Survey Design for TANF Caseload Project: Summary Report and Recommendations. Common Measures Used, Pros and Cons


Learning Disabilities. Many nationally representative surveys attempt to identify those with learning disabilities by directly asking whether they have such a disability. For example, the SPD asks whether respondents have any problems on a list of different types of learning problems. However, it is known that the vast majority of learning disabled adults have never been tested or diagnosed and thus do not know whether they have a learning disability. A lengthy assessment, usually conducted by a specialist or licensed psychologist, is required to definitively diagnose learning disabilities. Such an assessment is not within the scope of the telephone survey we are planning.

That said, the Washington State Learning Needs Screening Tool, a brief and easily administered screening instrument, was recently developed and tested to identify the likelihood that an adult may have learning disabilities and require further assessment. The screening tool has been administered to recipients in welfare offices in Minnesota, Utah, and Washington. Emerging results suggest that the measure is reasonably predictive, valid, and reliable when compared to actual assessments. The Nebraska survey and Wave IV of the WES are also fielding the screener in their work with TANF clients.

Limited English Proficiency and Literacy. English proficiency has been measured in numerous surveys by first identifying those respondents whose native language is other than English, then inquiring about their comfort level with reading, writing, or speaking English. In contrast, we found few instruments that measure illiteracy directly. One exception is the third wave of the WES, which includes the Wide Range Achievement Test III (WRAT-III). The WRAT-III requires the respondent to read a list of words while the interviewer scores whether the word was read correctly. Obviously, this measure would not be feasible in a telephone survey without pre-mailing materials, which would add time and expense. An alternative that might serve as a proxy for identifying individuals who are illiterate would be to ask respondents who are native English speakers and not learning disabled about the degree and comfort with which they read to themselves, go to the library, or subscribe to newspapers or magazines. The later questions have been administered in several welfare studies as part of a measure originally designed to get at the extent of cognitive stimulation available in the home environment; but these questions have not yet been used as an indicator of literacy in adults.

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