Adult National Research Program

National Research Program

Principal Investigators, Institutions, and Abstracts of Funded Grants

Daphne Greenberg, Georgia State University

Research on Reading Instruction for Low Literate Adults

Susan Levy, University of Illinois

Testing Impact of Health Literacy in Adult Literacy and Integrated Family Approach Programs

Daryl Mellard, University of Kansas ? Lawrence

Improving Literacy Instruction for Adults

John Sabatini, Educational Testing Services

Relative Effectiveness of Reading Programs for Adults

Frank Wood, Wake Forest University of the Health Sciences

Young Adult Literacy Problems: Prevalence and Treatment

Charles MacArthur, University of Delaware

Building a Knowledge Base for Teaching Adult Decoding

John Strucker, Harvard University Graduate School of Education

Improving the Instruction of Adult Basic Education Intermediate Readers (research funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Educational Sciences)

Daphne Greenberg, Georgia State University

Research on Reading Instruction for Low Literate Adults

This study focuses on adult learners whose word reading grade equivalency levels range from 3.0 to 5.9. There are three components to this study. The first component evaluates the degree of explicitness that is necessary in teaching reading to low reading adults. Specifically, adults will be administered one of the following instructional approaches: decoding and fluency; decoding, reading comprehension and fluency; extensive reading; decoding, reading comprehension, extensive reading, and fluency. Outcomes on reading measures of individuals in each of these groups will be compared to each other and to a control group of adult literacy learners who do not receive any of these approaches. All reading instructional approaches will be of equal length (100 hours), similar format, and independently monitored for integrity. For each of the instructional groups, and the control group, 60 students will be evaluated. Each sample will be randomly recruited from adult literacy students who enroll in existing adult literacy programs. Both repeated measures designs and learning growth curve modeling techniques will be used to evaluate treatment outcomes in relation to individual ability characteristics. The second component of this project is designed to evaluate differential outcomes based on subtype classifications. Data will be analyzed to identify subtypes of adult literacy learners, and whether these subtypes respond differentially to different instructional approaches. In other words, which instructional approach, or combination of instructional approaches is effective for the different subtypes of adult poor readers? The third and final component of this study includes fMRI technology. There are two aspects to this component. The first aspect is to provide a systematic evaluation of the different components of the neural circuitry of adult poor readers compared to adult expert readers. Adult expert readers and adult poor readers will undergo fMRI studies of basic reading processes. The second aspect is to evaluate whether fMRI may provide a neurobiological index of the impact of instruction on adult learners. We will scan participants from each of our groups before they receive instruction and after the 100th hour is completed.

Susan Levy, University of Illinois

Testing Impact of Health Literacy in Adult Literacy and Integrated Family Approach Programs

This research tests the relative merit of the Integrated Family Approach (IFA) Literacy Even Start programs with adults vs. traditional Adult Literacy (AL) programs. In addition, the research design and theoretically directed health literacy curriculum will enhance both literacy and health literacy outcomes in Illinois participants. Fundamental gaps exist in the scientific literature regarding the relative merit of IFA vs. AL programs. This study addresses key issues in the literature by empirically testing the IFA and AL approaches using a randomized study design across more than 50 sites in IL. Separate, but content equivalent, adult health literacy curricula were developed around 13 priority objectives for health established by national experts and are being tested, under both the AL and IFA conditions for English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and native English speakers. Established literacy measures required by the state of IL (TABE, BEST Literacy, and CELSA) are used to measure literacy gains. Other instruments developed from the Health Literacy curricula based on the Theory of Planned Action, Social Cognitive Theory, and process measures of curriculum fidelity and implementation are used to chart health knowledge and behavior change. Four fundamental assumptions are being tested: (1) the IFA will prove more effective in addressing adult literacy needs than AL programs; (2) adult literacy curricula that include a health literacy component will prove more effective in improving adult literacy than adult literacy curricula that do not include a health literacy component; (3) IFA programs using a health literacy curriculum will be more effective in improving literacy than AL programs using the same curriculum or programs using a standard AL curriculum, and (4) in ESOL programs, the IFA will prove more effective in improving adult literacy than traditional AL programs when using the same health literacy curriculum. Other important outcomes include gains in adult perceived health knowledge, behaviors, and beliefs.

