CASAS Discussion

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The following discussion took place on the NIFL-Assessment Listserv during December 2004. It focuses on:

  • practitioners' experiences using CASAS in both competency-based and non-competency based programs

Also see REEP Writing Rubric for a discussion comparing the REEP rubric to the CASAS writing rubric.

Date: Thu, 9 Dec 2004
From: "Marie Cora" <>
Subject: Questions about CASAS

Hi Ajit and everyone,

Yes, I know that CT has been using CASAS for years now. How is that going? I'm wondering particularly about programs that are not necessarily competency-based, like basic reading programs.

I've heard that CASAS is really helpful with workplace programs - can anyone comment on that at all?

How about CASAS and learning disabilities? Any connections there?

Finally, I remember reading from some folks that their states may combine several different approaches to teaching and testing, still aligning with the nrs requirements. Can anyone describe that a little for us? Does anyone mix up norm-referenced and criterion-referenced approaches - and what is that like? Is it confusing?

marie cora
Moderator, NIFL Assessment Discussion List, and
Coordinator/Developer LINCS Assessment Special Collection at

Date: Thursday, December 09, 2004
From: Bonnie Odiorne [1]
Subject: Questions about CASAS

Hi, Marie and Cathy,
I was in adult programs in CT using CASAS for ten years. CASAS has its limitations. I'm not sure what Cathy means by "parallel forms" for pre-post; as far as I knew, the pre/post were on the same level and approximately the same questions, and were criteria- and not norm-referenced. So what was the issue. About using CASAS in non-competency programs: at the ABE and lower-level ESL, there's no such thing as far as I'm concerned. I know the tendency in reading is toward structured, phonics and multisensory approaches, and in the literacy organization I was program director of, we used an LVA assessment that at least broke down phonemes, word patterns, vowel sounds and the like, however weak it may have been as an assessment tool it was a good diagnostic tool. But even for reading I'm a firm believer in a balanced approach, and that phonetic instruction must be combined with language experience (with its foundations on initial consonant sounds, word patterns, key words) in addition to putting into writing the student's own words. And many students even at low reading levels werein dire need of competency-based lessons for specific contexts, especially daily life skills and the workplace. As for ESL, CASAS was good at describing level indicator competencies, but not so great in specifying what language structures, grammar etc. would be needed at these levels. I found myself in my employment/technology program doing skills breakdowns of the competencies myself in order to embed basic skills instruction when needed, and I shouldn't have had to. CASAS will do curriculum matrices identifying CASAS competencies taught in texts, but it's difficult at times to teach to the competency. It's necessary to teach to the underlying skills needed in orderto successfully navigate test items, i.e. the "tasks," and more. I was also briefly involved (Ajit: you can help out here) in the CT development of a workplace (not employment readiness) version. I wish it had been around when I was doing a workplace program, developing literacy audits, curricula and so forth. Nowadays I am much more interested in a "project-based" assessment which could include embedded competencies, or the EFF efforts to bring in assessment tools to its framework, as I see this model as integrating skills levels and competencies in the complexity of everyday tasks. BTW, I just finished an ESL employment readiness class at the university where I'm now teaching for student interns, and am surprised at how similarly I could structure the course. CASAS competencies would have been useful in that setting, also.

Best regards,
Bonnie Odiorne

Date: Fri, 10 Dec 2004
From: "Gopalakrishnan Ajit" <>
Subject: Questions about CASAS

Hello Bonnie, Marie and others,

In my view, competencies and the basic/enabling skills that underlie these competencies are both included in the CASAS framework. Training sessions that introduce practitioners to the CASAS framework always get them thinking about both facets in a variety of ways (e.g. basic skills versus life skills activities, task detailing and competency prioritizations, curriculum materials guides, task areas in assessment reports, lesson plan activities, etc.). I see them as two sides of the same coin. I like Bonnie's reference to the balanced approach when it comes to working with learners.

CASAS is also in the final stages of formally aligning its competencies/assessments to adult education content standards. This will codify what students should know in particular subjects/skills at points along the instructional pathway. It will make explicit the enabling/basic skills that students need to know to perform the various competencies. Connecticut is actively involved in this effort.

Historically speaking, CASAS seems to have begun at a time when it was important to emphasize that adults learn best in contexts that mean something to them. I see the "breaking down" of tasks or task detailing that Bonnie refers to as a natural and probably useful part of the teaching process. This task detailing process has been a part of our training sessions and publications over the years and is important to a well rounded implementation of the CASAS system. I am confident that the content standards alignment effort will "formally" close the "loop" between competencies and basic skills and strengthen the CASAS system.

Bonnie also requested my comment on new workplace literacy assessments that were recently made available through CASAS. Connecticut partially supported the development of these assessments that assess learners in the context of the workplace (not employment readiness). The standardized reading, math, writing and oral assessments that are part of this Workforce Learning System (WLS) are suitable for learners who are working or have worked recently.

Lastly, I personally feel that CASAS is a consortium of states first, that also happens to possess terrific expertise in creating systems that integrate curriculum, assessment, and instruction. In my view, they are not just a test developer though they are pretty darned good at it. The states that are part of the consortium work together to set priorities for CASAS, and actually help in item writing, field-testing, training materials development, policy formulation, etc. I believe that almost half, if not more of the states in union say they use CASAS (exclusively or partially) and would hope that this discussion can be broadened beyond Connecticut!

Bonnie, it is so good to hear from you. I hope you are doing well.


Ajit Gopalakrishnan
Education Consultant
Connecticut Department of Education
25 Industrial Park Road
Middletown, CT 06457
Tel: (860) 807-2125
Fax: (860) 807-2062

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