Introduction to the Adult Literacy Research Working Group

By Comings, John; Crawford, June | Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Introduction to the Adult Literacy Research Working Group


Comings, John, Crawford, June, Perspectives on Language and Literacy


Until recently, adult literacy practitioners usually designed instruction based on theories and approaches learned in training, opinions of experienced practitioners, and personal experience gained through trial and error. Though this instruction may have been effective, the practices employed usually had not been rigorously evaluated. However, most adult literacy practitioners now have accepted that instruction could and should be evidence-based. That is, the practices used in instruction should be based on scientific research.

The Department of Education defines scientific research as studies that are rigorous, systematic, objective, empirical, and peer reviewed, and that rely on multiple measurements and observations, preferably through experimental or quasiexperimental methods (Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, 2002; Whitehurst, 2002, 2003, 2004) This evidence-based approach to making decisions is meant to insure that participants in adult literacy programs receive instruction that provides them with the best possible opportunity to gain the skills they need to be successful in the labor market and in their roles as parents and citizens.

The evidence-based practice movement started in the K-12 system, but the adult literacy system has accepted it, as well. Initially, adult literacy practitioners had to depend on K-12 materials and training, but now they have a source of advice on how to implement evidence-based literacy practice for adults. The Adult Literacy Research Working Group (ALRWG) is helping adult literacy practitioners understand evidence-based practice and base instruction on it.

ALRWG Partners

ALRWG is sponsored by the National Institute for Literacy (the Institute; www.nifl.gov) in collaboration with the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL; www.ncsall.net). The Institute was established in 1991 by an act of Congress as a federal agency that provides leadership on literacy issues, including the improvement of reading instruction for children, youth, and adults. In consultation with the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services, the Institute serves as a national resource on current, comprehensive literacy research, practice, and policy. NCSALL was established in 1996 with funding from the Institute of Education Sciences as a national research and development center. NCSALL is based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is a consortium that includes Portland State University in Oregon, the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Rutgers University in New Jersey, and World Education, a nonprofit agency in Boston. NCSALL also supports researchers at Brown University, the University of Texas at Dallas, and the Harvard School of Public Health.

ALRWG is part of the Institute's effort to provide educators, parents, and others with access to scientific reading researchincluding research-based tools for improving literacy programs and policies for children, youth, and adults-through the Partnership for Reading (www.nifl.gov/partnershipforreading). The Partnership for Reading is comprised of the Institute, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The efforts of the Partnership for Reading are based on the recommendations, which are focused on children, of the National Reading Panel (www.nationalreadingpanel.org). Because of the Institute's interest in adult literacy, a focus on adults was added to the work of the Partnership for Reading.

ALRWG is part of NCSALL's effort to disseminate the best available research-based advice to practitioners, administrators, policy makers, and scholars in the adult literacy field. NCSALL's website contains research reports, reviews of research, and training materials for teachers, administrators, and policy makers. NCSALL supported the Adult Reading Components Study (ARCS), which administered reading component tests to a large sample of adults in adult basic education and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) programs.

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