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Table of Contents

Part I: Aligning CASAS Competencies and Assessments to Basic Skills Content Standards

Part II: CASAS Basic Skills Content Standards for Reading

Table of Figures

Part I: Aligning CASAS Competencies and Assessments to Basic Skills Content Standards

Background of the CASAS System

Since its inception, CASAS (Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System) has focused on teaching and assessing basic skills in contexts to which adults can easily relate. Adult learners by nature are pragmatic; they want their learning to be relevant and need to apply what they learn in the contexts of work, family and community life. Because of this, CASAS, in its 26-year history, has developed and continues to refine a highly formalized hierarchy of competencies, the application of basic skills that adults need to be fully functional and productive members of society. This ongoing refinement process is coordinated through the CASAS National Consortium of States to ensure that the system is responsive to a broad and diverse range of adult learners.

The functional contexts of CASAS test items include applied reading, math, and listening in a variety of adult life and work situations. CASAS multiple-choice tests measure basic skills in a functional context for adults and youth and are constructed from item banks of more than 5,000 test items. Each test item has an established difficulty level based on extensive field-testing and analysis. The psychometric methodology used to establish this difficulty level comes from the Rasch model of Item Response Theory (IRT). By this methodology, each test item is assigned a difficulty level on a common scale. Tests constructed from the item banks have been field-tested with adult basic education (ABE) and English as a Second Language (ESL) learners, as well as youth and adult high school learners. Tests are available at various levels from special education for developmentally disabled adults (Levels 2A-5A) and advancing to adult basic education Levels A, B, C) through high school completion (Levels D and E). For more descriptive background and psychometric information about CASAS the reader is referred to the CASAS Technical Manual (Third edition, 2004).

The CASAS competencies form the basis of the CASAS integrated assessment and curriculum management system. They identify more than 300 essential skills that youth and adults need to be successful members of families, communities, and the workforce. Since 1980, these critical competencies for youth and adult learners have been developed and validated at state and national levels, based on field research and recommendations from education providers, learners, business and industry representatives, and community-based agencies. The CASAS National Consortium — representing approximately 30 states — annually reviews, updates as necessary, and validates the CASAS competencies. In 1984, CASAS was validated by the U.S. Department of Education, National Diffusion Network, as an exemplary program in the area of adult literacy and was approved for national dissemination. In 1993, the Program Effectiveness Panel (PEP), the primary mechanism of the U.S. Department of Education for evaluating the effectiveness of educational programs, upheld three claims related to three key elements of CASAS implementation. Specifically, learners within educational programs implementing CASAS (compared to learners in programs not adopting the CASAS key elements):

In addition, detailed evidence relating to the validation of identified CASAS competencies is documented from several national studies conducted in California, Iowa, Connecticut, Oregon, and Indiana and demonstrate strong, direct links between CASAS competencies and learner needs as identified by adult learners, teachers, and individuals from business and industry.

CASAS-trained instructors identify the basic skills that are embedded in each CASAS competency and teach those basic skills in contexts that are relevant and critical to the lives of their adult learners. Contexts include generic life, employability and workplace skills, as well as skills needed by individuals to function effectively in the community and as citizens. CASAS assessments measure the application of basic skills in the contexts previously discussed while they focus on reading, math, writing, as well as listening and speaking (for limited English proficient learners). These assessments measure the application of those basic skills in contexts that are familiar to adult learners. The comprehensive list of CASAS competencies, the instructional emphasis on teaching these competencies, and the alignment of assessments that measure mastery at the appropriate instructional level work together to create an integrated system for an effective adult basic skills learning continuum.

CASAS has developed seven assessment series—which include 180 standardized assessment instruments—customized to measure specific competencies. Adult education programs can use CASAS assessments to place learners into programs, diagnose learners’ instructional needs, monitor progress, and certify mastery of functional basic skills. These instruments can measure functional reading, math, listening, speaking and writing skills in everyday adult life and work contexts. CASAS has validated its assessment instruments with both native and non-native speakers of English.

