Title: Matching Literacy Testing with Social
Policy: What are the Alternatives?
This work was supported by a grant from the National Center on Adult Literacy at the University of Pennsylvania, which is part of the Educational Research and Development Center Program (grant No. R117Q00003) as administered by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, with federal co-funding by the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. The findings and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the position or policies of the funding agencies.
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Copyright 1992 National Center on Adult Literacy
The Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services now administer a variety of social programs that incorporate literacy training. Adult Basic Education (ABE), English as a Second Language (ESL), JOBS, workplace literacy, family literacy, library literacy, and correctional institution education are the primary examples of these programs, but others exist that either provide literacy instruction directly or that incorporate literacy as a component of another social service. Central to the proper administration of these programs is appropriate information on the needs and characteristics of the clients for these services, the quality of services actually delivered, and the impact of the services upon the individuals who receive them. Literacy tests are one of the most widely used (and controversial) means through which information on all three of these topics is obtained. Although tests are not and should not be the only means through which information is gathered, they are by tradition the primary procedure through which comparative analyses have been performed. From national surveys of literacy, such as the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) now underway, to locally developed screening and placement instruments, a melange of literacy tests now exists, providing data with widely varying degrees of reliability, validity, and comparability.
This brief synthesis is an initial attempt to delineate the central issues in literacy testing and to define options that might provide an improved data base for social policy development. The plan of this paper is to attend first to basic issues in literacy testing: the perceived needs for literacy funding and the potential outcomes of literacy programs. Then various types of testing needs are discussed, along with options for satisfying these needs. Finally, the measures or scales used for reporting literacy levels are examined.