In 2000, the National Institute for Literacy (NIFL) and the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education formed an Adult Literacy Reading Research Working Group. In November of that year, they held a meeting to discuss the state of the science of adult literacy and to develop suggestions for future research. The working group emphasized the centrality of reading and writing to Adult Basic Education and indicated that research was needed that would focus on the complex, integrated process of reading. Research needs were outlined in both adult literacy and family literacy activities with low-literacy parents. As a foundation for further discussion, a synthesis of extant literature on adult literacy was commissioned, using criteria similar to that used by the National Reading Panel. There was so little experimental research reported in the literature that meta-analyses were impossible. However, a review of the available literature was produced. See Research-Based Principles for Adult Basic Education Reading Instruction. PDF (703 KB) It clearly highlights the need for additional research on this important topic.
In August 2001, The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), National Institute for Literacy (NIFL), and the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) convened a panel which included representatives from other offices of the Department of Education along with expert researchers and practitioners to discuss research needs and future directions in adult and family literacy. There was consensus in the panel that much additional research is needed on both adult and family literacy. Both the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey, conducted under the auspices of the National Center for Educational Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education, and the International Adult Literacy Survey provide interesting information about the demographics of adult literacy in the U.S. and clearly indicate the need for and importance of adult literacy instruction. However, there is little research that directly addresses instructional or program effectiveness in this area.
While there is a large body of rigorous research on effective instructional methods for early reading by schoolchildren and on the theoretical underpinnings of reading difficulties in the school years, there has been far less scientific study of literacy interventions with adult learners. Specifically, the group called for a program of systematic, programmatic, and multidisciplinary research to determine the most effective instructional methods and program organizational approaches for both adult and family literacy programs. There is a need to increase understanding of the specific cognitive, sociocultural and instructional factors, as well as the complex interactions among these factors, that promote or impede the acquisition of English reading and writing abilities within adult and family literacy programs and activities. There is also a clear need for these fields to increase the methodological rigor of research studies, building on existing information where that information can be substantiated and provides a solid, credible foundation. It was clear that research studies are needed that will contribute scientific data that bear directly on a number of public policy issues and instructional practices directly related to programs in adult literacy and family literacy.
To meet this need, the NICHD, NIFL, and U.S. Department of Education published a research solicitation. The solicitation invited applicants to develop new knowledge on adult literacy learning and new knowledge relevant to the critical factors that influence the instruction and development of literacy (reading and writing) competencies in adults and young children (birth through kindergarten entrance) through adult and family literacy program activities. The research solicitation also invited applicants to identify or design and test the most effective program structures and models of service delivery. Specifically, the co-sponsoring agencies sought research to increase understanding of the specific cognitive, sociocultural, and instructional factors, as well as the complex interactions among these factors, that promote or impede the acquisition of English reading and writing abilities within adult and family literacy programs and activities.
On October 26, 2001, that solicitation was published. The NICHD, NIFL, and OVAE committed a total of $18.5 million over the five-year period from 2002-2006 ($3.7 million per year) to support this research. Between the publication of the call for research applications and May 15, 2002, when applications were received at the NIH, the cosponsors of this solicitation held three regional Technical Assistance workshops in Washington, DC, San Diego, CA, and Houston, TX to help researchers prepare to apply.