Mustard Seed Training

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Pros and Cons of the TABE Test

I recently received an email from a colleague recently and thought others might also like a review of the TABE test:

I am the Literacy Coordinator for the Boone County Learning Network Literacy Initiative in Lebanon, Indiana. We are starting a new one-on-one tutoring program for adults in our county to help improve their reading or English speaking skills. Right now we are currently in the developmental stage, so one “to do” is to adopt an assessment to give our students when determining their reading level. I came across your website for Farrell Ink and I noticed that you provide trainings on the TABE assessment. I know very little about the TABE, but I would like to know your take on the assessment and the pros and cons of it. I would really appreciate your help.


Jennifer Napariu


Thanks for your email! As far as I know, TABE 9/10 is the most widely used assessment for ABE/GED programs, and is also pretty common to determine eligibility for workforce training programs. I know in our our area, ESOL programs usually prefer BEST tests, however I’ve never personally administered the test so I can’t tell you much about it. Looking at the website, I just realized that TABE also offers an assessment for ESOL. The ESOL students I work with usually are proficient enough in English to take the TABE.

Here’s a quick overview of TABE: It has two lengths, Survey (short) and Battery (long). Researchers prefer the Battery because it has greater statistical validity, but for practical student assessment purposes, I prefer the Survey because on the first day they are nervous and get tired quickly. There are five levels of the tests: L means Literacy (orally administered for non-readers), E for Easy, M for Medium, D for Difficult, and A for Advanced. Each level has two versions, Form 9 or Form 10, so that you can pre and post test students with the same level test. There is a short Locator test which can tell you which level of the test to administer, though some programs only give one level (for example, if a job training program is only taking those who test at grade 8 and above, then they will only administer level D). The core of the TABE test are three parts: Reading, Math Computation (equations), and Applied Math (word problems). There are some optional Language tests that assess grammar, spelling, etc., but the programs I work with only give Reading and Math in the Student Orientation.

I like the TABE because you can test a lot of students at multiple levels at the same time (except level L) and it is correlated to NRS Standards so that the test administrator can know which materials to assign a student at the end of a couple hours. The other two NRS correlated tests that I know of are BEST and CASAS, both of which I am not familiar with, but they can also be used by state-funded programs. There are other non-NRS correlated tests, like the WRAT (Wide Range of Achievement Tests) which are orally administered and often tutors who are going to work exclusively with one student like to administer that test so they know exactly what the student knows and does not know. The caveat is that the WRAT tests reading fluency and math computation, not comprehension or word problems, so the results are often dramatically different than the TABE. The TABE is the opposite: it basically only gauges comprehension and analysis in Reading and Math. Granted, this is the same issue I have with the GED, but the programs I work with are usually focused on preparing students for that test, so the TABE works well as a predictor of success on the GED. Still, I don’t think any of these tests are predictors of success in life. I would prefer assessments that test for multiple intelligences, that ask divergent questions like “List the possible uses for a blanket” that require the problem solving skills our society and workforce actually require. Unfortunately, I have not seen a standardized assessment yet which is divurgent (elicits answers) instead of convergent (selecting answers), although I think the winds of change are blowing in that field.

One response to “Pros and Cons of the TABE Test”

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Mustard Seed Training is a team of faith-based artisan creating materials for praying with children. Our ministry is to share the love of God and neighbor.

Our group was founded in 2017 by CGS catechist and woodworker Meagen Farrell. Meagen is also an author, trainer, and PhD student in the fields of adult basic education and educational technology (that’s the “Training” part!).

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