Strategies for Addressing Transitions in Adult Basic Education February 2 - 6, 2009

Discussion Announcement

Dear Colleagues:

I'm pleased to announce the following Guest Panel Discussion, which will be held during the week of February 2 though 6, 2009. Please read the introduction below and consider the information presented. What are your experiences, thoughts, and questions on transitioning adult students to higher levels of learning and/or employment?

Topic: Strategies for Addressing Transitions in Adult Basic Education


Transitioning adult students through the stages of their educational experience is a challenging process. In today's society in particular, successful transition from adult literacy classes to community college and beyond, and on to the workforce, can mean the difference between achieving one's potential and struggling to get by. For service providers, it's clear that we must focus attention on the process of successful transition from one education program to another.

This discussion focuses on several different efforts to address the thorny issues of transitions - ABE and ESOL students to GED, GED to post-secondary and/or job training. While we will concentrate on assessment-related issues such as measuring application and transfer of skills, we welcome discussing issues in general that affect, or are affected by, transitions.

Collaboration among service providers is one such area that greatly affects the success or not of a transitions process. In his research on transitions, Forrest Chisman discovered how one community college worked toward better understanding and collaboration among ESL and ABE/ASE faculty; see the case study on Yakima Valley Community College listed below.

As a college placement test, the ACCUPLACER has its pluses and minuses. Massachusetts Chief GED Examiner Tom Mechem has pointed out that the correlations between the GED and the ACCUPLACER math scores are dubious at best, and that the tests' purposes seem to be at odds. To address this issue, Tom is developing a curriculum that can be used with both the GED and the ACCUPLACER. See his story below.

The National College Transition Network (NCTN) brings together the various efforts of educators, professional development providers, policy makers, and researchers concerned with effective college transitions to postsecondary education for GED, ASE, and ESOL graduates and other non-traditional learners (from the website, URL below). Cynthia Zafft's work with NCTN led her to identify five models of college transition programs, which are outlined in the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL) Occasional Paper Transitioning adults to college: Adult Basic Education program models (URL below). Cynthia will discuss these program models with us.

Wendy Quinones will give us an overview of the transitions program she is involved in at the Community Learning Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She has noted the often striking differences between ESOL and ABE students in terms of their strengths and weaknesses, and suggests some resources that have helped her navigate these turbulent waters, such as the Assessment Strategies and Reading Profiles website (URL below). In addition, Wendy notes the following observations from John Strucker's work on patterns of reading (from What Silent Reading Tests Alone Can't Tell You: Two Case Studies in Adult Reading Differences; URL below):

Native speakers tended to have relatively stronger "meaning-based skills" as compared to "print-based skills," while non-native speakers exhibited the opposite pattern. Chall (1991) reported similar findings.

Many second-language speakers in ABE classes had surprisingly low levels of oral vocabulary in English (GE 2 to GE 4), despite their fluent levels of conversational English. Similarly low levels of oral vocabulary occurred among some inner-city young adults who were native speakers.

Guest Participants

Forrest Chisman, Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy (CAAL), NY
Forrest Chisman is Vice President of the Council for the Advancement of Adult Literacy and has been an independent consultant in the fields of human resource development, health care, and philanthropy. From 1988-1997, he was President of the Southport Institute for Policy Analysis, and prior to that he was Director of the Project on the Federal Social Role. From 1977-81, he was Deputy Administrator for Policy of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Previously he was Director of The Aspen Institute's Program on Communications and Society, and Senior Program Officer of the John and Mary Markle Foundation. He received his BA from Harvard and his doctorate from Oxford. He is the author of numerous books, articles, and reports on a wide range of public policy issues.

Tom Mechem, GED State Chief Examiner, Commonwealth of MA
A lifelong teacher, Tom Mechem spent the 12 years prior to coming to the DOE as coordinator of and teacher in several highly successful GED preparation programs in the Boston area, most recently at LARE training in Chelsea MA. Appointed GED State Chief Examiner in 2001, Tom has been charged with overseeing the operation of the 32 official GED test centers in Massachusetts and with improving the passing rate of GED testers. To this end he has developed and delivered workshops and presentations for teachers and program directors as to precisely what skill sets are needed to pass each of the five GED tests. These workshops are based on statistical information received from the GED Testing Service, on the profiles of Massachusett's non-passers, on input from teachers in the field, and on the latest research.

Wendy Quinones, Community Learning Center, Cambridge, MA
Wendy Quinones teaches at the Community Learning Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts and at Urban College in Boston. In over 20 years of teaching ABE learners at levels from intermediate through college, she has continually faced the issues of students transitioning from ESOL into ABE. She was a teacher-researcher in the three-year Adult Multiple Intelligences study through NCSALL and has given many trainings on this topic. She is also very interested in using distance learning for professional development in ABE. Wendy holds the Massachusetts ABE Teacher License.

Cynthia Zafft, National College Transition Network, Boston, MA
Cynthia Zafft is the Senior Advisor and former director of the National College Transition Network (NCTN) at World Education in Boston. The NCTN was created in 2004 to connect practitioners, researchers, and policy-makers interested in developing and supporting the emerging field of transition-to-college and postsecondary education for learners in adult education. Currently, Cynthia is the Curriculum Director for the Health Care Learning Network (HCLN;, an online curriculum for frontline workers and community members interested in preparing for one of the many challenging health care career college programs. As part of a model of support, online course work in reading, writing, math, and science is combined with tutoring and career coaching to help employers "grow their own" nurses and other health care professionals. Cynthia is currently completing her doctoral education in Higher Education Administration at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. Her dissertation topic is transition to postsecondary education, particularly focusing on "college readiness" for adults.

Recommended preparations for this discussion

Torchlights in ESL: Five Community College Profiles

See Yakima Valley Community College for description of how the ESL and ABE/ASE faculty collaborate


GED and ACCUPLACER by Tom Mechem

National College Transition Network

Zafft, C., Kallenbach, S., & Spohn, J. (2006).
Transitioning adults to college: Adult Basic Education program models.

Occasional Paper. Cambridge, MA: National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy.

Assessment Strategies and Reading Profiles (ASRP)

Strucker, John. (May 1997).
What Silent Reading Tests Alone Can't Tell You: Two Case Studies in Adult Reading Differences.

Focus on Basics, Volume 2, Issue A. Cambridge, MA: National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy.

Resources of Interest

Challenges in Assessing for Post-Secondary Readiness

Policy Brief

by Daryl F. Mellard and Gretchen Anderson

Division of Adult Studies, Center for Research on Learning, University of Kansas

December 4, 2007

This Policy Brief examines the major assessments in use today to measure adult learning gains and determine student placements - e.g., BEST, CASAS, TABE, COMPASS, ASSET, and ACCUPLACER - in terms of their uses and how they well they align with postsecondary education entry requirements. Special attention is given to the GED. The authors identify several problems and challenges as well as recommendations to resolve them.

Transitions: Linkages between Adult Education and Community Colleges

Multiple resources from CAAL (Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy)

Transitions to Post-Secondary Education

Multiple resources from NCSALL.

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