A Review of the Adult Reading Assessment and Instruction Research

Article excerpt

The National Institute for Literacy (the "Institute"), in collaboration with the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy, established the Adult Literacy Research Working Group to identify research-based practices for reading instruction and to disseminate information about these practices to those who provide reading instruction in adult education programs. This action is part of a larger effort by the federal government, beginning in the 1990s and continuing through the current administration, to build professional education cultures that value and use evidence-based principles for reading instruction with children, adolescents, and adults.

Reviewing adult reading instruction research is a key function of the Working Group whose other functions are described in detail in the introductory article by John Comings and June Justice Crawford in this issue. The Working Group's summary of results from studies of adult readers and adult reading instruction provides the basic content for its dissemination efforts as well as the basis for its efforts to identify or develop useable and practical research-based resources for adult education professional development. Some of these resources are described in two other articles in this issue: "Relating Reading Research to Practice: Two Resources for Adult Education Teachers" by Susan McShane and "Adult Educators in the United States: Who Are They and What Do They Know About Teaching Reading?" by Mary Ziegler, Steve McCallum, and Sherry Bell.

Although a large body of evidence-based principles exists for reading assessment and instruction of children in kindergarten through high school (K-12), not all of it applies to low-literate adults or adult education settings. For example, adult learners may not be able to devote as much time or be as consistent in their attendance as school children (Comings, Parella, & Soricone, 1999; Comings, Cuban, Bos, & Porter, 2003) making some proven instructional methods unworkable in adult education settings. Likewise, some evidence-based principles developed for adult struggling readers may not benefit children who are learning to read. For example, adults' interests and experiences may contribute to vocabulary and prior knowledge in ways that make adult literacy instructional methods less relevant for use with children. The needs of adults and children, and their teachers, are different: children who are learning to read are from all ability levels; adults who are learning to read may be predominantly those who have experienced difficulty academically because of a learning disability or for other reasons. Somewhat paradoxically, students reading at roughly the same grade level, or within a fairly narrow range, fill an elementary school teacher's classroom at the beginning of the school year. A classroom full of adult literacy students, however, may be filled with learners at just about any reading level, from beginners to those studying for their high school equivalency exam.

Thus, as a starting point for building an evidence-based education culture among adult literacy providers, the Working Group needed to identify and evaluate the existing research specifically related to adult reading instruction and assessment. At the same time, it realized that the relatively small size of the adult reading instruction research base would make it necessary to fill in the gaps with carefully selected studies of children learning to read. This article presents highlights from the Working Group's findings. For the complete findings and related instructional products, see the Working Group's publications (Kruidenier, 2002b; Curtis and Kruidenier, 2005) or visit the Institute's website ( www.nifl.gov/ partnershipforreading/publications/ adult.html). The Working Group is in the process of completing an update to Research-Based Principles for Adult Basic Education Reading Instruction (Kruidenier, 2002b).


In order to accomplish its goal, the Working Group established a three-step process: 1) select the major topics to review, 2) conduct literature searches to locate studies that fit these topics, and 3) evaluate the studies using a set of evidence-based methodological standards. …