Daryl Mellard, University of Kansas ? Lawrence

Improving Literacy Instruction for Adults

This study extends the knowledge garnered with younger populations to address adults? literacy needs. The goal is to validate instructional interventions appropriate for adults with limited literacy proficiency. The project employs a multi-disciplinary, systematic, and programmatic research plan with three aims. The first aim (a) used 12 predictors of reading proficiency, 3 outcome measures and a background questionnaire to assess 319 adult education students to determine the learner characteristics and the reading skills needed to be successful on the outcome measures; (b) researched what component skills for reading are incorporated within CASAS, NAEP and GED, common assessments of literacy (Reading Comprehension Strategies for Adult Literacy Outcomes, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, Nov. 2005). This aided in the selection of effective reading interventions linking reading components and interventions to global adult literacy outcomes. In the second aim the investigators adapted interventions from the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning?s reading strategies to the adult learner and adult instructional settings. Rigorous tests of these interventions are occurring under randomized control group trials. The investigators are specifically interested in enhancing adult learners? component skills of word analysis, fluency, and reading comprehension. The final aim addresses the issue of successfully translating research findings into practice by using adult education staff to implement the interventions. These studies will examine the effectiveness of these interventions on learners? outcomes when the research controls and supports are reduced from what was available in the second aim. In addition, researchers are looking at the relationship of program characteristics to learner outcomes.

John Sabatini, Educational Testing Services

Relative Effectiveness of Reading Programs for Adults

In this project, supplemental instructional programs that directly target decoding and fluency are being compared with regard to their effectiveness in improving foundational reading abilities of adult learners. The interventions are all adult- appropriate adaptations of program with demonstrated value for enhancing reading abilities of children with skill levels equivalent to those of low-intermediate adult readers. The programs vary primarily in the relative emphasis given to the teaching of decoding and fluency. The participants are being drawn from the population of adults who seek assistance at large, urban adult education centers. The various sites enable the researchers to yield a sample that is socioeconomically, ethnically, and linguistically diverse. To examine gains resulting form the interventions, numerous reading skills and related cognitive-linguistic abilities are being assessed before, during and after the instructional period. The findings will provide valuable information about what kinds of literacy instruction are most effective for raising the reading abilities of low-intermediate adult readers, how to identify these adults? instructional needs accurately and efficiently by using an appropriate battery of assessments, and how literacy instruction might be tailored to the specific needs of individual adults in the target population.

Frank Wood, Wake Forest University of the Health Sciences

Young Adult Literacy Problems: Prevalence and Treatment

Functional illiteracy in the young adult population 9ages 18-25) is not only a drain on the nation?s economic productivity; it is also documented as a major obstacle to adequate health care and a major independent risk factor for depression and suicide. The proposed research, has two major phases: (1) determine the prevalence of poor reading skills in the young adult population, and (2) compare treatment regimes for efficacy. The latter is accomplished be a design that will permit the isolation of effective types of instruction in four areas known to be crucial to reading ability in children, and suspected to be so in adults: phonological decoding (sound out words), fluency (e.g. automatic ?translation? from the letter code to the sound code and ultimately to the meaning, vocabulary, and text comprehension. It is expected that the direct types of instruction will be differentially effective for persons with different skill profiles of strength and weakness.

Charles MacArthur, University of Delaware

Judy Alamprese, Abt Associates

Deborah Knight, University of Delaware

Building a Knowledge Base for Teaching Adult Decoding

The overall purpose of the project is to expand the knowledge base about the design of effective instruction in decoding for adults reading at the low-intermediate level (4th to 7th grade equivalent levels). These adults lack the reading skills necessary to function well in their daily lives. Instructional approaches developed specifically for adults may be more effective than approaches designed for school-age students because adult learners have different patterns of literacy skills, as well as different self-perceived needs and learning goals. In the first two years, the project conducted design studies testing instructional methods based on successful methods developed for K-12 education, theories about language learning, and successful adult literacy programs. Based on the results of the design studies, we developed an enriched and accelerated decoding curriculum that teaches metalinguistic concepts about phonology and orthography, includes both spelling and decoding, applies decoding skills to multisyllabic words from the beginning, and teaches cognitive and metacognitive strategies to support application of new skills in reading. This curriculum is being evaluated in an experimental study involving 45 adult reading classes in 23 adult literacy programs across the country. Eight programs each were randomly assigned to receive the enriched curriculum or to continue their existing reading programs. An additional seven programs that use published decoding curricula serve as an alternate treatment group. In addition to reading measures, the project is collecting extensive information about the learners, instructors, and programs to enable analysis of learner profiles and interactions with instructional outcomes. The results will contribute to knowledge about effective reading instruction for adult learners with low skills.

John Strucker, Harvard University Graduate School of Education

Mary E. Curtis, Lesley University, Center for Special Education

Marilyn Jager Adams, Soliloquy Learning

Improving the Instruction of Adult Basic Education Intermediate Readers (research funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Educational Sciences)

This project seeks to improve the reading instruction of adult basic education (ABE) students whose reading is between grade equivalent 4 (GE 4) and grade equivalent 8 (GE 8). Known as "intermediate adult readers," these students currently make up 60-70% of the ABE population. Based on descriptive studies, a consensus now exists that their reading difficulties are caused by dysfluent word recognition and/or lack of a literate meaning vocabulary. As a result, they make slow progress toward the high school levels of comprehension that are thought to be necessary in our increasingly information-based society.

