OVAE: Office of Vocational and Adult Education
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Research and Evaluation | Noteworthy Practices | Additional Links

Adult basic education students face a number of challenges related to their well-being. Their low literacy levels affect a range of economic, education, workplace, and health outcomes. Many of the high growth industry jobs indicate increasing educational demands. Data have shown that higher literacy rates are correlated with better wages. Today even entry-level jobs are demanding an ever increasing level of literacy skill. The role of adult basic education in strengthening reading skills is central to the U.S. Department of Education's vision for adult education.

While significant advances have been made in understanding the abilities young children must acquire to develop reading skills, a relatively small body of research is available on Adult Basic Education reading instruction. It has been frequently stated that learning to read may be more difficult after age nine; however, the factors that might explain this are not well understood.

Research and Evaluation

  • The National Research Council (NRC) Committee on Learning Sciences Study: Foundations and Applications to Adolescent and Adult Literacy is funded by the National Institute for Literacy. The National Institute for Literacy, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) recognized the importance of moving the adult basic education field toward evidence-based practice and commissioned a three year study of the scientific foundations of adolescent and adult literacy. A group of experts is currently synthesizing the behavioral and cognitive sciences, education, and neuroscience research on literacy to understand it applicability to adolescent and adult populations. This study will provide a broad understanding of the factors that affect typical and atypical literacy learning in adolescence and adulthood generally and with respect to the specific populations served by adult education. The study will also cover related issues such as motivation, retention, and prevention. The outcome of this study will be a report and companion document.

  • The Journal of Learning Disabilities Special Issue: Models of Reading Component Skills in Low Literate Adults focuses on the research that was funded jointly by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE). Specifically, the findings are discussed for four of the funded projects. These funded projects were part of the Adult Literacy Research Consortium that studied the effectiveness of adult literacy interventions for low-literate adults, including the role of decoding, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension instruction and explicitness of instruction—components that have been shown to be essential in teaching reading to younger students, but instructional methods for teaching them to adults have not been thoroughly investigated.

  • Reading Development is one program area of study at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The program supports research on the environmental, experiential, instructional, cognitive, linguistic, genetic, and neurobiological contributions to the developmental reading process. The programmatic goals include a focus on foundational science topics related to the acquisition and development of reading and related skills, including oral language and written language skills. The program also focuses on translational science and includes support for interventions to address diverse learners' needs across the lifespan from preschool into adulthood.

  • The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) presently has two requests out for applications (RFA's) that focus on adult education. The long-term outcome of RFA 84.305A, #16 - Adult Education, will be an array of tools and strategies (e.g., assessments, instructional approaches, programs) that have been documented to be effective for improving reading, writing, and mathematics. The second RFA related to adult basic education is the National Research and Development Center on Cognition and Adult Literacy which focuses on research, development, evaluation, and national leadership activities aimed at improving the education system, and ultimately, student achievement.

  • Writing to Read : Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading states that writing is one often-overlooked tool for improving students' reading, as well as their learning from text. Instruction in writing not only improves how well students write, but it also enhances students' ability to read a text accurately, fluently, and comprehensively. Three closely related instructional practices are identified as being effective in improving students reading: have students write about the texts they read, teach students the writing skills and processes that go into creating text, and increase how much students write.

  • The Role of Vocabulary Instruction in Adult Basic Education by Mary E. Curtis discusses research and theories on vocabulary, vocabulary acquisition, and reading comprehension. The chapter provides an understanding and rationale of why vocabulary instruction is important as well as how it is related to reading growth.

  • Research-Based Principles for Adult Basic Education Reading Instruction by John Kruidenier represents the work of the Reading Research Working Group, a panel of experts on reading research and practice convened to identify and evaluate existing research in adult literacy reading instruction and provides a summary of scientifically based principles and practices.

  • A Summary of Scientifically Based Research Principles: Teaching Adults to Read summarizes the emerging principles and trends in adult reading instruction identified in a report of the Reading Research Working Group: Research-Based Principles for Adult Basic Education Reading Instruction. This document provides evidence-based guidance for adult literacy instructors on the aspects of adult reading instruction.

