control over basic grammar. Literacy BEST: 8â46 â¢ Survival needs can be communicated simply, and there is some understanding of simple questions. Low Intermediate ESL â¢ Individual can understand simple learned Benchmarks: phrases and limited new phrases CASAS (Life Skills): 201â210 containing familiar vocabulary spoken SPL (Speaking): 4 slowly with frequent repetition. SPL (Reading and Writing): 5 â¢ Can ask and respond to questions using Oral BEST: 42â50 such phrases. Literacy BEST: 47â53 â¢ Can express basic survival needs and participate in some routine social conversations, although with some difficulty. â¢ Has some control of basic grammar.
ADULT LITERACY ASSESSMENTS AND ADULT EDUCATION 45 Basic Reading and Writing Functional and Workplace Skills â¢ Individual has no or minimal reading â¢ Individual functions minimally or not or writing skills in any language. at all in English and can communicate â¢ May have little or no comprehension only through gestures or a few of how print corresponds to spoken isolated words, such as name and language and may have difficulty other personal information. using a writing instrument. â¢ May recognize only common signs or symbols (e.g., stop sign, product logos). â¢ Can handle only very routine entry- level jobs that do not require oral or written communication in English. â¢ There is no knowledge or use of computers or technology. â¢ Individual can recognize, read, and â¢ Individual functions with difficulty in write numbers and letters, but has a situations related to immediate needs limited understanding of connected and in limited social situations. prose and may need frequent re-reading. â¢ Has some simple oral communication â¢ Can write a limited number of basic abilities using simple learned and sight words and familiar words and repeated phrases. phrases. â¢ May need frequent repetition. â¢ May also be able to write simple â¢ Can provide personal information on sentences or phrases, including very simple forms. simple messages. â¢ Can recognize common forms of print â¢ Can write basic personal information. found in the home and environment, â¢ Narrative writing is disorganized and such as labels and product names. unclear. â¢ Can handle routine entry-level jobs â¢ Inconsistently uses simple punctuation that require only the most basic (e.g., periods, commas, question marks). written or oral English communication â¢ Contains frequent errors in spelling. and in which job tasks can be demonstrated. â¢ There is minimal knowledge or experience using computers or technology. â¢ Individual can read simple material on â¢ Individual can interpret simple familiar subjects and comprehend directions and schedules, signs and simple and compound sentences in maps. single or linked paragraphs containing â¢ Can fill out simple forms, but needs a familiar vocabulary. support on some documents that are â¢ Can write simple notes and messages not simplified. on familiar situations, but lacks clarity â¢ Can handle routine entry-level jobs and focus. that involve some written or oral â¢ Sentence structure lacks variety, but English communication, but in which shows some control of basic grammar job tasks can be demonstrated. (e.g., past and present tense) and â¢ Individual can use simple computer consistent use of punctuation (e.g., programs and can perform a sequence periods and capitalization). of routine tasks given directions using technology (e.g., fax machine, computer). continued
46 MEASURING LITERACY: PERFORMANCE LEVELS FOR ADULTS TABLE 2-2 Continued Literacy Level Speaking and Listening High Intermediate ESL â¢ Individual can understand learned Benchmarks: phrases and short new phrases containing CASAS (Life Skills): 211â220 familiar vocabulary spoken slowly, with SPL (Speaking): 5 some repetition. SPL (Reading and Writing): 6 â¢ Can communicate basic survival needs Oral BEST: 51â57 with some help. Literacy BEST: 54â65 â¢ Can participate in conversation in limited social situations and use new phrases with hesitation. â¢ Relies on description and concrete terms. â¢ There is inconsistent control of more complex grammar. Low Advanced ESL â¢ Individual can converse on many everyday Benchmarks: subjects and some subjects with CASAS (Life Skills): 221â235 unfamiliar vocabulary, but may need SPL (Speaking): 6 repetition, rewording, or slower speech. SPL (Reading and Writing): 7 â¢ Can speak creatively, but with hesitation. Oral BEST: 58â64 â¢ Can clarify general meaning by rewording Literacy BEST: 65 and above and has control of basic grammar. â¢ Understands descriptive and spoken narrative and can comprehend abstract concepts in familiar contexts.
ADULT LITERACY ASSESSMENTS AND ADULT EDUCATION 47 Basic Reading and Writing Functional and Workplace Skills â¢ Individual can read text on familiar â¢ Individual can meet basic survival and subjects that have a simple and clear social needs. underlying structure (e.g., clear main â¢ Can follow simple oral and written idea, chronological order). instruction and has some ability to â¢ Can use context to determine meaning. communicate on the telephone on â¢ Can interpret actions required in familiar subjects. specific written directions. â¢ Can write messages and notes related â¢ Can write simple paragraphs with main to basic needs; complete basic medical idea and supporting detail on familiar forms and job applications. topics (e.g., daily activities, personal â¢ Can handle jobs that involve basic oral issues) by recombining learned instructions and written vocabulary and structures. communication in tasks that can be â¢ Can self- and peer edit for spelling and clarified orally. punctuation errors. â¢ The individual can work with or learn basic computer software, such as word processing. â¢ Can follow simple instructions for using technology. â¢ Individual is able to read simple â¢ Individual can function independently descriptions and narratives on familiar to meet most survival needs and can subjects or from which new vocabulary communicate on the telephone on can be determined by context. familiar topics. â¢ Can make some minimal inferences â¢ Can interpret simple charts and about familiar texts and compare and graphics. contrast information from such texts, â¢ Can handle jobs that require simple but not consistently. oral and written instructions, multi- â¢ The individual can write simple step diagrams, and limited public narrative descriptions and short essays interaction. on familiar topics, such as customs in â¢ The individual can use all basic native country. software applications, understand the â¢ Has consistent use of basic punctuation, impact of technology, and select the but makes grammatical errors with correct technology in a new situation. complex structures. continued
48 MEASURING LITERACY: PERFORMANCE LEVELS FOR ADULTS TABLE 2-2 Continued Literacy Level Speaking and Listening High Advanced ESL â¢ Individual can understand and participate Benchmarks: effectively in face-to-face conversations CASAS (Life Skills): 236â245 on everyday subjects spoken at normal SPL (Speaking): 7 speed. SPL (Reading and Writing): 8 â¢ Can converse and understand Oral BEST: 65 and above independently in survival, work, and social situations. â¢ Can expand on basic ideas in conversation, but with some hesitation. â¢ Can clarify general meaning and control basic grammar, although still lacks total control over complex structures. SOURCE: National Reporting System (2002).
ADULT LITERACY ASSESSMENTS AND ADULT EDUCATION 49 Basic Reading and Writing Functional and Workplace Skills â¢ Individual can read authentic materials â¢ Individual has a general ability to use on everyday subjects and can handle English effectively to meet most most reading related to life roles. routine social and work situations. â¢ Can consistently and fully interpret â¢ Can interpret routine charts, graphs descriptive narratives on familiar topics and tables and complete forms. and gain meaning from unfamiliar â¢ Has high ability to communicate on topics. the telephone and understand radio â¢ Uses increased control of language and and television. meaning-making strategies to gain â¢ Can meet work demands that require meaning of unfamiliar texts. reading and writing and can interact â¢ The individual can write multiparagraph with the public. essays with a clear introduction â¢ The individual can use common and development of ideas. software and learn new applications. â¢ Writing contains well-formed sentences, â¢ Can define the purpose of software appropriate mechanics and spelling, and select new applications and few grammatical errors. appropriately. â¢ Can instruct others in use of software and technology.