Evaluation Systems in the Adult Education Program

Like other publicly funded programs, adult education has faced increasing demands to demonstrate its effectiveness and the value of the instruction it offers. Over the last several years, amendments to the Adult Education Act, the federal legislation governing the adult education program, have strengthened accountability requirements. The 1988 reauthorization of the Act increased state requirements for local program evaluation by specifying six topic areas that evaluation should address and by mandating the use of standardized test scores in evaluation. The National Literacy Act of 1991 took a further step by requiring states to develop indicators of program quality within two years and to use them in evaluation of their local programs. The indicators were to assess programs' success in recruitment, retention and improving students' literacy skills. The Act also required the Department of Education to develop model indicators of program quality to guide states in the development of the indicators.

Fulfilling its legislative mandate, the Division of Adult Education and Literacy (DAEL) published Model Indicators of Program Quality for Adult Education Programs in 1992 that presented eight quality indicators. Besides addressing the three required topic areas, the indicators described elements of quality for program planning, curriculum and instruction, staff development and support services. Within the next year, all states had revised their state plans to incorporate the quality indicators they had developed.

Besides presenting the indicators themselves, DAEL's publication also provided a general framework to guide states' development and use of the indicators. The framework distinguished indicators from measures and performances standards, and related them in a hierarchical, four-step process:

  1. Select topic areas to focus indicators. The National Literacy Act required indicators in recruitment, retention and literacy gains. However, states had the option to add other topics.
  2. Develop quality indicators in each topic area. A quality indicator was defined as a variable that reflects efficient and effective performance of the adult education program.
  3. Establish measures for each indicator. A measure is a way to assess the indicator in an observable and quantifiable way.
  4. Develop performance standards for each measure. A performance standard was described as a level of acceptable performance on the measure, stated as a specific numeric criterion.