A Pilot Study of the Efficacy of Two Adult Basic Literacy Programs for Incarcerated Males

By Shippen, Margaret E. | Journal of Correctional Education, December 2008 | Go to article overview

A Pilot Study of the Efficacy of Two Adult Basic Literacy Programs for Incarcerated Males


Shippen, Margaret E., Journal of Correctional Education


Abstract

The purpose of this study was to compare the effects of two adult basic reading programs, Direct Instruction Corrective Reading Decoding and Laubach Literacy, on the reading achievement of incarcerated male adults (n = 27) in an Alabama prison. Participants were tutors and students taking part in a reading tutoring program at the facility. The student participants were reading below the 5th grade level precluding them from participating in the General Equivalency Diploma (GED) program. Instruction by the tutors was implemented over a six month period. Data in the areas of basic literacy (e.g., word identification, word attack, and reading comprehension) were collected using the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test- Revised/NU. Results indicated that neither program was superior, though all participants, students and tutors, significantly improved in one or more area of the basic literacy.

A Pilot Study of the Efficacy of Two Adult Basic Literacy Programs for Incarcerated Males

In the United States at the end of 2005, more than 7 million adults were in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007). Over 1.4 million are incarcerated in state and federal prisons at any given time (Hrabowski & Robbi, 2002). According to Vacca (2004), more than half of the adults incarcerated in the U.S. can neither read nor write and have less than an 8th grade education. In Alabama, where the study took place, approximately 75% of all state inmates read below the 5th grade level (J. Hopper, personal communication, August 22, 2006) and 60% have not completed high school (ADOC, 2006). With these staggering statistics illustrating the failed educational experiences of incarcerated adults in Alabama and the clear link between increased education and reduced recidivism, implementing effective programs to improve literacy is imperative (Jancic, 1998: Vacca).

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2007), 41% of all inmates in federal and state prison did not complete high school as compared to 18% of the general population. Additionally, over one third of incarcerated school dropouts reported that they quit primarily due to behavioral and academic problems in school (Hrabowski & Robbi, 2002). Women who are incarcerated are more likely to have completed high school than incarcerated men, 30% versus 25%, respectively (Bureau of Justice Statistics).

Literacy and Reading

Literacy has been defined as the ability to read, write, spell, listen, and speak in ways that enable communication, promote understanding of ideas, and enrich lives (Moats, 2000; Glaeser, Lenz, Gildroy, & McKnight, 2000). Literacy may the most important educational goal for which educators are responsible. Academic success, employment, and personal health depend upon an individual's ability to use and understand their culture's language system. Moreover, the National Institute of Student Health and Human Development views literacy and reading failure in the United States as a national health crisis (Lyon, 1999).

Literacy development is the combination of an individual's developmental processes and language and life experiences (Glaeser et al., 2000). Literacy and language skills develop over many years from birth through adulthood. While most individuals acquire language in a natural, developmental manner, their ability to acquire basic reading skills is not a natural process (Lyon, 1999; Moats, 2000). More importantly, the total act of reading is affected if students are weak in just one reading skill (Chali, Jacobs, & Baldwin, 1991).

Limited reading practice limits a person's vocabulary knowledge and comprehension that results in poor academic achievement and limited literacy skills. Stanovich (1986) borrowed the biblical concept, "Matthew effects," that describes a rich-get-richer and poor-get-poorer phenomenon when applied to reading and literacy. In other words, those individuals who have limited access to the meaning of printed words fall behind their peers with average to above reading skills, resulting in an increasingly widening performance gap as they progress through school and life. …

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