BEST Literacy

BEST Literacy

Narrative Summary: 

BEST Literacy, is a competency-based assessment that measures functional literacy skills (reading and writing) of adult English language learners who are 16 years and older and are enrolled in an educational program within the United States. It has three parallel forms that measure survival-level skills and work-related language commonly used in the United States.

Intended Population: 

It was designed for English language learners who are 16 years or older and who are enrolled in an educational program in the United States.


BEST Literacy can be used as a placement, diagnostic, progress, and proficiency assessment. The test can also be used to for program evaluation and accountability.

Skills Measured-Test Content: 

Reading skills including reading dates on a calendar, labels on food and clothing, bulletin announcements, and newspaper want ads. Writing tasks including addressing an envelope, writing a rent check, filling out a personal background form, and writing a personal note.

Range of Skill Levels: 

National Reporting System (NRS) Educational Functioning Levels Beginning ESL Literacy up to Advanced* Student Performance Levels (SPL) 0 up to 8*
*If an examinee pretests into NRS Advanced or SPL 8, a different ESL assessment that measures higher reading and writing skills more accurately at these levels should be used to measure the examinee’s language ability and provide an exit score.

Number of Items per Test: 

68 items

Types of Items: 

The of item types per form include:

  • 49 reading items
  • 17 short-answer writing items
  • 2 note writing items
Development of Items: 

All BEST Literacy test items and graphics were developed and normed on adult English language learners in the United States. More information on the development of the test items can be found in the BEST Literacy Technical Report (2008) http://calstore...

Size of Item Bank: 

153 total possible items across all three forms include:

  • 113 possible reading items
  • 34 possible short-answer writing items
  • 6 possible note writing

No separately administered subtests

Alternate Test Forms: 

BEST Literacy has three parallel forms (B, C, and D) for pre- and posttesting purposes.

Required / Recommended Administrator Training: 

CAL, as the test publisher, does not require training or certification in order to administer BEST Literacy. However some BEST Literacy users, such as states and programs, have internal training requirements. This is clearly stated in section 1, page 3, of the BEST Literacy Test Manual. CAL does state that it is important for test administrators to be thoroughly familiar with BEST Literacy and the manual before administering the test in order to guarantee fairness to all examinees and ensure reliable scores. Similarly, volunteers, substitutes, or student teachers should be equally familiar with the administration procedures. (BEST Literacy Test Manual, section 2, page 7) CAL also suggests that BEST Literacy users conduct local calibration activities for scoring the writing section (Part 11) of BEST Literacy. Detailed information can be found in section 3, page 14, of the BEST Literacy Test Manual.

Test Administration Procedures: 

The test administrator’s preparation includes:

  • Setting up the room for the test
  • Gathering writing utensils and erasers
  • Having one test booklet for each examinee
  • Maintaining a positive environment
  • Allowing time before the test begins for examinees to use the restroom
  • Managing unexpected circumstances (e.g. illness)

There should be one test administrator for every 30 examinees.

To begin administering the test, the test administrator should:

  • Provide instructions in English
  • Distribute test booklets face down
  • Begin administration of test and monitor examinees
  • Post remaining time on the board (up to 1 hour)
  • Respond to requests for assistance by pointing to relevant directions or examples

The examinees write their responses in the consumable test booklet.

Upon completion of the test, the test administrator should:

  • Collect examinee test booklets and verify identity of each examinee
  • Write the examinee’s information on the cover of the booklet
  • Secure all test materials
  • Report any unusual circumstances
  • Give test booklets to scorers

Detailed instructions can be found on pages 8 through 12 of the BEST Literacy Test Manual (June 2008).

Scoring - How: 

Different scores are awarded depend on the test item. For the reading tasks, a score 1 is awarded if the correct response is circled or otherwise indicated. A score of 0 is awarded if the response is incorrect, non-existent, or more than one response is indicated. For the short-answer writing tasks, 1 is awarded if the response is legible and understandable. A score of 0 is awarded if the response is nonexistent, illegible, or is not understandable in context. The exception is Part 6-Envelope, on which a score of 2 is awarded based on whether the response is accurate and comprehensible – that is whether the post office would be able to deliver or return the letter on the basis of the information given. A score of 0 is awarded on Part 6 if the addresses are incomplete, incomprehensible, or no response is given. For the note writing tasks, a rubric is used to score the response on a scale of 0, 1, 3, and 5 based on comprehensibility, fulfillment of task requirements, elaboration, and amount of writing. More information on scoring, include examples and benchmarks note writing samples, can be found on pages 13 through 37 of the BEST Literacy Test Manual (June 2008).

Scoring - Type: 

Ratings of responses

Scoring - Who: 

BEST Literacy can be scored by test scorers who may or may not be a test administrator using the scoring sheets included with each test booklet. Where possible, it is recommended that test administrators not serve as scorer when they are administering the test to their own students. Scorers may be influenced by their familiarity with the students and expectations of their language potential. All test scorers must read and review the BEST Literacy Test Manual (June 2008) before scoring any examinee’s responses.

Scoring - How Long: 

Approximately 5 minutes per test booklet

Reporting Procedures: 

Upon completion of scoring, the test scorer converts the raw scores from the scoring sheet to scale scores using the conversion tables BEST Literacy Test Manual (June 2008). The NRS score tables can also be found in Appendix B (page 53) of the Test Manual.

Time Needed for Assessment: 

Examinees are to be given up to 1 hour to complete the test.

Publisher / Company / Source: 

Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL)

Versions & Publication Dates: 

BEST Literacy Test Booklets & Scoring Sheets (B, C, D) - 2006 BEST Literacy Test Manual - June 2008 BEST Literacy Technical Report - 2008


$45 per packet of 20 test booklets & scoring sheets. Test booklets and score sheets are consumable. $25 per Test Manual

Additional Comments: 

BEST Literacy products can be ordered at any time by credit card online at Those paying by Purchase Order must fax a signed copy of the PO to CAL at 888-700-3629 before the order can be fulfilled. Sample copies can be obtained by contacting CAL at 866-845-2378, option 1, or by e-mail at