There are a number of reasons why you should choose ACER’s CSPA to use for the assessment of your adult learners’ core skills performance:

  • ACER has international and national expertise in developing quality assured assessment instruments, particularly for literacy and numeracy.
  • The item development and test construction for CSPA follows ACER’s strict QA processes and leads to well constructed items and assessments.
  • The assessment items are written by a team of writers – not individuals – and the team uses professional judgement and moderation to map the items
  • The items are trialled with adult learners to enable the items to be analysed psychometrically for their performance and scaled in item difficulty order.
  • The ACER mapping and reporting against the ACSF uniquely uses a combination of both statistical, empirical data and professional judgement to set the levels of the individual items/questions and to establish the boundaries (cut-off points) between each of the five levels of the ACSF.
  • The assessment of the LLN core skills of reading, writing and numeracy are valid, reliable and fair.  They have been developed explicitly for reporting against the national adult LLN standards, the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF).
  • The CSPA includes an optional online assessment of writing – whereby responses are automatically marked using the latest Intellimetric® essay scoring technology.
  • ACER has personnel with the skills, knowledge and experience to support an RTO’s needs in the use of the CSPA,  and to assist in implementing an LLN strategy across the organisation.
  • The assessment is easy to use with simple, clear reports.
  • The assessment provides data to inform a student’s learning plan.

FAQs about Foundation and Core Skills and their assessment

Why are literacy and numeracy skills critical?

Extensive research based on international surveys like PIAAC, alongside other research, demonstrates that, for the vast majority of people, low levels of literacy and numeracy have a negative impact on their educational, social and economic future. This has now been documented in Australia in a wide range of reports including:

  • No more excuses: an industry response to the language, literacy and numeracy challenge by the Industry Skills Councils
  • Skilled for life? Key Findings from the Survey of Adult Skills by the OECD
  • The National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults by SCOTESE
  • Literacy and Numeracy Skills and Labour Market Outcomes in Australia by the Productivity Commission.

What are some of the key issues about assessing foundation skills?

Literacy and numeracy in the 21st century

In the 21st century the demand for, and sophistication of, literacy and numeracy skills have increased. Literacy and numeracy are no longer just the three R’s, but are sets of complex skills across reading, writing, speaking, listening and numeracy skills, and go from low level through to high level skills. The Australian LLN standard, the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF), represents this complexity across five core skills and across five wide levels of performance, and the ACSF now includes a sixth, lower, pre-level 1. Many Qualifications and Training Package units will require a minimum of ACSF level 3 across a number of core skills, and many units will require ACSF levels 4 or even 5, so assessing across the breadth of the ACSF is important in relation to pre-training assessments.

Why can’t we use a quick and short LLN assessment tool?

Some existing LLN assessments and related tools that are in use are very short and would appear to be very attractive. However, from an assessment perspective they are not reliable, valid and therefore not fair. Why? In writing for example, the ACSF has two indicators with five focus areas in each described across the five levels – a total of 50 potentially different aspects of writing to be assessed. Similarly numeracy with its three indicators and different focus areas also has 50 potentially different aspects to be assessed. It is therefore not possible, for example, to validly assess an LLN skill against the ACSF with five short, simple online questions. Psychometricians would argue that to distinguish accurately and reliably between the border between two adjacent ACSF levels would require 20 or more questions alone across those two levels. From a compliance and valid and reliable assessment perspective it is important to therefore guarantee that any LLN assessment tool has been written and validated against the breadth and depth of the ACSF.

Generic or context-based LLN assessment?

For a pre-training assessment we believe generic assessments are more appropriate, fairer and more valid, as the learner has not yet been introduced nor taught the discourse and specific contexts and content of the course. This can, we believe, make the assessment more difficult and not give a fair assessment of the learner’s LLN skills and abilities and potential to succeed in the course. A context based LLN assessment would be more appropriate for ongoing assessments or a post-assessment, but not a pre-assessment.