CASAS assessments measure competencies in functional contexts. For example, in assessing competency 4.3.3 — Identify safe work procedures and common safety equipment — atest item might involve reading a memo on safe work practices for childcare workers, following steps for safely operating a gas furnace, or identifying safety equipment used in a machine shop. It is important to note that items measuring the same competency can be targeted to one or more instructional levels as illustrated below.

Figure 1 Sample CASAS Test Items at Three Levels

three items

CASAS test items can also be presented in a variety of task types:

Impetus for Developing Content Standards

As in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) of 2001, the impending reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) stresses the importance of states developing or adapting a content standards continuum to guide the teaching and learning process from adult basic education and English-as-a-second-language through high school completion and beyond. A Blueprint for Preparing America’s Future: The Adult Basic Literacy Education Act of 2003 (United States Department of Education, 2003) asserts that “Unlike in elementary and secondary education few states have systems of content standards and student assessments for adult basic and literacy education.” Limited human and fiscal resources have contributed significantly to this reality. State Boards of Education have been grappling with developing content standards for the K-12 system, a requirement under NCLBA, and have had little time to devote to overseeing the development of standards for adult learners as well. Since the late 80s, CASAS and California have been in the forefront in terms of developing content standards for adult learners. Draft standards have been developed in English-as-a-second language, adult basic education, and adult secondary education. The California draft standards served as a major source—along with additional standards from a variety of other sources—for this project. The California adult secondary content standards have been aligned to California K-12 standards to ensure that its adult learners mastered the same content requirements. These sets of standards are intended to serve as a content standards framework for the National CASAS Consortium member states. CASAS Consortium members may then adapt these standards to meet the unique requirements in their respective states.

The Importance of Standards-Based Education

The Blueprint defines content standards as clear benchmarks of what learners should know and be able to do at specific points as they move through the educational spectrum. Not only does the Blueprint prescribe the development of content standards for adults, but it also stresses that states should have assessments that are aligned to those content standards to provide “valid and reliable measures” of the degree to which learners have mastered the skills and knowledge of content standards. The alignment of adult education content standards and assessments is also important to ensure that adults are academically prepared for continuing into post-secondary education and training, as well as employment. The CASAS/GED Correlation Study (2003), a three-year multi-state effort, provided solid evidence that performance on CASAS assessments can be used to predict successful completion of the GED test.

Increasingly, states are issuing formal basic skill “statements of achievement” that document adult learner mastery at prescribed levels of achievement. These “statements of achievement” are especially useful to verify and acknowledge skill level gains for learners lacking a secondary school completion credential. Learners can use these “statements of achievement” as evidence—often for employers—of what skills they have mastered in adult education. Having a formalized hierarchy of content standards clearly strengthens and provides greater delineation as to what basic skills adult learners have mastered upon “statements of achievement” of an educational level.

It is vital that state content standards be aligned with the skills standards workers need to succeed and advance in their careers. State content standards should be developed in concert with national skills standards efforts such as the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC), a partnership of industry (employers, labor unions, employee and employer organizations) and educators and public interest groups who have developed skills standards that have been validated across all manufacturing sectors. CASAS has been actively involved with ensuring that its competencies are aligned with MSSC and other national standards efforts.

CASAS has a considerable history in standards development. In the late 80s and early 90s, the Adult High School Assessment Committee of the CASAS California Consortium developed Adult Secondary Level Standards and standardized assessment based on approved High School Standards for in-school youth. Adult secondary programs developed an alignment between adult high school completion program standards and high school standards for in-school youth. Content-specific tests were developed to ensure that adult learners were able to demonstrate learning comparable to that of in-school youth. These tests are now being aligned to meet current rigorous academic standards. In the early 1990s, the CASAS California Consortium participated in the development of the state Adult ESL standards. Additionally, CASAS has completed crosswalks between CASAS competencies and other national systems, including the SCANS and O’NET competencies and the National External Diploma Program (NEDP).

The CASAS Content Standards Project, while coordinated overall by CASAS staff, has relied on the invaluable services of the CASAS National Consortium Content Standards Technical Work Group (TWG). The TWG is comprised of three subgroups based on areas of expertise:

Each subgroup reviewed the relevant content standards lists, evaluated them for appropriateness and comprehensiveness in addition to other criteria. Each subgroup suggested additional content standards from a variety of sources for possible inclusion. CASAS is indebted to these individuals for their efforts on the CASAS National Consortium’s behalf.

