Adult Literacy Research Consortium

Literacy Research Initiative

Adult Literacy Research Consortium

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the National Institute for Literacy (NIFL) and the U.S. Department of Education - Office of Vocational and Adult Education funded the Adult Literacy Research Network, now referred to as the Adult Literacy Research Consortium.

Research Funded: Adult Literacy Research Consortium

In September 2002, six research awards were made to the institutions and principal investigators listed below. These studies designed developed, implemented and studied 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. All six projects employed experimental or quasi-experimental designs, and at least four of these use combined quantitative and qualitative research methods.

These research teams screened 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 were minorities; most studies had from 30-60% African American and from 20-50% Hispanic or Latino participants, many of whom are not native speakers of English. The investigators conducted this research in more than 80 sites in 16 different states: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington.

The principal investigators, those individuals responsible for the scientific direction of the research projects, established a research network, the Adult Literacy Research Consortium. At their first meeting, the researchers discussed what common measures and methods might be used across studies. The investigators established cross-project collaborations to enhance each project's research productivity and enable the group to collectively provide convergent data to inform instructional practice in adult literacy.

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 McArthur, University of Delaware

Building a Knowledge Base for Teaching Adult Decoding

Daphne Greenberg, Georgia State University

Research on Reading Instruction for Low Literate Adults

This study focused on adult learners whose word reading grade equivalence levels ranged from 3.0 to 5.9. There were three components to the study. The first evaluated the degrees of explicitness necessary to effectively and efficiently teach reading to adult poor readers. Adults were administered one of five instructional approaches: decoding and fluency; reading comprehension and fluency; decoding, reading comprehension and fluency; extensive reading; decoding, reading comprehension, extensive reading and fluency. Outcomes of reading measures for individuals in these groups were compared to each other and to a control group of adult literacy learners who did not receive any of these approaches. All reading instructional approaches were of equal length (100 hours), similar format, and independently monitored for integrity. For each of the five instructional groups and the control group, 60 students were evaluated (total n=360). Each sample was randomly recruited from adult literacy students who enroll in existing adult literacy programs. Both repeated designs and growth curve modeling techniques were used to evaluate treatment outcomes in relation to individual ability characteristics.

The second component of this project was designed to evaluate differential outcomes based on subtype classifications. Data was analyzed to identify subtypes of adult literacy learners and to determine whether the subtypes responded differentially to different instructional approaches. In other words, which instructional approach, or combination of instructional approaches, was effective for the different subtypes of adult poor readers?

The third and final component included fMRI technology. There were two aspects to this component. The first was to provide a systematic evaluation of the different components of the neural circuitry of adult poor readers compared to adult expert readers. The second aspect was to evaluate whether fMRI may provide a neurobiological index of the impact of instruction on adult learners. In years 3 and 4 of the study, 10 adult expert readers and 10 adult poor readers underwent fMRI studies of basic reading processes. In addition, the investigators  scanned five participants from each of the six groups before they received instruction and after the 100th hour was completed.

Publications

Greenberg, D., Rodrigo, V., Berry, A., Brink, T., Joseph, H. (2006).
Implementation of an Extensive Reading Program with Adult Learners.
Adult Basic Education, 16, 81-97.



Susan Levy, University of Illinois

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

This research tested the relative merit of the Integrated Family Approach (IFA) Literacy Even Start programs with adults vs. the traditional Adult Literacy (AL) programs. In addition, the research design and theoretically directed health literacy curriculum was to enhance both literacy and health literacy outcomes in Illinois participants. Fundamental gaps have existed in the scientific literature regarding the relative merit of IFA vs. AL programs.

This study addressed key issues in the literature, empirically testing the IFA and AL approaches using a randomized study design selected from 53 sites in Illinois. Separate but content equivalent health literacy curricula was developed and tested under the AL and IFA conditions for both English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and native English speakers. Established literacy measures required by the state of Illinois were used to measure literacy gains. Other measures used were those developed from curricula based on Theory of Planned Action, Social Cognitive Theory, and process measures of curriculum fidelity and implementation.

Four fundamental assumptions were 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.

Publications

Levy, S. R., Rasher, S. P., Mandernach, J. M., Bercovitz, L. S., Berbaum, M. L.,
&
Deardorff Carter, S. (2004). Adult literacy research and field-based practice: Piloting an experimental health literacy curriculum for full-scale field implementation. Family Literacy Forum, 3(1), 32-35.