Online versus paper-based assessments

For those skills where online assessment is available, online assessments have a number of advantages. From a management perspective, online assessments are efficient and cost-effective compared to using local paper-based assessments. Whilst it may seem effective, the time taken to mark the assessments (and check for consistency of marking and reliability), compile the results against the ACSF and record and input the results into student management systems takes much staff time. Access to validated and reliable online assessments that are automatically scored and results made available immediately is very time and cost effective. Computer based assessments are also more engaging and more appropriate in the 21st century.

The Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF)

Determining the ACSF levels required in training and in Training Packages

Under the streamlining of Training Packages it is now mandated that each unit must identify the relevant language, literacy and numeracy skills required. The ISCs are responsible for mapping each Training Package unit against the relevant LLN skills using the ACSF and its levels. This is not an easy or short task and requires ACSF experts to thoroughly review not only the descriptions such as the Elements and Performance Criteria in the units, but to also know and review what the content and the LLN requirements in associated documents used in the industry and in training and assessment materials. The ISCs have been working towards achieving this task over the last few years. This will provide RTOs with the necessary information to identify and map ACSF levels against qualifications.

What is the relationship between the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF) levels and Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) levels?

It is a common misunderstanding that ACSF levels equal or match AQF levels. For example, that a Certificate II level qualification needs ACSF level 2 literacy and numeracy skills. This is not the case. The ACSF states (our emphasis):

'The levels of the AQF do not match up directly with the performance levels of the ACSF. This is because of the way that units of competency and qualifications have been written. Effective performance in different industries requires different core skills and core skill requirements will also vary in different contexts.

'As the core skill requirements of AQF qualifications reflect the requirements of the occupational and academic contexts to which they relate, it follows that two qualifications at the same AQF level can have different core skill requirements. For example, qualifications in building and plumbing overall have higher Numeracy requirements than qualifications at the same AQF level in the areas of floristry or entertainment.

Other specific examples include:

  • the Numeracy level required to complete several units from the Certificate III in Electrotechnology – Electrician equates to ACSF level 5; however, the requirements in the other core skills are lower
  • the Reading knowledge required to complete several units in a Certificate IV in Business – Frontline Management equates to ACSF level 3
  • the Oral Communication skills required to complete units in a Certificate III in Aged Care equate to ACSF level 3.'

(Australian Core Skills Framework, page 16)


Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (cat. no. 4228.0), Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra

Industry Skills Councils (Australia) 2011, No more excuses: an industry response to the language, literacy and numeracy challenge, Industry Skills Councils, Australia

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 2013a, Skilled for life? Key Findings from the Survey of Adult Skills, OECD, Paris

Shomos, A. and Forbes, M. (2014) Literacy and Numeracy Skills and Labour Market Outcomes in Australia, Productivity Commission Staff Working Paper, Canberra.

Standing Council on Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment (SCOTESE), 2012, National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults, SCOTESE, Canberra

How can the Core Skills Profile for Adults help my organisation?

The CSPA is a flexible assessment with wide applicability for use across training organisations and in employment and government settings.

For small, medium and large training organisations, the assessment delivers

  • high quality data on an individual's Literacy and Numeracy capacity and suitability for training or employment, fully aligned to the leading national standard (ACSF)
  • evidence that can be used to provide additional support, improve individual learning and as a consequence, increase course completion rates
  • clear information on how to build and tailor programs to attract, engage and retain students, apprentices and trainees, empowering them to complete their courses
  • information to help evaluation and management of learning resources and support; in terms of teacher readiness to close skill gaps, time required and teaching resources
  • results that facilitate decision making on additional courses to include in their portfolio to address gaps in LLN
  • data and benchmarks of required/existent levels of Core Skills for cohorts pursuing further studies
  • the ability to distinguish programs and promote LLN support services on offer to students

For business and industry, the assessment

  • identifies gaps in Core Skills and the capacity to screen potential employees to offer individual support and upskilling
  • increases the employability of staff and organisational competitiveness 
  • provides results that help to judge the future supply, oversupply and skills shortages for workforce development planning

At the national level, the CSPA offers

  • the potential for standardisation of instruments used at state and national levels
  • the ability to better address the LLN skills required to drive productivity and support growth in the national economy