The CASAS Basic Skills Content Standards Categories

Section II presents the content standards tables for the CASAS Reading Basics Skills Content Standards by Instructional Level.

Nine categories for Reading Content Standards include:
R1 Beginning Literacy/Phonics
R2 Vocabulary
R3 General Reading Comprehension
R4 Text in Format
R5 Reference Materials
R6 Reading Strategies
R7 Reading and Thinking Skills
R8 Academic-Oriented Skills
R9 Literary Analysis

Content standards for reading are provided in greater specificity under the relevant reading. This hierarchical system was developed to assist instructors to locate information more quickly. It should be noted that the CASAS content standards development in Part II are in different stages of completion: the Reading Content Standards are in final form. Math Content Standards have also been developed but are still in early draft form, so they have not been included. CASAS envisions that content standards will continue to evolve and be refined, so it is anticipated that minor changes will continue to be made in the future.

Relationship of CASAS Content Standards to the National Reporting System

The tables below show the relationship between the NRS levels for ESL and ABE/ASE, the CASAS Level Identifier (A – E), and the corresponding scale score ranges aligned to the level, and the CASAS Level Name.

Figure 2 NRS and CASAS Levels for ESL, ABE, and ASE

NRS Levels for ESL

CASAS Test Level

CASAS Scale Score Range

CASAS Level Names

1 - Beginning ESL Literacy


180 and below

Beginning Literacy/ Pre-Beginning ESL

2 - Low Beginning ESL


181 - 190

Low Beginning ESL

3 - High Beginning ESL


191 - 200

High Beginning ESL

4 - Low Intermediate ESL


201 - 210

Low Intermediate ESL

5 - High Intermediate ESL


211 - 220

High Intermediate ESL

6 - Low Advanced ESL


221 - 235

Advanced ESL



236 - 245

Adult Secondary



246 and above

Proficient Skills

NRS Levels for ABE/ASE

CASAS Test Level

CASAS Scale Score Range

CASAS Level Names

1 - Beginning ABE Literacy


200 and below

Beginning Literacy / Pre-Beginning

2 - Beginning Basic Education


201 - 210

Beginning Basic Skills

3 - Low Intermediate Basic Education


211 - 220

Intermediate Basic Skills

4 - High Intermediate Basic Education


221 - 235

Advanced Basic Skills

5 - Low Adult Secondary Education


236 - 245

Adult Secondary

6 - High Adult Secondary Education


246 and above

Advanced Adult Secondary

Using Content Standards

Why should instructors use content standards along with CASAS Competencies? Content standards identify the underlying basic skills associated with CASAS Competencies. Content standards support instructional planning that helps students master a specific competency and attain their goals. Content standards should also be in alignment with CASAS assessments as this is a cornerstone of standards based education. If assessment, content, and instruction are aligned the assumption is that student achievement will improve. A conceptual model for incorporating content standards into a CASAS systems approach is illustrated below:

Figure 3 CASAS – an Integrated Systems Approach to Assessment

three circles

The diagrams below have been designed to help classroom instructors understand the relationship between content standards and CASAS Competencies. They also provide a visual context to help conceptualize this relationship. These examples show some possible content standards that could be taught or assessed in relation to a specific competency.

Specifically, the first reading example below involves reading a rent ad. It relates to competency 1.4.2 - Select appropriate housing by interpreting classified ads, signs, and other information. The Reading Content Standard R4.11 is needed in order to interpret abbreviations.

The second reading example involves reading a flyer found in a building. This type of reading relates to Competency 1.4.7 - Interpret information about home maintenance and communicate housing problems to a landlord. The Reading Content Standard R7.2 is needed in order to scan for numerical information in simple signs and flyers.

