IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Recent Report Identifies Possible Categories of Adult Struggling Readers (and How to Help Them)

Nearly one in five U.S. adults aged 16 and over may struggle with basic literacy. These adults may struggle with any of the core components of reading, such as decoding, vocabulary, and comprehension. They may struggle for many different reasons—English is not their first language, possible cognitive declines from aging, or a lack of formal education. To identify the right instructional tools and curricula, we need to understand the varying needs of this heterogeneous group of adult struggling readers and design appropriate solutions.

In a recent report, IES-funded researchers conducted a latent class analysis of 542 adults (age 16- to 71-years old) enrolled in adult education programs whose reading scores indicate a reading level between the 3rd- and 8th-grade level. The analysis identified four possible subgroup categories of adult struggling readers based on their performance on lower-level competencies (phonological awareness, decoding, vocabulary) and higher-level competencies (comprehension, inferencing, background knowledge):

 

  • Globally Impaired Readers: adults who show difficulties in all competencies
  • Globally Better Readers: adults who are relatively strong in all competencies
  • Weak Decoders: readers who are relatively weaker in lower-level competencies but strong in higher-level competencies
  • Weak Language Comprehenders: readers who are strong in lower-level competencies but relatively weaker in higher-level competencies

 

On average, Weak Decoders were older than other categories, though Globally Impaired Readers were on average older than Globally Better Readers or Weak Language Comprehenders. Globally Better Readers and Weak Decoders included a larger proportion of native English speakers than the other two categories. Thus, both age and English proficiency may predict the pattern of strengths and weaknesses. However, having a high school diploma did not predict performance patterns.

Although Globally Better Readers tended to perform better on reading assessment than other categories, even this group of readers performed at the 6th-grade level on average. Thus, all groups of readers would benefit from additional instruction. The researchers suggest different approaches for addressing the needs of learners in the different categories. For example, Weak Language Comprehenders may benefit from technology-based solutions that help build their oral language competencies, whereas Globally Impaired Readers and Weak Decoders may benefit from direct instruction on decoding skills.

 


This research was conducted as part of the Center for the Study of Adult Literacy (CSAL): Developing Instructional Approaches Suited to the Cognitive and Motivational Needs for Struggling Adults funded in 2012 through NCER.

The abstract for the publication discussed above is available on ERIC; Identifying Profiles of Struggling Adult Readers: Relative Strengths and Weaknesses in Lower-Level and Higher-Level Competencies (Talwar, Amani; Greenberg, Daphne; Li, Hongli).

Dr. Meredith Larson, program officer for postsecondary and adult education, wrote this blog. Contact her at Meredith.Larson@ed.gov for additional information about CSAL and adult education research.

Research on Adult Literacy: A History of Investment in American Adults

Reading is fundamental, but it is also difficult to master, taking thousands of hours of instruction and practice. Roughly 52 percent of U.S. adults over the age of 16 may struggle with everyday literacy tasks. Of these adults, approximately 20 percent may perform at very low levels of literacy. For adults who are still mastering of this skill, the task can seem overwhelming.

Luckily, IES-funded researchers have been working towards solutions for adults with low basic reading skills and are creating and refining assessments, curricula, and software. These innovations aim to help adult learners, the instructors and tutors who work with them, and the programs that support them.

As part of our commemoration of National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week (September 20-26, 2020), we would like to recognize the history of adult literacy research at IES and its National Center for Education Research.  

Since 2004, IES-funded researchers have been developing assessments to help identify the needs of adults struggling with literacy and working on solutions to build adult literacy skills. This work fed into the measurement component of IES’s Reading for Understanding Initiative in 2010 and later returned back to addressing adult basic literacy measurement in 2016.

In 2012, IES funded the Center for the Study of Adult Literacy (CSAL), which developed a curriculum and technology for adults reading between the 3rd- and 8th-grade levels. CSAL demonstrates how adult literacy research benefits by integrating research conducted with students with disabilities and those in K-12 and postsecondary settings. In fact, the researchers pulled upon findings from eight prior IES grants funded by NCER and NCSER.

Our researchers are also developing a clearer picture of the adults who fall into the broad category of those with low literacy. They are leveraging the PIAAC data set to conduct exploratory work that informs both our understanding of those at the very low ends of literacy and also of whether basic skills may predict success in postsecondary career and technical education programs.

In 2020, IES funded additional development research to help refine an interactive, online reading comprehension program, AutoTutor for Adult Reading Comprehension (AT-ARC). Another project will recruit and train postdoctoral fellows to cultivate the next generation of researchers who can continue to build a research base for improving adult literacy outcomes.

Although IES researchers are making great strides to build knowledge, the field needs more information, and adult learners deserve tools and innovations developed for their specific needs and goals. IES hopes to continue to support such work.

 


To learn more about IES-wide efforts to understand and improve adult learners’ outcomes, visit the Adult Basic Skills topic page. Contact Dr. Meredith Larson for more information about the research supported by NCER.

 

Building Knowledge About Adult Education

 

Adult education programs aim to support the millions of American adults who wish to strengthen their basic skills, earn a high school degree or equivalent, or become U.S. citizens. During the National Adult Education Family and Literacy Week (September 20-26, 2020), IES is highlighting the ongoing research it supports to help expand our knowledge of and innovations for the adult education system and the communities they support.