Daryl Mellard, University of Kansas - Lawrence

Improving Literacy Instruction for Adults

This study proposed to extend the knowledge garnered with younger populations to addressing adults' needs. The goal was to validate instructional interventions appropriate for adults with limited literacy proficiency. The proposal offered a multi-disciplinary, systematic, and programmatic research plan with three aims. First, they researched what component skills for reading dare incorporated within common assessments of literacy (CASA, NAAL; and FED). This aided in the design of effective adult interventions and provide the necessary information to explicate an intervention model linking reading components and interventions to global adult literacy outcomes.

The group had extensive previous esuccess in improving children and youth's literacy and more recently in adult education settings. They adapted their interventions to the adult learner and adult instructional settings. Second, they  selected appropriate interventions based on their aim 1 findings, and rigorously tested those interventions with adults under well controlled conditions. The investigators were specifically interested in enhancing performance of the component reading skills of word analysis, fluency, and reading comprehension. They predicted that these skills will be closely related to gains on adult literacy measure. The final aim addressed the issue of successfully translating research findings into practice in more typical settings. These studies examined how effective the interventions were on learners' outcomes when the research controls and supports were reduced from what was available in the previous studies.

Publications

Mellard D., & Patterson, M.B. (in press). Contrasting adult literacy learners with
and without specific learning disabilities, Remedial & Special Education.
Mellard, D, Patterson, M.B. & Prewett, S. (2007). Literacy Practices Among Adult
Mellard, D. & Woods, K. (2007). Adult life with dyslexia, Perspective on Language
& Literacy, 34(4), 15-18.
Patterson, M.B. (2008). Learning disability prevalence and adult education program
characteristics, Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 23(1), 50-59.
Patterson, M.B., & Mellard, D. Characteristics of adult education programs that
predict improved learner outcomes, Adult Basic Education & Literacy Journal, 1(2), 83-92.
Mellard, D., & Scanlon, D. (2006). Feasibility of explicit instruction in adult basic
education: Instructor-learner interaction patterns. Adult Basic Education, 16(1), 21-38.*
Hock, M. & Mellard, D. (2005). Reading comprehension strategies for adult literacy.
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 49(3), 192-202.
Patterson, M.B. (2005). Evaluating learner outcomes in adult education programs: An
analysis of Kansas learning gains and employment outcomes. Doctoral dissertation, University of Kansas, available online at: http://wwwlib.umi.com/dissertations/search.
Mellard, D., Scanlon, D., Kissam, B., & Woods, K. (2005). Adult Education Instructional
Environments and Interaction Patterns between Teachers and Students: An Ecobehavioral Assessment, Literacy & Numeracy Studies, 14(1), 49-68.*
* Related research funded by another funding source.



John Sabatini, Educational Testing Services

Relative Effectiveness of Reading Programs for Adults

In this project four supplemental instructional programs that directly target decoding and fluency were compared with regard to their effectiveness in improving world-level reading abilities of adult learners. The planned interventions were all adult-appropriate adaptations of programs with demonstrated value for enhancing reading abilities of children with skill levels equivalent to those of low-intermediate adult readers. They varied primarily in the relative emphasis given to the teaching of decoding vs. fluency. The participants were drawn from the population of adults who seek assistance at several large adult education centers in two major cities, yielding a sample that was socioeconomically, ethnically, and linguistically diverse. To examine gains resulting form the interventions, numerous reading skills and related cognitive-linguistic abilities were assessed before, during, and after the instructional period.

The findings provided 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 (ages 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 research had 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 was accomplished by a design that permitted 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. The original premise was that the direct types of instruction will be differentially effective for persons with different skill profiles of strength and weakness.



Charles McArthur, University of Delaware

Judith Alamprese, Abt Associates

Building a Knowledge Base for Teaching Adult Decoding

The purpose of this study was 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). Adults reading at this level often lack the skills necessary to function well in their daily lives and could benefit from formal reading instruction. A variety of approaches currently are used to teach reading to adults, and this study examined the efficacy of teaching decoding using structured approaches derived from K-12 instruction and customized for use with adults. During the first two years of the study instructional methods were designed and pilot tested based on theories about language learning and methods that were developed for K-12 education. Based on the results of these design studies,  an enriched and accelerated decoding curriculum was developed 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 was assessed in an experimental study involving 45 adult reading classes in 23 adult literacy programs in 12 states across the country. Sixteen programs were randomly assigned to receive either the enriched curriculum or to continue their existing reading instruction. In addition, seven of the 23 programs were selected because they were already using published decoding curricula; these programs served as an alternate treatment group. In addition to reading measures, the project collected extensive information about the learners, instructors, and the operation of the ABE programs to enable analysis of the relationships among learners' characteristics, instructional methods, ABE program characteristics and learners' development of reading skills. The results contribute to knowledge about effective reading instruction for adult learners with low skills.

Adolescent Literacy Research Consortium





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