The Impact of ABS Program Participation on Long-Term Literacy Growth
The Longitudinal Study of Adult Learning (LSAL) compared adult literacy development among program participants and nonparticipants across multiple contexts and over significant periods of time to provide a life-wide and lifelong perspective on adult literacy development and a better assessment of program impact on a range of outcome measures. LSAL randomly sampled about 1,000 high school dropouts and followed them for nearly a decade from 1998–2007. LSAL followed both participants and nonparticipants in Adult Basic Skills (ABS) programs, assessing their literacy skills and skill uses over long periods of time, along with changes in their social, educational, and economic status, offering a rich picture of adult literacy development.
Research Questions: This report, the second of a series of Research Briefs that utilize LSAL data to examine long-term impacts of ABS program participation on a range of outcome measures, considers the long-term impact of participation on literacy growth. It addresses the following research questions:
- What is the impact of participating in an ABS program on subsequent literacy proficiency?
- What is the temporal course of that impact?
- To what extent does GED attainment mediate the impact of participation on proficiency?
Results: Findings indicate that both ABS program participation and receipt of the GED credential have impact on literacy development. Individuals who participate in ABS programs tend to have higher levels of future literacy proficiency as a result of participating. Their proficiency premiums are larger with more intensive participation. The impacts of program participation and GED attainment have different temporal shapes. Program participation has a slowly growing and long-lived impact on literacy development, whereas GED attainment appears to have a short-lived, pulse-shaped impact.
Limitations: There are some important methodological limitations in this assessment of program impact on literacy development. Although the findings make visible some of the dynamics of the impact of participation on literacy changes over time, it was not possible with the data available to contrast literacy development in reasonably well-matched groups of program participants and nonparticipants. LSAL’s relatively small sample size limits the precision with which estimates can be made of how many hours of attendance or how long a follow-up period are required to see various sizes of participation impact on literacy.
Although ABS program evaluation and accountability reports typically show small gains for program participants in test scores and other outcomes, these studies rarely include comparison groups of nonparticipants, and most studies that do include such controls have not found statistically significant ABS program impact. Research is needed that compares long-term outcomes among program participants and nonparticipants across multiple contexts and over significant periods of time to provide a life-wide and lifelong perspective on adult literacy development and a better assessment of program impact on a range of outcome measures.