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* Standardized Assessment Information Literacy Skills (SAILS). Project SAILS and Kent State University, Kent, Ohio, 2005. A joint project with Association of Research Libraries, with support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Project SAILS Description


Project SAILS (Standardized Assessment of Information Literacy Skills), undertaken at Kent State University, has developed an instrument, based on the ACRL Information Literacy Competencies for Higher Education, to measure information literacy (“the ability to recognize when information is needed and the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information”).

Over 40 institutions of all types, nationwide, have participated in Project SAILS and have provided baseline data. From September – November, 2004, freshmen enrolled in UNI/HON 101 at Marshall University participated in Phase III of Project SAILS.

UNI/HON 101 instructors were invited to participate. A total of 233 useable responses were gathered, which represents about 10% of the total UNI/HON population.

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Test Items

Each student received a test that consisted of 35 (out of 155) randomly generated multiple-choice questions. Test items were designed to measure mastery of four of the five ACRL Standards:

  1. The information literate student determines the nature and extent of the information needed.
  2. The information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently.
  3. The information literate student evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system.
  4. The information literate student understands many of the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and accesses and used information ethically and legally.

Standard #4 (The information literate student, individually or as a member of a group, uses information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose) was not included because of the difficulty of measuring this standard through multiple choice questions.

In addition to a subscale by Standard, results are reported by skill sets that relate to the Standards. These skill sets were created by the Kent State developers and they include:

  • Skill Set 1: Developing a Research Strategy
  • Skill Set 2: Scholarly Communication/Structure of Disciplines
  • Skill Set 3: Identifying and Distinguishing Among Types of Sources
  • Skill Set 4: Selecting Finding Tools
  • Skill Set 5: Selecting Search Terms
  • Skill Set 6: Constructing the Search
  • Skill Set 7: Understanding Information Retrieval Systems
  • Skill Set 8: Evaluating and Revising Search Results
  • Skill Set 9: Retrieving Sources
  • Skill Set 10: Evaluating and Selecting Sources
  • Skill Set 11: Documenting Sources
  • Skill Set 12: Economic, Legal, and Social Issues

The test spans four standards and eleven of the 12 skill sets (Skill Set 8 does not yet have sufficient test items to be included.)

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Overall, Marshall University freshmen performed on all standards and skill sets at about the same level (.5) as freshmen at all other institutions (combined). These results reflect that, on an average, incoming freshmen at Marshall University and at other colleges and universities enter the institution with an information literacy score of 50%.

Student Performance by Standard

On all four of the Standards, Marshall University students performed at the average level for all institutions:



Student Performance by Skill Set

On the Skill Sets, when compared to other freshmen, Marshall University freshmen performed at the average for Skill Set 6; slightly above average for Skill Sets 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 12; and slightly below for Skill Sets 3 and 10.


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Scores demonstrate that incoming freshmen nationwide arrive at their institutions with information literacy skills below a mastery level. While they may not be expected to have mastered information literacy yet, the low performance level (average around .5) is surprising. For a generation that is computer savvy, they appear to be deficient in the skills required to locate and evaluate good information. Recent articles have underscored this very point (see, for example, “Teaching Students to Swim in the Online Sea” by Geoffrey Nunberg, The New York Times, February 13, 2005.) For Marshall University to graduate information literate students, information literacy goals need to be prominent in program and course goals throughout the curriculum.

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