#8 Assessing Literacy

Pay particular attention to how the various organizations present assessment.  What measures do they use?  What measures do you think are most appropriate for your community project?  What can be assessed?  What should be?  Focus your thinking here on reflection informed by assessment (since the focus of your reflection essay will be on your learning).

ProLiteracy.org. Speaking broadly, they measure literacy with the following:

  • the ability to read, write, compute, and use technology at a level that enables an individual to reach his or her full potential as a parent, employee, and community member [website definition].
  • read[ing] well enough to understand a newspaper story written at the eighth grade level or fill out a job application.
  • (for people 16+) read[ing] better than the average elementary school child.

NCES: Since there were so many other websites on there, I just picked a few to read and think about. I went to the US Dept of Ed site (www.ed.gov), which of course is impossible to navigate without the help of Google. A Google search for “literacy site:ed.gov” led me to “nces.ed.gov,” which is the National Center for Education Statistics. (I thought that sounded official enough for getting definitions of literacy — officiality bearing one important perspective, anyway.) Anyway, they conduct a recurring National Assessment of Adult Literacy, which lists literacy at different tiers (naturally, being a government agency which wants to quantify and stratify things.) There’s Below Basic, Basic, Intermediate and Proficient. But even these are defined quite ethereally — an adult at “proficient” can perform complex and challenging literacy tasks, while an adult at “basic” can perform simple, everyday literacy tasks. “Below basic” does not mean purely illiterate, but rather that the person can only perform the most simple and concrete literacy tasks.

(For the record, they found that in 2003, about 30 million American adults — those with permanent residences or in jail and without significant communication limitations such as language or cognitive disabilities, anyway — were below basic.)

WELEARN: a women’s literacy network which works to connect adult learners, literacy workers, libraries and academics, etc., in order to promote women’s literacy. I’m less interested in their definition of literacy as in their vision of it and how it pertains to women. Their vision links back to what the ProLiteracy website was saying on their other pages about how literacy for women reduces gender inequality both directly (access to government and professions) and indirectly (social status, self-confidence and -reliance, and expanded ability to communicate).

The WELEARN vision of literacy is one of power for women: “WE LEARN is a community promoting women’s literacy as a tool that fosters empowerment and equity for women.” (Their mission statement.)


For SpeakOut!, assessing literacy is not an easy thing. I think this is partly because we are not the “Organization Promoting Locally-Oriented Writing Workshops for the Less Fortunate, Disenfranchised and/or Less Powerful.” Do you know what I mean? We’re not a government body with quotas and data and cold, unfeeling numbers — while our work is certainly and inextricably informed by those things to some degree, we are working in a much less easily defined zone. We are not saying, “68% of participants reported an overall average increase of 2 standard deviations in their blahblahblah.” We’re saying things like, “These people come to our workshops, and they become more literate and/or more self-confident in their literacy.”

I guess this is getting kind of long. To answer your question, while I did create a survey with a Likert scale and everything, that was a means to an end, which is having some quantifiable data for the people who ask for it and who think that way. I see assessment in our context more qualitatively — seeing who is willing to share right when they come in versus who takes time (or never does share), who is broadening or strengthening their work and themselves and how, etc.


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