Challenges in Assessing for Post-Secondary Readiness

This Policy Brief examines the major assessments in use today to measure adult learning gains and determine student placements – e.g., BEST, CASAS, TABE, COMPASS, ASSET, and ACCUPLACER in terms of their use and issues of alignment.

Daryl F. Mellard
Gretchen Anderson
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy (CAAL) commissioned the paper from the authors.
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages

Challenges in Assessing for Postsecondary Readiness is the tenth in a series of background papers contracted by CAAL for the National Commission on Adult Literacy.

This Policy Brief examines the major assessments in use today to measure adult learning gains and determine student placements – e.g., BEST, CASAS, TABE, COMPASS, ASSET, and ACCUPLACER in terms of their use and issues of alignment. Special attention is given to the GED as it relates to postsecondary readiness, and to issues of alignment between the skills needed to pass the GED and those needed for placement in a non-remediated college curriculum. On pages 16-18, the authors offer several recommendations to resolve the problems and challenges identified.

Benefits and Uses

Most of the programs mentioned in this resource have been updated since its publication. 

What the experts say

This is a very useful document for adult education instructors serving students who seek to enter postsecondary education. Adult education practitioners often want to know which is the best assessment to use in their classrooms, and others are quick to supply answers based on their experiences and preferences, and many can speak to the reliability of the most commonly-used instruments (BEST, BEST Plus, CASAS, and TABE). However, when working with students with goals of entering postsecondary education, they must also realize that neither these tests, nor the GED exam, are valid as predictors of potential success in college. They are not aligned with college placement tests (ASSET, COMPASS, ACUPLACER) and college course content . . . thus the challenge in assessing for postsecondary readiness.

This resource will help practitioners to gain a deeper understanding of the weaknesses in the current system and assessment tools available, and to use caution in assuming students have achieved postsecondary readiness based on assessment test scores.

Transition to post-secondary education is clearly a “hot topic” for the field right now, and one that is the source of much hand-wringing and angst among providers. This resource may be quite valuable simply because it articulates in a fairly clear way a central problem of transition. It does an admirable job of making fairly accessible some complex psychometric information, and presents its arguments -- and its recommendations -- in a clear and straightforward manner.

For better or worse, the ultimate “usefulness” of the resource will depend on whether anyone chooses to use it – that is, to implement any of the recommendations set forth. And I see many potential obstacles to that happening – not the least of which might be some possible backlash from those practitioners in the field who have fought hard to frame the purposes and conduct of adult basic/literacy education as relevant to the whole person over the adult lifespan. The authors tell us that the problem of transition to post-secondary education can only be solved by intentionally refocusing and narrowing the scope of current adult basic education services so that they are aligned with post-secondary goals, and then making sure our assessments are aligned to those same goals. I suspect the argument will not be welcomed in all quarters.

Methods the resource used to collect and analyze the data for the research: The authors examined the major tests that are most commonly used in assessing post-secondary readiness, determined the shortcomings in terms of gauging readiness for adults to post-secondary education, and suggest several solutions to address the shortcomings.

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