Let’s just sort out the confusion around steps versus levels when it comes to literacy and numeracy


I didn’t create this confusion, but I’d like to clear it up…

One of the things that people I meet seem constantly confused about is the difference between some very similar sounding language that we use in education, and in particular, in the field of literacy and numeracy, to describe things like skills.

Here are the two problem words: Steps and Levels.

Now here’s where the confusion sets in. There are at least three different things that these two words get used for, often interchangeably:

  • ALLS: The Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALLS) Survey data from 2006 talks about Skill Levels on a scale of 1 to 5. For example, to function well in society you need to be at or above Level 3 which is generally considered to be the baseline in terms of the literacy and numeracy skills that you need to function at work, in study, or just in general.
  • Progressions: The Adult Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions talks about Steps on a scale of 1 to 6. Step 1 means low literacy or numeracy skills. Step 6 in a particular progression means that you are highly literate or numeracy in terms of that progression. For example, Step 6 for the Vocabulary Progression in the Reading Strand means that you have large vocabulary that includes not just everyday words, but also a large number of academic and specialised words as well. We use Steps to talk about the assessment results that learners get from the Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool that is a requirement for most foundation level learners in tertiary training. E.g. “She got step 5 in Numeracy”.
  • Qualifications: The New Zealand Qualifications Framework talks about qualifications in terms of Levels on a scale of 1 to 9. For example, the qualifications that young people do often at high school in New Zealand – the National Certificate in Education Achievement (NCEA) starts at level 1 (usually year 11) and goes through to level 3 (usually year 13). The course that I teach is Level 5. A Masters level degree would be Level 8 or 9.

So that’s it. Here’s the short version:

  • ALLS Survey 2006 ==> Skill Levels
  • Learning Progressions and Assessment Tool Results ==> Steps
  • Qualifications ==> Qualification Levels

And if you are someone who needs to talk about any or all of these things, here’s what I suggest. You can help clear up other people’s confusion by doing the following:

  • If you have to talk about the ALLS Survey data or courses and qualifications and the context is not really clear, make sure you expand the word “Levels” to either “ALLS Skill Level” for the ALLS or “Qualification Level” for qualifications.
  • If you have to talk about Assessment Tool results or anything to do with the Learning Progressions, make sure that you use “Steps” and not “Levels”. As an alternative word altogether, you may also want to use the word “Koru” instead of Step. These are the little images down the side of the Progressions charts. For example, “She got koru 5 in Numeracy”.

Someone tell me if this makes sense…

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

2 thoughts

  1. PIAAC levels on the way to a town near you! Slightly different to the ALLs version! Can’t wait to start using the word ‘level’ in THREE different ways.

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