Figure 4 Mapping an example of Reading to Content Standards and a Life Skills Competency

competency mapping

Figure 5 Mapping an example of Reading to Content Standards and a Life Skills Competency

competency mapping


CASAS basic skills content standards also provide guidance to assist states in aligning adult content standards with those of their K-12 counterparts. The tables in Part II, especially at the higher levels of functioning, identify those proficiencies that are essential for a successful transition from adult high school completion programs (GED, NEDP, and credit-based programs) to post-secondary education and training. Lastly, the content standards in this document provide a clear pathway to help ensure that entry-level workers have the essential skills to be successful in the workplace.

Content standards of the highest quality are not beneficial unless adult educators actually use them in the classroom. CASAS staff have developed a variety of teacher-friendly tools to assist instructors as they implement content standards. These tools may be found at Additionally, TOPSpro provides powerful classroom information for students and teachers to inform instruction. TOPSpro is a software system that tracks student assessment and learner results and provides tools to communicate program effectiveness to adult education and training programs. Recently, TOPSpro has incorporated content standards into its reporting capabilities to assist instructors to identify more easily the basic skills content standards that are assessed in CASAS test items.

For more information about CASAS content standards, contact Jim Harrison at or 1-800-255-1036.

Part II: CASAS Basic Skills Content Standards for Reading

Click on the links below to view tables designed for educators at national, state and local levels to inform the alignment of content standards, instruction and assessment. CASAS does not envision these content standards as a mandate for its users; rather they are intended to provide guidance to states and local adult education agencies that are using CASAS assessments and are considering adapting or adopting content standards.

CASAS Reading Basic Skills Content Standards by Instructional Level provides a key to explain the nine reading categories as well as the relationship to the NRS ESL and ABE/ASE Educational Functioning Levels. Each of the basic skills Reading Content Standards is listed under the appropriate reading category. Reading Content Standards are provided for ESL, ABE, and ASE at each CASAS and NRS instruction level.


casas logo

Reading Basic Skills Content Standards by Instructional Level

For more information about CASAS content standards, contact Jim Harrison at or 1-800-255-1036, or visit



Beginning literacy / Phonics




General reading comprehension


Text in format


Reference materials


Reading strategies


Reading and thinking skills


Academic-oriented skills


Literary analysis

Key to NRS Educational Functioning Levels



Beginning Literacy


Beginning Literacy


Beginning Low




Beginning High


Intermediate Low


Intermediate Low


Intermediate High


Intermediate High




Advanced Low


ASE High


Advanced High




Reading Content Standards




NRS Level ►














CASAS Level ►















Beginning literacy / Phonics















Identify the letters of the English alphabet (upper and lower case)












Recognize that letters make words and words make sentences













Read from left to right, top to bottom, front to back













Relate letters to sounds












Relate letters to a range of possible pronunciations, including recognizing common homonyms










Use common phonological patterns to sound out unfamiliar words (e.g., man/van)


























Interpret common symbols (e.g., restroom signs, traffic signs; #, „, #)










Read basic sight words (e.g., the, is)











Interpret common high-frequency words and phrases in everyday contexts (e.g., signs, ads, labels)









Use capitalization as a clue to interpret words (e.g., names, place names, other proper nouns)











Interpret contractions










Interpret basic abbreviations (e.g., Mr., apt., lb.)










Interpret abbreviations in specialized contexts (e.g., tsp., bnfts.)











Interpret meaning from word formations (e.g., verb endings, plurals, possessives, comparative forms)








Interpret common prefixes and suffixes to determine the meaning of words (e.g., un-happy, work-er)









Interpret less common prefixes and suffixes to determine the meaning of words (e.g., impossible, anti-war, employee)











Interpret familiar words used in a new context (e.g., enter a room, enter data on a computer)













Interpret specialized vocabulary in context (e.g., consumer, work, field of interest)










General reading comprehension















Interpret common punctuation and sentence-writing conventions (e.g., capitalized first word)











Read and understand simple sentences that contain familiar vocabulary










Read and understand simple texts on familiar topics (e.g., short narratives, basic consumer materials)











Read and understand moderately complex texts (e.g., general informational materials, common workplace materials)










Read and understand complex texts (e.g., newspaper and magazine articles, technical materials, literature)










Interpret simple written instructions










Interpret detailed instructions (e.g., workplace procedures, operating instructions, consumer materials)








Interpret basic sentence structure and grammar (e.g., statements, questions, negatives; adjectives modifying nouns)










Interpret complex sentence structure and grammar (e.g., relative clauses, perfect tenses)








Follow pronoun references within a text (e.g., Ms. Smith… she; This is important.)