Little research has taken place on approaches for improving the fluency and vocabulary knowledge of these adult GE 4-8 readers. However, accelerated growth in reading has been documented with older adolescents reading at the 4th to 8th grade level, using an approach developed at Girls and Boys Town. We have adapted this approach for use by adult intermediates, calling our adaptation Adult Fluency and Vocabulary. This research represents the first systematic attempt to assess the value of Boys Town-based program for improving adult reading. Because lack of practice time is a persistent problem for ABE students, the effectiveness of Soliloquy Learning?s Reading Assistant, a speech recognition reading tutor, is also being evaluated as a means of providing distributed practice in fluency and vocabulary.

We have employed a quasi-experimental longitudinal research design in which 24 intermediate ABE classes (totaling about 300 learners) have been randomly assigned to one of four instructional conditions at seven sites in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. The four instructional conditions are: 1) Adult Fluency and Vocabulary + Reading Assistant practice; 2) Adult Fluency and Vocabulary + hard copy practice (same texts as used by the Reading Assistant); 3) Traditional curriculum + Reading Assistant practice (RAP); 4) Traditional curriculum + hard copy practice (same texts as used by the Reading Assistant). Students have been pre- and post-tested in word recognition, fluency and rate, oral vocabulary, and reading comprehension. A similar battery will be administered in a follow-up interview in the fall of 2006.

Teachers in all four conditions received comparable amounts of training, and classrooms in all four conditions were observed regularly to monitor fidelity of the intervention and to document activities. A 10-month follow-up observation and interview with each teacher would also be conducted to assess any possible impact of the interventions on instructors' practice.

Data is being analyzed using a hierarchical nested design plus individual growth curve analyses. In addition to investigating the effectiveness of Adult Fluency and Vocabulary and the Reading Assistant, we also expect to shed some light on how fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension develop and interact in this under-researched, yet numerically and socially significant population of adult learners.

Background Information:

In 2000, the National Institute for Literacy 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 metanalyses were impossible. However, a review of the available literature was produced, which clearly highlights the need for additional research on this important topic.

In August 2001, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the National Institute for Literacy (NIFL) and the Offices of Adult and Vocational Education (OVAE) and Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), convened an expert panel to discuss research needs and future directions in adult and family literacy. A summary document is available at http://www.nichd.nih.gov/crmc/cdb/AFL_workshop.htm. There was consensus in the panel that 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 US Department of Education and the International Adult Literacy Survey provide interesting information about the demographics of adult literacy in the US, 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 expert panel called for rigorous multidisciplinary research to determine effective instructional methods and organizational approaches for adult and family literacy programs. Inherent in this type of programmatic research is the need to increase understanding and knowledge of the specific cognitive, sociocultural and instructional factors, and 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 to increase the methodological rigor of adult literacy research, by building upon existing knowledge base and moving beyond a domain specific approach toward an integrated multidisciplinary view of adult and family literacy. Research studies are needed that will contribute scientific data to develop effective instructional practices and subsequently to influence public policy decisions on the development and strengthening of adult literacy and family literacy programs nationwide.

To meet this need, the NICHD, NIFL, and US Department of Education published a research solicitation inviting applications 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 in young children (birth through kindergarten entrance) through adult and family literacy program activities, and to identify or design 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, and 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 co-sponsors of this solicitation held three regional Technical Assistance workshops, in Washington, DC, San Diego, CA, and Houston, TX, to help researchers prepare to apply.

Research Funded: New Adult Literacy Research Network:

In September 2002, six research awards were made to the institutions and principal investigators listed below. These studies will design, develop, implement and study the effectiveness of adult literacy interventions for low-literate adults, including the role of decoding, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension instruction in adult literacy and explicitness of instruction. Over the next five years, these research teams will screen nearly 73,000 adults with low literacy skills, in order to identify the more than 3,800 research participants for these studies. It is estimated that more than 60% of those taking part in the studies will be minorities; most studies will have from 30-60% African American and from 20-50% Hispanic or Latino participants, many of whom are not native speakers of English. The investigators will be conducting this research in more than 80 sites in 16 different states: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington. All six projects employ experimental designs, and at least four of these use combined quantitative and qualitative research methods.

The principal investigators, those individuals responsible for the scientific direction of the research projects, will meet annually in Washington, DC, to establish and sustain the work of the adult literacy research network. During the first network meeting, researchers presented their individual study designs, which provided the foundation for a broader discussion concerning the use of common measurements and methodologies across studies. Since the first network meeting, these investigators have worked to establish cross-project collaborations with the goal of enhancing each project's research productivity and enabling the group to provide convergent data to inform instruction in adult literacy. Currently, in their third year of grant funding, each of the network?s projects is making significant strides in understanding the constellation of factors that influence adult literacy learning and in utilizing that knowledge to develop effective and sustainable adult and family literacy programs.