Mapping adult literacy performance

By Michelle Circelli, Kate Perkins, David D Curtis Research report 20 December 2011 ISBN 978 1 921955 85 3

Description

Language, literacy and numeracy are necessary for greater workforce participation, productivity and social inclusion. Being able to measure the level of proficiency in these 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. Two measurement tools used in Australia are the Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALLS) survey and the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF). This paper outlines an NCVER study which will investigate whether it is possible to map the performance levels of the ALLS to the performance levels of the ACSF in order to gain more frequent information than is currently available about the literacy and numeracy progression of adult learners against national goals.

Summary

About the research

Both national and international research demonstrate the relationship between increasing levels of language, literacy and numeracy proficiency and positive outcomes, such as improved economic performance and social cohesion. Being able to measure the level of proficiency in these skills and any changes in their levels is important for getting a sense of how well language, literacy and numeracy programs are working.

In Australia there are a number of tools used to measure language, literacy and numeracy proficiency. Among these are the Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALLS) survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF).

The primary purpose of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey is to identify and measure the literacy and numeracy skills of adult populations within and across a number of participating Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. However, it has two drawbacks. First, it is relatively coarse and is designed to provide a summary of literacy and numeracy rather than act as an assessment tool. Second, it is only administered every ten years.

By contrast, the Australian Core Skills Framework was designed to be used as an assessment tool at the student level. It makes learning relevant to the individual and provides evidence of progress, so that a learner’s performance in a core skill can be assessed and their strengths and weaknesses identified. The framework is used in two key federal government programs — the Language, Literacy and Numeracy Program and the Workplace English Language and Literacy program — and in a variety of other settings, including the South Australian Certificate of Education.

This paper outlines a study the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) is undertaking to determine whether performance levels on the literacy and numeracy scales of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey can be reliably mapped to the performance levels of the Australian Core Skills Framework. The initial stage is promising, with an expert panel concluding that it is feasible to map Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey items to Australian Core Skills Framework levels. The second stage will involve a larger-scale study to empirically align the two frameworks. If this stage is successful, then various possibilities arise for monitoring the language, literacy and numeracy skills of various groups against the Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey scale.

Tom Karmel
Managing Director, NCVER

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