Literacy Surveys

ETS has developed or contributed to a number of surveys assessing adult literacy over the past 20 years. Some were surveys administered directly by ETS; others were developed for clients, such as the Department of Labor.

Young Adult Literacy Assessment (YALS)

This survey assessed the literacy proficiencies of adults ages 16 to 25. It was administered by ETS as part of a National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) grant. The Young Adult Literacy Survey was the first assessment to use a more expanded definition of literacy than those that guided previous literacy studies. In the expanded definition, literacy was viewed as a continuum of increasingly complex and integrated skills that adults use to process printed and written information in a variety of contexts.

Department of Labor (DOL) Survey of Workplace Literacy

This study used data from a Department of Labor survey in 1990 that assessed the workplace literacy levels of eligible applicants for JTPA training and of jobseekers in the Employment Service/Unemployment Insurance programs. The survey data included workplace literacy proficiency scores and data concerning various socioeconomic and personal characteristics of the respondents. The goal of the study was to analyze the relationship between the workplace literacy and labor market performance of the unemployed workers in these programs on one hand and the determinants of workplace literacy on the other.

National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS)

The National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) was the largest assessment of adult literacy funded by the Federal government and conducted by ETS, designed to assess the English-language literacy of the adult population living in households in the United States. In the 1992 NALS, literacy was defined as: "using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one's goals and to develop one's knowledge and potential."

In addition to a national sample, the 1992 study also included 12 statewide samples and a sample of incarcerated adults.

International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), 1996 and 2000

The International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) was a seven-country initiative conducted in the fall of 1994. Its goal was to create comparable literacy profiles across national, linguistic and cultural boundaries. In every country, nationally representative samples of adults between the ages of 16 and 65 were interviewed and tested at home, using the same literacy test.

The main purpose of the survey was to find out how well adults use information to function in society. Another aim was to investigate the factors that influence literacy proficiency and to compare these among countries. The successive waves of the survey now encompass close to 30 countries around the world.

Adult Literacy and Lifeskills (ALL) Survey

On a pilot basis, ALL also measured adults' problem-solving skills and gathered information on their familiarity with information and communication technologies. This information will help us better understand the relative strengths and potential challenges in the U.S. workforce and allow decision-makers to design better policies and programs that will address them effectively.

Adult Education Program Study (AEPS)

The Adult Education Program Study (AEPS) provided national level information about adult education programs and their participants during 2001 and 2002.

The AEPS consisted of two phases.

In the first stage, the AEPS Program Survey studied the characteristics of federally-funded adult education programs and the kinds of services being offered, through the administration of a questionnaire to a representative sample of adult education providers. Data is available both by type of program (ABE, ASE and ESL) and by type of provider (including LEAs, CBOs, community colleges and correctional institutions).

In the second phase, the AEPS Learner Survey assessed literacy and numeracy skills of a nationally representative sample of enrollees in adult education programs. The assessment instrument was derived from the ALL, thereby allowing the performance of adult education participants to be compared with that of the general adult population in the United States. In addition, a representative sample of Hispanic learners was randomly assigned to either an English or Spanish version of the assessment to investigate the extent to which the testing language influenced performance on the literacy tasks. Data from the Learner Survey is available through the ETS Literacy Data Tool.