Basic Reading Skills -> Adult Literacy Supplemental Assessment (ALSA)


Low levels of literacy are likely to limit life chances and may be related to social welfare issues including poverty, incarceration, and preventive healthcare. Given this, it has become increasingly important for researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to understand the literacy skills and deficits of the least-literate adults.

ALSA, a new addition to the 2003 assessment, is designed to assess lower-level, basic reading skills. The 1992 NALS provided little information on the least-literate adults because these respondents were unable to complete the assessment due to literacy-related complications (e.g., difficulty reading and writing in English; mental or learning disability).

Key Features

  • Enhances understanding of the basic reading skills of the least-literate adults.
  • Identifies relationships between ALSA scores and selected background characteristics of adults.
  • Reports results for appropriate demographic groups (e.g; minorities, ESL adults, prison population).
  • Describes relationships between the performance of ALSA participants and that of main NAAL participants on the FAN oral reading tasks.
  • Provides a baseline for measuring future changes in the levels and distribution of the least-literate adultsí basic reading skills over time.

Participants who score low on the core screening questions are given ALSA instead of the main NAAL assessment booklet.

View the ALSA Fact Sheet.


Development & Administration

Of Special Note
The core screening questions are designed to ensure that no one is mistakenly selected for ALSA. NAAL interviewers received 6 hours of hands-on, extensive training, instruction, and practice on administering ALSA. This includes engaging in frequent debriefings with the supervisor and periodically reviewing training videotapes, especially before visiting respondents in low-performing areas.

ALSA is only administered to NAAL participants with very low performance on the core screening questions. It takes an average of 25 minutes to complete and is administered orally in either English or Spanish; respondents may answer in either language. Unlike the main NAAL block design, in which a respondent only takes 3 of the overall 13 blocks, ALSA questions are standardized (every respondent takes all of the questions in the same order).

ALSA Tasks and Stimulus Materials

ALSA is comprised of 79 questions that assess least-literate adultsí background knowledge, basic reading skills, and, to a lesser degree, higher-level text search and inferential literacy skills.

Most ALSA participants cannot read connected text, which means they cannot read the question itself. Therefore, ALSA questions are composed of easier tasks and hands-on stimulus materials that are designed to facilitate the measurement of low-level literacy skills. Since least-literate adults tend to rely heavily upon context for comprehension, ALSA tasks are familiar and their corresponding stimulus materials are tangible, 3-D objects such as food boxes and drug labels. The questions progress in difficulty from minimal text and simple labels or signs, to connected, less familiar text and more complex documents.

Level 1
Labels/simple signs
Level 2
Level 3
More complex documents
Beverage bottle
Cake mix box
Aspirin bottle
Magazine ad insert
Sale flyer
Water bill
Bus schedule
U.S. atlas

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.



Of Special Note
The ALSA scale and the main NAAL scale are not linked together. Thus a score of X on ALSA does not correspond to a score of X on NAAL.

Unlike the main NAAL, ALSA scoring is conducted on-the-spot. In NAAL, respondents work through a booklet of†tasks on their own, writing the answers directly into the assessment booklet. The interviewer makes sure they stay on task and provides a little instruction, but†is not involved with recording the answers. In ALSA, respondents never work with the booklet–it is for the interviewer only.

ALSA must be scored on the spot because respondents provide answers either orally or by pointing to something on the stimulus material. Then the interviewer, using explicit scoring rubrics, decides which response category the answer falls into and circles the appropriate code on the scoring sheet in the ALSA booklets.

For example, the interviewer asks the respondent to point to the word "eat." If the respondent points to the right word, the interviewer circles YES in the booklet. Or the interviewer might present the respondent with a box of pancake mix and say,†"Please tell me what this†is."†Based on the response, the interviewer would code†the answer as correct, partially correct, incorrect, or donít know/no response.

Scoring Rubrics

The ALSA scoring rubrics are designed to make on-the-spot scoring fast and accurate. They provide interviewers with examples of possible responses for each code. For example, in the case of identifying a box of BRAND pancake mix,

  • a correct response would be: BRAND name, BRAND pancakes, pancake and waffle mix, or pancake and waffle batter, while
  • a partially correct response would be: COMPETITOR name, cake mix, or flour.