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Quick Guide to the Community Literacy Benchmarks

Welcome to the Community Literacy Benchmarks page, designed to support CALP program coordinators to implement the Community Literacy Benchmarks.

As this page develops it will become the place to find all the material you need regarding community adult literacy benchmarks. The following resources are already available for download:

Benchmarks and checklists

'A Values-Based Approach'
- excerpt from Monitoring and Assessment in Community-Based Adult Literacy Programs in British Columbia, Phase 1 (Definition and Selection of Benchmarks): A Report to the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education (2007).

A Brief History

The benchmarks are a product of a three-phase project commissioned by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development (ALMD) to create a system of benchmarks for use in the community literacy programs funded by the Ministry. Literacy BC and Literacy Now directed the project with the guidance of an advisory committee of adult literacy professionals.

Phase 1 of the project focused on articulating an overall framework for monitoring and assessment in community-based adult literacy programs in BC - the values-based approach - and on developing a draft set of benchmarks. (See Report, August 2007). Phase II focused on introducing the benchmarks to community adult literacy programs, fieldtesting them among 16 programs, and refining the benchmarks based on feedback from the fieldtesting. The Phase II report included the revised benchmarks and a series of recommendations to the Ministry.

The third phase - implementation - began in October 2008 with a training session for CALP coordinators and Regional Coordinators hosted by Literacy BC. CALP programs are required by the Ministry to use the benchmarks to report on learner progress during the 2008/09 academic year. (See the reporting guidelines and report form). One of the roles of Regional Coordinators is to assist you in the implementation and reporting processes. Contact your RLC for information and assistance.

A Brief Guide

The benchmarks are grounded in a values-based approach to monitoring and assessment.
This provides clarity on the goal, context, and methods of community-based adult literacy programming:

  • The goal of community-based literacy is to increase learners' ability to understand and apply skills and knowledge in the context of participation in family, work and community life.
  • Community-based learners are often multi-barriered and need to be supported to reach their goals in their own way and at their own speed in a safe environment.
  • Community-based learning implies an asset-based approach that builds on learners' existing strengths and knowledge and encourages and emphasizes success and achievement, not failure or deficits.
  • Limited capacity in the community-based sector requires simplicity, ease of use, realistic expectations, and investments in training/programming.

These characteristics demand an approach that is collaborative, encourages participation and interaction, engages learners in the assessment process, and collects information over time. The information collected needs to be useful and its value needs to be understood and appreciated so that it can be used to improve teaching and learning.

The benchmarks reflect the concept of competencies and the cognitive process model.
They are organized into six domains or categories of learning:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Oral Communication
  • Math
  • Participation
  • Information Technology

Each domain is divided into four levels and presented in a matrix. The matrix indicates the domain, the cognitive process and the competencies we would expect to see as the cognitive process develops.

"A competency is more than just knowledge and skills. It also includes attitudes and values. A competency involves the ability to meet complex demands, by drawing on and mobilizing psychosocial resources (including skills and attitudes) in a particular context. For example, the ability to communicate effectively is a competency that may draw on an individual's knowledge of language, practical IT skills, and attitudes towards those with whom he or she is communicating." (OECD, p. 4)

Cognitive processes are the operations that take place within the brain in order to read, write, listen, and speak. The cognitive process model emphasizes the development of the person as opposed to the development of a narrowly defined skill or a product. For example, in this model writing is understood as a set of thinking processes - attend, compose, and monitor - which writers undertake, as opposed to the stage model of writing which emphasizes the growth of the written product.

The benchmarks are intended as a guide to learning, not a prescription
Benchmarks are grouped into levels that indicate progress towards competency. In tune with the values-based approach, the benchmarks do not assume a standardized curriculum but identify common skills and attitudes that are learned as a result of working toward the learner's goal. That is, the learner's goal provides the context and the curriculum is developed specifically to meet the learner's goal. For example, if a learner's goal is to find a job she may need to work on her job search skills and a variety of domains such as reading, writing, and oral communication may be involved.

It is not intended that every learner work on every domain. The domains that are used will be those that are relevant to each learner based on individual goals and context. You need to report on only those domains that are relevant to an individual learner.

The benchmarks are organized into four levels. Within each domain, the benchmarks describe a progression of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values. The Oral Communication and Strategies and Participation domains are particularly relevant for beginning learners who may benefit from assistance and encouragement in becoming actively engaged in the learning process. These two domains include what are often referred to as 'non-academic outcomes'.

Assessment tools
The benchmarks do not function as assessment tools. They are intended to be used in conjunction with a variety of possible tools. The most effective tools are participatory and inform the teaching and learning process (see Phase I report). A good tool can help an instructor evaluate the effectiveness of specific teaching strategies and set new instructional objectives. A good tool can also help learners set new learning goals. A range of tools can be used including interviews, observations, journals, and portfolios, among others.

The checklists that accompany the benchmarks provide an effective way to document a learner's progress at various points in the learning process. Following are some suggested steps in the assessment process:

    1. Interview the learner using an intake form to document the conversation.
    2. Explore and identify learning goals with the learner.
    3. With the learner discuss and decide on the skills and knowledge required to achieve her goals.
    4. Explore with the learner the prior knowledge and skills she brings to the achievement of her current learning goals.
    5. Discuss learning styles and find out what makes learning safe, comfortable and enjoyable for her.
    6. Outline a learning plan and identify your approach to assessment with the learner and the tool(s) you will use.
    7. Complete an intake assessment and express the results in terms of the benchmarks, placing the learner at an appropriate level in each domain that is applicable. It will be common for a learner to be at a different level in each domain.
    8. Discuss the results with the learner and tutor and develop a curriculum to assist the learner in achieving her goals.
    9. Monitor progress by keeping an open channel of communication with the learner about her achievements and challenges.
    10. Complete an exit assessment at the end of the year or, using ongoing assessment, indicate benchmark progress when the learner leaves the program or the program ends.

Literacy BC has compiled a list of mainly practical resources and tools on monitoring and assessment and a select bibliography of more theoretical resources.

As well, check out ELMO Reviews to read short reviews of various assessment tools by other practitioners. The ELMO Newsletter (#6) also has an edition (#6) dedicated to monitoring and assessing learner progress and using the community literacy benchmarks. Get it here.

English as a Second Language Learners
The benchmarks are intended for learners whose first language is English. The Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) will be more effective for English as a Second Language learners. Use the CLB to assess second language learners in CALP programs and then use the Benchmark Equivalencies Sheet to determine how to report using the Community Literacy Benchmarks.