Methods of Assessing
Assessment is not an isolated event that takes place only at intake. From the time clients enter our doors, through their time spent as learners, until they exit and move on to the next stage of their goal path, we observe and assess their actions and reactions. We make decisions based on our assessment observations and we help the learners make decisions, too.
Much of our assessment happens at an everyday, casual level using tools that are often unique to the program and the learner. This can be referred to as “informal” assessment. Informal assessment is part of the ongoing relationship between literacy staff, volunteers and learners. It helps to indicate what the next steps are in the learning process. However, when seeking a common understanding of assessment results for all stakeholders, we need more formalized tools.
Formal tools are more widely recognized than those developed in your local literacy program. Formal tools have usually been developed by experts and have undergone careful validation processes to ensure that they are accurate and provide consistent results.
So, if the formality of assessment tools varies, how do we decide when to use a formal or informal type of tool? It comes down to the importance of the assessment or the consequences placed on the outcome. For low-stakes decisions (for example, if the purpose of the assessment was deciding what activities the learner should work on next or whether a learner is ready to move on to learning activities at a higher level in the program), then informal assessment tools are usually sufficient. In these cases, informal assessment is often less stressful for some learners. In situations where the assessment results may be significant to a stakeholder (for example, the learner’s next step is secondary or postsecondary school or employment), a formal assessment would be preferable. In these cases, ensuring that learners are ready to move on to the next step is important for both the learners and the institution or employer.
The OALCF does not endorse a single, specific method of assessing literacy learning. Instead, it encourages LBS agencies to use a variety of tools and methods appropriate to learners’ interests, needs and goal paths. During the development of the OALCF, in February 2011, a sampling of 25 appropriate, formal assessment tools was provided in the MTCU publication Ontario Adult Literacy Curriculum Framework Selected Assessment Tools. Each resource listing provides a description of the tool, how to use the tool, its range of formality and where to get it.
Standardized tests are always given and scored in the same way. Test results for each learner are compared to the performance of a group that has been declared the norm. Because of the stringency required in their development and administration in order to maintain consistent and valid results, standardized assessment tools are often expensive to purchase or use. They may require training and licensing or certification to administer. For these reasons, standardized tests were not included in the OALCF Selected Assessment Tools list. This does not mean that standardized tests are not to be used for LBS assessment. In fact, several are listed as possible assessment tools on the LBS Participant Registration form (refer to the sample form). Some examples of standardized tests commonly used in LBS programs are:
- CAAT (Canadian Adult Achievement Test)
- CAMERA (Communications and Math Employment Readiness Assessment
- PDQ (Prose, Document, Quantitative)
- TOWES (Test of Workplace Essential Skills)
In 2012, Lorri Sauvé completed a Collective List of Assessment Tools for Literacy Link South Central (LLSC), QUILL Learning Network and Literacy Northwest. This publication has useful charts noting the tools’:
- purpose (type of assessment)
- related goal path (Employment, Apprenticeship, Secondary School Credit, Postsecondary and/or Independence)
- suitability for assessing lower-level learners
Below are two samples of the charts. The Collective List also provides a description of each tool including what is unique about it. This resource is a free downloadable resource from the Canadian Literacy and Learning Network (CLLN) at www.literacy.ca/content/uploads/2012/06/Assessment-Matrix-all-tools-individuallyJune2012.pdf
Since the publication of the OALCF Selected Assessment Tools and the Collective List of Assessment Tools, many organizations have articulated their tools to the OALCF. One example of this is Literacy Link Eastern Ontario’s project, Aligning Literacy Link Eastern Ontario’s Assessment Tools (ALAT). This project articulated their previously published assessment tasks/activities to OALCF Competencies and Levels. Below are links to the ALAT tools.
- Aligning LLEO’s Assessment Tools User Guide
- CABS Online Alignment
- CABS CAES Alignment
- WESA Alignment
Although not specifically intended for OALCF use, assessment tools that are articulated to the Essential Skills may also be useful in LBS programs, especially for learners on the Employment and Apprenticeship goal paths. Modus, the National Adult Liteacy Database’s online directory of Essential Skills assessment tools is an excellent way to find a variety of useful tools. It is searchable and interactive. You can even provide comments and ratings for the tools, if you sign up for a free membership.
Through professional development and your local Literacy Services Planning and Coordination (LSPC) committee, you may find other formal assessment tools that are suitable for OALCF assessment for your community, your program, and, of course, learners.
Authentic assessment uses real-world or authentic documents and tasks for assessment. The learners’ abilities are demonstrated using actual work, training or life-related tasks simulating how a person would use the documents or complete a job task. This type of assessment can be particularly useful for ongoing assessment. Authentic assessment is often incorporated into integrated tasks.
Authentic assessment resources should be relevant to the learner’s goal. See the chart below for examples.
You can find authentic documents to use for assessment purposes by visiting employers, by clipping articles from newspapers or magazines, or by picking up forms and pamphlets from doctors’ and lawyers’ offices. Gathering authentic materials for a variety of learners can be very time-consuming for individual practitioners. Two free websites that can help with this are:
- How do your skills Measure Up? provides more than 200 activities based on Canadian workplace documents linked to the Essential Skills of Reading Text, Document Use, and Numeracy.
- Task-Based Activities for LBS is a database of activities aligned to the Ontario Adult Literacy Curriculum Framework (OALCF) by LBS practitioners.
- Why would you use different assessment tools depending on the learner’s goal or literacy level?
- Make a chart of the assessment tools you presently use. Include the tool name and the competencies, levels and goal paths for which it is most suitable. Now rate them using the informal – formal range. Where do most of your tools fall on the range?
- Visit OALCF Selected Assessment Tools, Collective List of Assessment Tools or Modus, NALD’s (National Adult Literacy Database) online directory of Essential Skills assessment tools. Investigate at least three tools you have not previously used.
- Consider a learner you have worked with or imagine a learner profile (examples – learner wants to be a room painter and needs to improve Find & Use Information, or learner wants to know how to eat healthier and wants to improve Find & Use Information). What authentic task(s) and authentic document(s) could you develop for the learner?
- Talk your answers over with another literacy practitioner in your program or community.
- Have a discussion around these questions with one or more other literacy practitioners.