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From: Marie Cora (
Date: Thu Jun 23 2005 - 10:48:00 EDT

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Subject: [NIFL-ASSESSMENT:1119] RE: Tom Sticht's concerns about ALL
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Hi Debbie,

Thanks so much for your post.

I wanted to counter your idea that literacy practitioners are not
equipped to join such discussions.  It may in fact be true that in
general practitioners are not educated in highly technical issues of
test development and interpretation.  But in my opinion, they should be.
I also believe that little by little in this age of accountability, more
and more practitioners ARE in fact becoming knowledgeable and skilled in
test development, construction, and interpretation of results.

I believe that if some amount of pre- or in-service training around
these issues were a mandatory part of ABE teacher preparation, as an
entire field we would be better equipped to work with the present
selection of commercial tests, respond more accurately to the NRS,
identify the short-comings of both, and then contribute to the
improvement of our system.  Teachers 'home-grown' classroom assessments
would also increase in quality, accuracy, and interest.  It would make
the practitioner base a much stronger voice for influencing the way that
policies are developed and implemented.

I also agree to an extent that the results of the NALS raised awareness
of adult literacy in our country, and that some amount of action
regarding increased services has occurred.  But as stated in the Interim
Report, the interpretations of the tests were actually based on a
misconception in the first place - that the NALS somehow is able to make
judgments about what are adequate or inadequate skills/abilities to
function at some level in society.

So my concern is actually the same case you make for saying that the
NALS has helped the field:  I think it has not allowed us to have a
clear understanding of the picture of literacy in the U.S. today because
literacy IS in fact way more complex that can be captured in a test.
I'm not sure whether these tests have hidden the picture of literacy, or
have uncovered the true problem.  As you note, you can say that the
statistics tell a particular story, but not without your caveat that
perhaps the statistics are not quite on.

I think we do need to figure out how to gauge literacy across the nation
- for our children, for our economy, for us to better understand and
interact with the world.  And to bring my comments to full circle, I
think we as practitioners need to be right in there from the beginning
because we are the ones who know what happens with the students.

The Report does indicate in the Recommendations section that the results
were interpreted the way that the media, politicians, and the general
public wanted them to.  Where are the practitioners?  They are not there
- maybe for 2 reasons - because the interpretations didn't exactly ring
true with the workforce?  Or maybe because of what you said in your
first paragraph Debbie: that practitioners are not prepared to be
involved in the technical test venue.  I'm not sure.  But it did not
escape me in the least that the Report's Recommendations for developing
definitions of concepts of literacy must involve practitioners.

marie cora
Moderator, NIFL Assessment Discussion List, and 
Coordinator/Developer LINCS Assessment Special Collection at

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Debbie Yoho
Sent: Wednesday, June 22, 2005 4:58 PM
To: Multiple recipients of list
Subject: [NIFL-ASSESSMENT:1111] Tom Sticht's concerns about ALL

Tom Sticht is to be congratulated, once more, for his tireless stand for
quality and accuracy in everything we do.  However, I think that those
us in the field have little to contribute about the ongoing issues of
validity regarding the NALS and ALL instruments.  From a practical
standpoint, it is an argument among statisticians, researchers and
makers, and no literacy practicitioner I know is equipped to discuss the
issue intelligently, including me.  But I do think his comments
a serious problem we have throughout the field of adult ed: the need to
come to a place of common ground in defining concepts such as
"reading", "adult education", "proficiency", and "measurement". This is
reflection of the challenge of putting research into practice, and of
practice informing research.

Rightly or wrongly, the statistics from the NALS are in wide use and
been for some time, and from where I sit have helped, not hindered, the
case for more services.  I expect and hope the ALL will do the same
Having said that, because I respect Tom's expertise, I always use the
numbers with the caveat that the figures may be too high or too low,
stressing that a person's proficiency is always a matter of context, and
therefore shifts across a continuum.  No single measurement or
can capture those dynamics.

On the other hand, a major practical problem for practitioners, as
to in a previous post I offered in this discussion, is that the NALS
certainly masked the prevalence and seriousness of the reading problem
adults struggle with.  Hence the good news of two categories "below
It seems to me the ALL has been constructed with a lot of input from the
field on this issue, and therefore must be an improvement, not a
muddying of the waters.

For the Cause of Literacy for All!  Debbie

Deborah W. Yoho
Co-moderator, NIFL-Health Listserv
Executive Director, Greater Columbia Literacy Council
Past President, SC Adult Literacy Educators
2728 Devine Street,  Columbia, SC  29205
803-765-2555   Fax  803-799-8417

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