Does 1 = 1? Mapping measures of adult literacy and numeracy

By Michelle Circelli, Shelley Gillis, Mark Dulhunty, Margaret Wu, Leanne Calvitto Research report 18 January 2013 ISBN 978 1 922056 41 2

Description

Measuring literacy and numeracy proficiency and any changes in the level of skill are important in getting a sense of how well language, literacy and numeracy programs are working. The Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALLS) survey and Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF) are tools for assessing these. While the ALLS is a national survey conducted on an irregular basis, the ACSF can be applied at the individual level and provides evidence of progress. This report explores the two frameworks and finds that, while it is broadly possible to translate the five ACSF performance levels to the ALLS scales, there is not an exact match between the two, especially at the higher levels.

Summary

About the research

Being able to measure the level of proficiency in literacy and numeracy skills, and any changes in the level of skills, is important for getting a sense of how well language, literacy and numeracy programs are working. Among the tools used to measure language, literacy and numeracy proficiency in Australia are the Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALLS) survey and the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF).

The Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey measures the skills of adult populations within and across a number of participating Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. It is used by the Australian Government to monitor progress against the National Skills and Workforce Development Agreement. Furthermore, the next iteration of this survey will be used to measure the success of the 2012-22 National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults. However, the survey has two drawbacks: it is a relatively coarse measure and is designed to provide a summary of literacy and numeracy rather than to act as an assessment tool; and it is only administered every ten years.

Contrasting with the Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey, the Australian Core Skills Framework — used in two key federal government adult language, literacy and numeracy programs, as well as in a variety of other settings, including the South Australian Certificate of Education — can be applied at the individual level and provides evidence of progress, such that a learner's performance in a core skill can be assessed, and strengths and weaknesses identified. Further, data about a learner's performance can be gathered at frequent intervals.

Both these frameworks have five performance levels and it is sometimes assumed that these levels are equivalent. But are they? This paper presents findings from a study that looked at the issue of the equivalence of the frameworks.

Key messages

  • Equivalence between the two frameworks at the lowest skill level was found — one does equal one. However, the alignment was not as direct at the higher skills levels, with the numeracy and reading constructs of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey found to be generally more complex than those of the Australian Core Skills Framework. Indeed, Level 3 ALLS — the minimum aspirational target of the National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults — was similar in complexity to exit Level 4 of the ACSF.
  • A definite hierarchical structure within the levels of the Australian Core Skills Framework was confirmed, offering the potential to clearly demonstrate progress within a level.

This research has shown that alignment between the two frameworks is achievable and that this alignment offers the potential for measuring progress against national objectives more regularly. Indeed, the ACSF offers a way of monitoring any improvements in adult literacy and numeracy in a more nuanced manner.

Tom Karmel
Managing Director, NCVER

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