Skip Navigation
Print Evaluations

Assessing Evidence of Effectiveness in Adult Education Design Study

Contract Information

Current Status:

This study has been completed.


September 2018 – September 2021



Contract Number:



Mathematica Policy Research
Manhattan Strategy Group
Social Policy Research Associates



Nearly 43 million U.S. adults lack the basic English literacy skills required to succeed in the workforce and achieve economic self-sufficiency. Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014 is the key federal effort to help adults acquire these and other important skills, as well as to earn a high school equivalency credential. WIOA encourages adult education programs to use evidence-based strategies to improve services and participant success, yet few strategies have rigorous research supporting them. Federal policy makers sought to fix this knowledge gap by mandating in WIOA that ED carry out an independent evaluation of adult education programs and services that includes identifying effective practices. As part of ED's National Assessment of Adult Education, this study examines evidence from existing studies of adult education strategies as well as designs new studies, with a particular focus on WIOA's new emphases for policy and practice.

  • What is known about the effectiveness of adult education strategies?
  • What adult education strategies not already well-studied are feasible to examine with an impact study? How might those studies be designed?

A systematic evidence review was conducted to summarize findings from existing studies of adult education strategies and identify gaps in the knowledge base. Based on findings from this review, discussions with state and local stakeholders and other policy experts, and review of program documents, the study team identified two strategies for which measuring effectiveness would substantially benefit the field—training for career navigators and Integrated Education and Training programs for learners—and developed design options for impact studies. ED may elect to conduct studies of one or both of these strategies, beginning as early as 2021.

  • There has been little rigorous research on whether particular strategies in adult education improve learner outcomes.
  • The rigorous research that has been conducted does not address the full set of outcome areas that federal policy emphasizes. Studies measuring basic skills such as literacy did not measure longer-term outcomes such as credential attainment and earnings. Studies that investigated longer-term outcomes did not measure basic skills.
  • The available evidence provides limited support for the use of particular adult education strategies over others, although bridge classes and integrated education and training programs offer some promise.