Make connections between related information across different sections of a text








Use supporting illustrations to interpret text











Use contextual clues to determine the meaning of words and phrases (e.g., Save $10 on your next purchase.)










Interpret signal words as clues to the organization and content of a text (e.g., first… then; however; it’s important that…)




Interpret idioms and collocations from context









Interpret figurative meanings of words from context (e.g., flooded with calls)










Interpret the connotative meaning of a word (e.g., inexpensive vs. cheap)











Interpret analogies in familiar contexts










Interpret meaning of metaphors and similes in context












Text in format















Read numbers












Read clock times













Read dates











Read money amounts












Read simple handwriting










Interpret simple forms (e.g., appointment sign-in sheet, class registration)








Interpret complex forms (e.g., rental, insurance, pay statements)








Interpret information in charts and tables (e.g., bus schedules)










Interpret maps, diagrams, and graphs




Interpret written materials using formatting clues (e.g., headings, captions, bullets, print features such as bold)






Reference materials















Find a word or number in an alphabetical, numeric, or other ordered listing (e.g., telephone directory, list of part numbers)












Locate information using an index or table of contents (e.g., of a book, manual, computer application help feature)









Locate information organized in groups or categories (e.g., in a department directory, catalog, on a web page)







Use a picture dictionary












Use a simplified dictionary or glossary










Use a standard dictionary to distinguish between multiple meanings of a word








Use reference tools such as a print or online encyclopedia












Reading strategies















Predict the content of a text from title, pictures, type of material








Scan simple text (e.g., ads, schedules, forms, paragraphs) to find specific information








Scan complex or extended text (e.g., web pages, documents, narratives) to find specific information








Skim simple text for general meaning











Skim complex text for general meaning or to determine subject matter or organization








Use appropriate reading strategy (e.g., skimming, scanning, predicting, inferring) to understand content of unfamiliar material or specialized information






Increase reading fluency (accuracy, speed)





Reading and thinking skills















Identify the main idea of a simple paragraph













Identify the main idea of a multi-paragraph text






Identify supporting points or details for a statement, position or argument on a familiar topic










Determine the sequence of events in a simple narrative










Determine the sequence of events in a complex narrative








Paraphrase information








Summarize a text








Make inferences and draw conclusions from simple text









Make inferences and draw conclusions from complex text










Differentiate fact from opinion in a written text











Identify the writer, audience, and purpose of a text










Determine a writer’s point of view












Compare related information from various sources (e.g., consumer ads)




Verify and clarify facts in written information (e.g., advertising claims)










Academic-oriented skills















Critique the logic of functional documents by examining the sequence of information and procedures in anticipation of possible reader misunderstandings













Analyze both the features and the rhetorical devices of different types of public documents (e.g., policy statements, speeches, debates, platforms) and the way in which authors use those features and devices)














Critique the power, validity, and truthfulness of arguments set forth in public documents; their appeal to both friendly and hostile audiences; and the extent to which the arguments anticipate and address reader concerns and counterclaims (e.g., appeal to reason, to authority, to pathos and emotion)














Generate relevant questions about readings on issues that can be researched













Prepare a bibliography of reference materials for a report using a variety of consumer, workplace, and public documents













Extend ideas presented in primary or secondary sources through original analysis, evaluation, and elaboration













Make warranted and reasonable assertions about the author’s arguments by using elements of the text to defend and clarify interpretations














Evaluate the credibility of an author’s argument or defense of a claim by critiquing the relationship between generalizations and evidence, the comprehensiveness of evidence, and the way in which the author’s intent affects the structure and tone of the text (e.g., professional journals, editorials, political speeches, primary source materials) 













Analyze an author’s implicit and explicit philosophical assumptions and beliefs about a subject














Synthesize the content from several sources or works by a single author dealing with a single issue; paraphrase the ideas and connect them to other sources and related topics to demonstrate comprehension