  • Applying Research in Reading Instruction for Adults : First Steps for Teachers is an introduction to research-based principles of reading instruction for instructors in adult education and literacy classes. This publication is intended as a first resource for those with little knowledge of reading instruction and is written with the needs of teachers in mind, particularly those who want to improve their ability to provide reading instruction for adults in family literacy and other basic education programs. It provides ideas and examples of how to use research-based instructional approaches in the adult education classroom.

  • Reading Comprehension Strategies for Adult Literacy Outcomes by Mike Hock and Daryl Mellard suggests that educators need to provide adults with a toolbox of comprehension skills. The author's note that adults need to use self-regulatory behavior (choose a strategy to use, evaluate its effectiveness, and abandon and choose another strategy if necessary) and that this may need to be taught. Three common tests (CASAS Reading, GED, & the National Assessment of Educational Progress) are analyzed to determine the comprehension skills that adults need to pass them.

  • Reading Practices Among Adult Education Participants by Daryl Mellard, Margaret Becker Patterson, and Sara Prewett extends the literature on the relation between reading practices and individual characteristics of participants in adult education who have low literacy skills. Reading practices describe individuals' reading frequency for different types of written material, such as books, newspapers, magazines, technical materials, and work documents. Reading practices are highly related to reading proficiency.

  • The Use of Phonological, Orthographic, and Contextual Information During Reading: A Comparison of Adults Who Are Learning to Read and Skilled Adult Readers by Katherine Binder and Caren Borecki suggests that adults who were learning to read us phonological codes during word recognition, but they do so less efficiently than skilled readers.

  • The Effects of Morphological Instruction on Literacy Skills: A Systematic Review of the Literature by Peter N. Bowers, John R. Kirby, and S. Helene Deacon. The authors investigated the effects of morphological instruction (a) on reading, spelling, and vocabulary, and morphological skills, (b) for less able readers versus undifferentiated samples, (c) for younger versus older students, and (d) in combination with instruction of other literacy skills or in isolation. The results indicated that morphological instruction benefits learners. This instruction brings particular benefits for less able readers and is more effective when combined with other aspects of literacy.

  • Learning to Achieve: A Review of the Research Literature on Serving Adults with Learning Disabilities is a literature review that covers six topics: assessment, English language learners, accommodations, teaching methods, transition, and the impact of learning disabilities on adults. General implications for practice are provided as well as those specific to the domain of reading.

Noteworthy Practices

  • The STudent Achievement in Reading (STAR) Project is a partnership with states to translate and disseminate evidence-based reading practices through specialized in-depth technical assistance and training. Annual train-the-trainer institutes help States increase capacity for long-term systemic reform. Presently there are 19 states implementing STAR. There are several training packages available to states and these are described in detail on the website.

  • Assessment Strategies and Reading Profiles (ASRP) was funded by the National Institute for Literacy. ASRP provides research-based assessment strategies to improve reading instruction for Adult Basic Education (ABE) and Adult Secondary Education (ASE) learners. Suggestions for instruction in the various components of reading are discussed. The site includes a tool for calculating a student's reading profile and the suggested strategies to address the student's reading profile's areas of need.

Additional Links

  • The National Institute for Literacy's Basic Skills Resource Collection focuses on providing reading, writing, mathematics and numeracy resources to improve instruction in basic skills. The resources in the Basic Skills Collection assist include research articles, materials and curriculum based on research, and discussion lists that can be used to ask questions and share ideas.

  • The Reading and Writing Skills Discussion List provides an on-going professional development forum for practitioners, advocates, researchers, learners, policy makers, and all other persons who are interested in discussing matters related to reading and writing in the field of adult literacy. Sponsored by The National Institute for Literacy, this list promotes the sharing of information, research, expertise, and resources on topics such as motivation and reading/writing, diversity and reading/writing, component skills of reading/writing, reading/writing instruction, reading/writing strategies, reading/writing skills necessary for post secondary and workplace settings, and child/adult differences in reading/writing.

  • The 2008 United States Country Background Report to the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) discusses the literacy challenges that are facing the United States. It specifically reports on the teaching, learning, and assessment for adults.

  • "Case Study: United States," in Teaching, Learning and Assessment for Adults: Improving Foundation Skills, an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report describes how eight programmes providing adult basic education (ABE), adult secondary education (ASL), and English as a second language (ESL) have shaped their services to meet the local needs. Overviews of the adult basic education system, the national reporting system, and formative assessment are provided.

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Last Modified: 06/23/2010