New Developments in Adult Literacy Assessment (Individual and Large-Scale)

New Developments in Adult Literacy Assessment (Individual and Large-Scale)
January 25 – 29, 2010

Guest Participant | Preparation | Resources | Discussion Transcripts
Literacy assessment for adults


Please join us for the Guest Discussion New Developments in Adult Literacy Assessment (Individual and Large-Scale), which will be held during the week of January 25 – 29, 2010. The guest is John Sabatini, Senior Research Scientist at the Educational Testing Service.

This discussion is the first in a series of four discussions to be held in cooperation with the Assessment Strategies and Reading Profiles project at World Education, Inc.

Guest Participant

John Sabatini, Senior Research Scientist
Educational Testing Service

Dr. Sabatini is a Senior Research Scientist in the Research & Development Division at Educational Testing Service in Princeton, NJ. He has conducted research, curriculum development, and evaluation in areas of reading acquisition and disabilities, assessment, cognitive psychology, and educational technology, with a primary focus on adults and adolescents. Currently, he is the principal investigator of an IES funded grant to develop comprehension assessments for struggling adolescent and adult readers and a NICHD/Dept of Education/National Institute for Literacy grant, Relative Effectiveness of Reading Programs for Adults. He provides technical and research advice to national and international surveys including the National Assessments of Adult Literacy (NAAL), Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIACC), Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PISA), and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS). Dr. Sabatini received his doctorate at the University of Delaware in cognition and instruction with a focus on literacy.

Recommended preparations for this discussion

Please read Literacy assessment for adults by John Sabatini. This provides you with an overview of the content of the guest discussion.

Literacy assessment for adults

Beginning with the NALS (National Adult Literacy Survey) in 1992, our conceptions of what literacy means in adult life and how to assess it have changed dramatically. The NALS provided a profile the English literacy of adults in the United States based on their performance across a wide array of tasks simulating the types of materials and demands they encounter in their daily lives. Large-scale national and international assessments now measure literacy proficiency in three domains: Prose Literacy, Document Literacy, and Numeracy, using test items taken from real-life adult uses of literacy. In addition, the next international large-scale survey, PIACC (Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies) will measure two new areas: Internet Technology skills and, for the least proficient adults, Component Reading Skills.

In the area of individual assessment, researchers have begun to assess some of the components of reading that contribute to reading comprehension, including decoding, fluency, and vocabulary knowledge. Recent NICHD/DOE (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development/Department of Education) studies have investigated the relationships among these components and ways to assess them more accurately and efficiently. Some of this recent assessment research may have implications for improving high stakes testing (e.g., the NRS; National Reporting System), as well as how practitioners assess their own learners' strengths and needs in the components of reading.

When analyzing and evaluating any assessment, it is important to know who the test was designed for, who will be administering it, and what its results will be used for. Therefore, for the sake of our online discussion, please be as specific as you can with your questions and comments regarding the student subpopulation being assessed (ability level, demographics, etc.), the context of testing (clinic, classroom, work program, survey), use or purposes of the test (screener/placement, diagnostic, formative, accountability, survey), and the user of the test results (practitioner, literacy coach, researcher, policy-maker). These considerations will have implications for the student or the group being assessed, the stakes, and the nature, quality, and appropriateness of the assessment instruments used.

Further/optional resources of interest

National Assessment of Adult Literacy website.

  • Baer, J., Kutner, M., & Sabatini, J. P. (2009). Basic reading skills and the literacy of the America's least literate adults: Results from the 2003 national assessment of adult literacy (NAAL) supplemental studies (No. NCES 2006-488): National Center for Education Statistics, Institute for Education Sciences, U. S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.
  • Kutner, M., Greenberg, E., Jin, Y., Boyle, B., Hsu, Y., & Dunleavy, E. (2007). Literacy in everyday life: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NCES 2007-490. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute for Education Sciences, U. S. Department of Education.

LINCS website

National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy

Programme for International Assessment of Adult Literacy Competencies