Two stipulations were made by TCU for selecting assessment instruments for the LSA Framework. The first was that the instruments had to be valid and reliable. The second was that the instruments had to be based on the IALS/Essential Skills scales. These scales are broadly recognized and therefore have potential as a common assessment language for stakeholders in Ontario. Learning gains would be reported by the percentage increase in Reading Text, Document Use and Numeracy through pre- and post-testing.

IALS/Essential Skills Scale

The complexity scales describe the level at which each Essential Skill is applied. Essential Skills are reported to be at 5 levels, with Level 1 as the lowest and Level 5, the highest. These levels are arbitrary divisions of a continuous distribution of scores ranging from 0 to 500.

The divisions are as follows:

  • Level 5: 375 – 500
  • Level 4: 326 – 375
  • Level 3: 276 – 325
  • Level 2: 226 – 275
  • Level 1: 0 – 225




Each level is quite wide, encompassing more than a hundred points for Levels 1 and 5, and 50 points for Levels 2, 3, and 4. A person with a score of 226 has the same level score as a person scoring 274, although the person with the 226 score is performing considerably lower. One advantage of the scales is that they can be broken down into finer categories for measuring smaller gains in learning.

An example of how a level can be broken down was provided by Dr. Kline.

Essential Skills Level 2 225 - 240 Level 2-low
241 - 260 Level 2-medium
261 - 274 Level 2-high

Kline points out that the level divisions are based on the standard error of measurement of the literacy scales, and therefore rest on a sound (psychometric) basis.

Using tests that are sensitive enough to detect small learning gains in Essential Skills presented an attractive option for some paths. Although it is preferable to administer tests at the beginning of a program and at program completion, it is not always viable in LBS programming where more flexible assessment approaches are often needed. Not all learners are able to complete an LBS level, which like an Essential Skills level, is also quite wide. Learners face a variety of barriers that need to be addressed before learning can take place. Many are forced to leave their programs prematurely for a variety of personal and financial reasons. It is not likely that learners will make large gains in an abbreviated time span.