Evidence-Based Practice for Lifelong Learning: Adult Education Programs May Soon Have to Set Performance Standards in Order to Continue to Receive Funding. Data That Is Carefully Collected and Analyzed Can Be Used to Manage Programs and Improve Teaching and Services

Article excerpt

In the 2006-2007 school year, more than 1.15 million students were enrolled in programs designed to provide diverse educational opportunities to meet adult learner needs. Adult education classes are offered in 10 program areas, and through these diverse programs, California meets the continuing education needs of a broad spectrum of its population.

Typically, adult education students are highly motivated to learn and achieve. They often juggle family, jobs and difficult personal circumstances to attend classes. While enrolled in classes, they want to know if they are making progress.

The adult education administrator today faces a wide variety of challenges. There is a growing emphasis on "evidence-based practice" throughout education, including adult education. Questions that administrators need to answer now include the following:

* How can you assure that students make learning gains?

* How can you help students set realistic goals and gain the skills they need to reach their goals?

* What can you do to keep students attending classes so that they meet their goals?

* How do you document the success of your program?

* How can research support program improvement?

All of these questions can be answered with data.

The accountability system for adult education provides a standardized framework for defining and collecting data on students enrolled in programs. Local programs can provide information to teachers and students as well as administrators.

Many people do not see the accountability system in this way. Too frequently the data requirement is seen as another burden. Administrators must work actively to understand the data requirements, implement good data collection methods, and create a management information system that can provide data in a timely manner to support program operation.

In this age of accountability, data is not just a requirement for state and federal reporting. Data--when it is not just gathered and reported, but also analyzed--can provide

useful information that will help programs improve their services. Administrators must develop effective data collection and input systems. Data that is carelessly collected is not useful for analyzing program trends.

Careful data collection and input ensures that accurate information is available to help inform instructional and programmatic decisions. Once accurate data has been collected, it can be used to manage programs and improve teaching and services.

Obtaining accurate data

Adult education is facing a time of change. Accurate data collection is probably the most difficult task facing administrators today. Programs may soon have to set performance standards in order to continue to receive funding and face sanctions for not achieving them. The main reason underlying these performance requirements is the belief that good student performance means high program quality.

It is the standards-reward-sanction dynamic that provides accountability systems their ability to affect program performance and quality. The performance standard is the goal and the reward or sanction is a motivator for the program to achieve that goal. Setting standards appropriately is the means by which program success is evaluated. …