Many learners have had negative experiences in the past with schooling and with testing in particular. Caution using standardized assessments should be exercised. While standardized assessments capable of capturing small learning gains may prove useful for accountability purposes, they may not be appropriate for learners with severe test anxiety or for learners with emerging literacy skills.

Assessments Based on the 500-Point Scale

At present, only two valid, reliable tools based on the IALS/Essential Skills 500-point scale exist. They include

Both are competency-based assessments which means learners’ progress is based on performance against a predetermined standard of acceptable performance rather than on how well learners perform compared to others. Competency-based assessment was developed in response to the need to assess adult literacy achievement within a functional framework (Imel, 1990).

Geraci (2007) points out that a competency-based approach to assessment requires that context, standards and their component skills be predetermined and that learning be developed and evaluated against those standards.

The team made good progress determining context through their research on the five transition paths. The work of identifying core skills, as discussed, was uneven due to time constraints, discrepancies in the field’s understanding of Essential Skills, and difficulty reconciling functional and academic approaches to learning. Nevertheless, there was great interest in learning more about the tests and their suitability for the pathways

TOWES and PDQ are comparable, test the same skills (Reading Text, Document Use and Numeracy), and are available in French and English.

Both tools are also based on Item Response Theory (IRT). This means that individuals estimated to have a particular skill level will consistently perform tasks with an 80% probability of correctly completing tasks at the same level.