How the I-BEST Works: Findings from a Field Study of Washington State’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training Program

This report summarizes the findings from a field study that was conducted to examine how the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) model operates in 34 community and technical colleges in Washington State. 

J. Wachen
D. Jenkins
M. Van Noy
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

The purpose of the I-BEST program is to increase the rate at which adult basic education (ABE) and English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students advance to postsecondary level occupational programs and complete credentials in fields offering good wages and career advancement. The report includes a description of how I-BEST is implemented, what I-BEST looks like in the classroom, a profile of the I-BEST student population, support services, costs to operate the program, and promising practices for implementing I-BEST.

What the experts say

This study, conducted by the Community College Research Center, provides a comprehensive description of I-BEST, its program components, challenges, and successes.  This model is being considered for adoption in a large number of states where the emphasis is assisting adult basic skills students to enter and succeed in college-level programs as well as obtain employment that offers family sustainable wages. 

This is an excellent resource for those who wish to understand more about how I-BEST works. The report is very straightforward in both the advantages and disadvantages of the model.  Practitioners and administrators can get a straightforward analysis of the hurdles they might face should they choose to adopt this model.  However, every indication from earlier research in helping low-skilled students succeed in postsecondary programs and I-Best programs shows that the approach used is the most effective.

The elements they identify are the gold-standard for postsecondary success for high risk, low skills participants.  The results from this field study are highly credible in light of previous research and the survey methods used.

The key findings most relevant to practitioners:

  • Paired instruction and basic skills integrated into the professional-technical and occupational classes.  The 4 levels of integration provided are very useful to practitioners looking to adopt similar methods.
  • Team teaching which pairs a technical instructor and a basic skill instructor who are in the class at least 50% of the time 
  • Available financial aid since students are paying college costs rather than ABE instructional costs
  • Careful selection of participants and clear expectations for attendance
  • Short courses that provide stackable credentials that are achievable in a relatively short time
  • A market demand for the careers being offered
  • Adequate and available student support services
  • Flexible and experienced instructors willing to try new ways of instruction
  • Collaboration is a key element in success.

The authors are frank about the drawbacks.  However, I think it is important to note that 70% of the colleges plan to continue I-Best despite these drawbacks.  This study indicates that teachers and administrators should realize that:

  • The program is expensive and FTE tuition will not cover the full cost of the program.  Washington State provided grants and other sources that were found to make the program successful.
  • It takes a long time and a great deal of effort to integrate basic skills and vocational curriculum.  (This time and effort on the part of teachers was often done in uncompensated time.)
  • Student support services are vital to the success of the program but are hard to come by in strapped financial times.
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