Analyze the way in which clarity of meaning is affected by the patterns of organization, hierarchical structures, repetition of the main ideas, syntax, and the word choice in the text














Literary analysis















Identify the story elements such as setting, character, plot, and resolution














Draw from personal experiences in responding to a work of literature (i.e., the learner recognizes similarities between the experiences of fictional characters in non-complex events and his/her own experiences)














Identify uncomplicated themes in reading selections














Differentiate between factual and fictional elements














Identify story elements including setting, plot, character, conflict, and resolution increasingly more complex fiction














Identify the function of introductory and concluding paragraphs in an essay














Identify cause-and-effect relationships in literary texts














Identify the impact of language such as literary devices that are characteristic of an author’s work














Respond to a work of literature by explaining how the motives of the characters or the causes of events compare with those in his/her life














Identify the major theme in increasingly more complex stories














Use specifics from literary passages to support his/her ideas formed from reading literary text














Identify historical and cultural perspectives in reading selections (i.e., the impact of beliefs, attitudes, and values on a literary work)














Interpret a work of literature and relate the information to contemporary experiences














Identify more complex elements of plot, setting, character development, conflict, and resolution














Recognize universal themes in literature (e.g., tragic hero, man versus nature, triumph over adversity, coming of age)














Articulate the relationship between the expressed purposes and the characteristics of different forms of dramatic literature (e.g., comedy, tragedy, drama, dramatic monologue)














Compare and contrast the presentation of a similar theme or topic across genres to explain how the selection of genre shapes the theme or topic














Determine and articulate the relationship between the purposes and characteristics of different forms of poetry (ballad, lyric, couplet, epic, elegy, ode, sonnet)














Analyze interactions between main and subordinate characters in a literary text (e.g., internal and external conflicts, motivations) and explain the way those interactions affect the plot














Determine characters’ traits by what the characters convey about themselves in narration, dialogue, dramatic monologue, and soliloquy














Compare works that express a universal theme and provide evidence to support the ideas expressed in each work














Analyze and trace an author’s development of time and sequence, including the use of complex literary devices (e.g., foreshadowing, flashbacks)














Recognize and understand the significance of various literary devices (figurative language, imagery, allegory, symbolism) and explain their appeal














Interpret and evaluate the impact of ambiguities, subtleties, contradictions, ironies, and incongruities in a text














Explain how voice, persona, and the choice of a narrator affect characterization and the tone, plot, and credibility of a text














Explain how the tone and plot describe the function of dialogue, scene designs, soliloquies, asides, and character foils in dramatic literature














Evaluate the aesthetic qualities of style, including the impact of diction and figurative language on tone, mood, and theme, using the terminology of literary criticism (Aesthetic approach)














Analyze the way in which a work of literature is related to the themes and issues of its historical period (Historical approach)














Analyze a work of literature, showing how it reflects the heritage, traditions, attitudes, and beliefs of its author (Biographical approach)














Analyze characteristics of subgenres (e.g., satire, parody, allegory, pastoral) that are used in poetry, prose, plays, novels, short stories, essays, and other basic genres














Analyze the way in which the theme or meaning of a selection represents a view or comment on life, using textual evidence to support the claim














Analyze the ways in which irony, tone, mood, the author’s style, and the “sound” of language achieve specific rhetorical or aesthetic purposes or both














Analyze the ways in which poets use imagery, personification, figures of speech, and sounds to evoke readers’ emotions














Analyze recognized works of American literature representing a variety of genres and traditions














Analyze the way in which authors through the centuries have used archetypes drawn from myth and tradition in literature, film, political speeches, and religious writings














Analyze recognized works of world literature from a variety of authors














Evaluate the philosophical, political, religious, ethical, and social influences of the historical period that shaped the characters, plots, and settings of a literary work














Analyze the clarity and consistency of political assumptions in a selection of literary works or essays on a topic (e.g., suffrage, women’s role in organized labor (Political approach)














Analyze the philosophical arguments presented in literary works to determine whether the authors’ positions have contributed to the quality of each work and the credibility of the characters (Philosophical approach)