Roughly 30 million U.S. adults may lack a high school degree or equivalent. And according to an assessment conducted in 2017, approximately 30 percent of adults may have very low numeracy skills, and approximately 20 percent may have very low literacy skills. Adults with low levels of academic attainment or low basic skills may face barriers to full economic or civic engagement.

Adult education programs aim to help such adults. These programs often run on lean budgets and need to meet the needs of a highly diverse population with a multitude of learning goals.

In order to help understand and improve the ability of the adult education system to provide services, IES researchers have been conducting various research projects in partnership with adult education providers.

For example, Career Pathways Programming for Lower-Skilled Adults and Immigrants conducted mixed-methods research in partnership with Chicago, Houston, and Miami. This work helped each city understand what types of career pathways adult education programs were offering and who was participating in such programing. This type of information helps programs, cities, and the system more broadly understand and adjust to the needs of learners and communities.

The New York State Literacy Zone Researcher-Practitioner Partnership focused on improving the ability of case managers to help adult learners leverage wrap-around services and access and succeed in adult education and training programs. This project helped develop tools and training for case managers and conduct an exploratory pilot study of these tools to see if they predicted learner outcomes, such as persistence in a program.

The Georgia Partnership for Adult Education and Research (GPAER) is a collaboration among researchers at Georgia State University and leadership at the Georgia Office of Adult Education: Technical College System of Georgia to help understand adult literacy programs across the state. This ongoing work is conducting mixed-methods studies to understand program features, learner characteristics, and indicators of beneficial learner outcomes.

There is still much to learn to help improve the ability of programs to find and support adult learners. IES encourages additional research to further help us understand the landscape of adult education, the needs and interests of adult learners and their instructors, and the outcomes and impacts of improving adult basic skills.


For more information about adult education research at the National Center of Education Research, contact Dr. Meredith Larson.

 

 

Cost Analysis in Practice (CAP) Project Provides Guidance and Assistance

In 2020, as part of a wider IES investment in resources around cost, IES funded the Cost Analysis in Practice (CAP) Project, a 3-year initiative to support researchers and practitioners who are planning or conducting a cost analysis of educational programs and practices. The CAP Project Help Desk provides free on-demand tools, guidance, and technical assistance, such as support with a cost analysis plan for a grant proposal. After inquiries are submitted to the Help Desk, a member of the CAP Project Team reaches out within two business days. Below is a list of resources that you can access to get more information about cost analysis.

 

STAGES FOR CONDUCTING A COST ANALYSIS

 

CAP Project Resources

Cost Analysis Standards and Guidelines 1.0: Practical guidelines for designing and executing cost analyses of educational programs.

IES 2021 RFAs Cost Analysis Requirements: Chart summarizing the CAP Project’s interpretation of the IES 2021 RFAs cost analysis requirements.

Cost Analysis Plan Checklist: Checklist for comprehensive cost analysis plans of educational programs and interventions.

Introduction to Cost Analysis: Video (17 mins).

 

General Cost Analysis Resources

The Critical Importance of Costs for Education Decisions: Background on cost analysis methods and applications.

Cost Analysis: A Starter Kit: An introduction to cost analysis concepts and steps.

CostOut®: Free IES-funded software to facilitate calculation of costs once you have your ingredients list, includes database of prices.

DecisionMaker®: Free software to facilitate evidence-based decision- making using a cost-utility framework.

Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of Early Reading Programs: A Demonstration With Recommendations for Future Research: Open access journal article.

 

*More resources available here.


The content for this blog has been adapted from the Cost Analysis in Practice Project informational flyer (CAP Project, 2020) provided by the CAP Project Team. To contact the CAP Help Desk for assistance, please go to https://capproject.org/. You can also find them on Twitter @The_CAP_Project.

NHES Data Files Provide Researchers Supplemental Information on Survey Respondents’ Communities

Increasingly, researchers are merging survey data with data from external sources, such as administrative data or different surveys, to enhance analyses. Combining data across sources increases the usefulness of the data while minimizing the burden on survey respondents.

In September, the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) released restricted-use supplemental geocode data files that use sample respondents’ addresses to integrate the 2016 NHES Parent and Family Involvement in Education (PFI), Early Childhood Program Participation (ECPP), and Adult Training and Education (ATES) survey data with data from other collections. The supplemental geocode files include additional geographic identifiers, characteristics of respondents’ neighborhoods and local labor markets, radius-based measures of household proximity to job search assistance and educational opportunities, and, for surveys focused on children, school district identifiers based on home addresses and school district characteristics.

The new data can complement researchers’ analyses of data from all three surveys. Researchers can expand their analyses of school choice and access to K–12 schooling options using the PFI survey data. Those interested in analyses of decisions about children’s early education can use the ECPP survey data to look at the availability of Head Start programs, preschools in private schools near children’s homes, and the prevalence of prekindergarten programs in local school districts. Researchers interested in nondegree credential attainment and training for work can use data from the ATES to find information on local labor markets and the number of American Job Centers near respondents’ homes.

The NHES:2016 restricted-use supplemental geocode files are available to restricted-use license holders to be used in conjunction with the NHES:2016 survey data files. To access the full set of NHES:2016 geocode supplemental restricted-use data files, apply for a restricted-use license. You can also browse the list of variables in the supplemental geocode files.

 

By Emily Isenberg and Sarah Grady, NCES