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What Are the Different Types of Literacy Tests?

By Jami Yontz
Updated May 23, 2024
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There are many different types of literacy tests aimed at evaluating the reading, writing, and comprehension skills of a person. Most educational facilities test a student’s literacy periodically throughout the child’s elementary and secondary education. In the United States, the General Education Development (GED) test rewards students with a certificate equivalent to a high school diploma and includes a section on reading and writing to test literacy skills. The Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment Systems (CASAS) is used by universities and organizations to assess a person’s literacy level, and the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP) tests a person’s phonics knowledge of the English language. The naturalization test, a test that immigrants must take to become a citizen of the United States, also tests the person’s English and literacy skills.

The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIEBLS) is a set of measures that tests students from kindergarten to sixth grade on phonological awareness, vocabulary, reading comprehension, fluency with connected text, and alphabetic principles. This and other similar literacy tests serve as a benchmark that educators can compare future test results with. Another type of grade school level test is the secondary school literacy test, administered by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) in Ontario, Canada. The exam tests students on his or her reading and writing to assess the province’s overall literacy rates and education effectiveness.

Another group of literacy tests are given to adult learners and non-native English students entering university. The CASAS is one example, and has three separate tests comprise of the life and work series, the functional writing exam, and the workplace speaking test. All of these test the person’s literacy level by providing results on the person’s ability to follow instructions, complete forms, read labels, and other daily activities that require a certain level of literacy competency. The person is also tested on his or her ability to understand the spoken word and to provide a response or feedback.

The CTOPP is another type of literacy test that is based on the idea that phonics, or the sounds of language that are combined to form words, are the basis for learning to read and write. It determines the person’s ability to identify the phonetic structure of a word or the separate phonemes of the word. Creating blends with phonemes and memorization of the sounds that each letter of the language makes is also important.

The naturalization test for United States citizenship approval requires that the person be able to read, write, and speak in English. These literacy tests are usually given during the person’s interview with an immigration officer, who will determine if the person’s literacy level is acceptable. During the interview, the person will also have to answer questions on United States history.

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Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On Oct 08, 2014

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (or TOEFL) is a stem-winder. It's a literacy test and I have a Russian friend who took it about three times before she passed it. She worked really hard and said the test itself was awful.

I went over the practice test with her and I could see where someone who didn't have an excellent grasp of English would have problems. In fact, native English speakers who didn't have a degree in the subject (like I do) might not have done very well. It's a really tough test and I wouldn't have wanted to take it if I were not a native English speaker.

By Pippinwhite — On Oct 07, 2014

I know one measurement of literacy is the list of 100 sight words. These are simple words that anyone who has finished first or second grade should know. If a person doesn't know the majority of these words, then that person is considered functionally illiterate, which, of course, is a serious liability.

Adult literacy courses often focus on teaching these sight words first, since they provide a basic foundation for learning to read more complicated words. Sometimes, adults become impatient about learning these words (I know since I've taught literacy classes), but they are important for future literacy. They do provide a background.

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