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Below is an article I wrote about the need for and importance of accountability in ABE. Throughout the coming year my office will be sending periodic accountability updates. I encourage you to share these articles with all staff and volunteers in your local ABE program so that they are informed about this crucial initiative.

Barry Shaffer MN State Director of Adult Education
(651) 582-8442 barry.shaffer@state.mn.us


ABE ACCOUNTABILITY UPDATE - 5/28/04

Overview from the State Director

Past: The Adult Basic Education delivery system in Minnesota is incredibly complex and dynamic. Within the past two decades ABE has moved from a poorly funded, highly decentralized and individualized social change and personal empowerment model to a more centralized and focused structure that stresses academic performance and goal attainment. Consistent over time however, has been the concept of learner-centeredness, providing instruction that recognizes the unique characteristics of the adult learner.

Present: Today we have over 500 ABE sites, 1,100+ licensed instructors,
3,000+ volunteers and numerous support staff that provide learning opportunities to over 80,000 enrollees per year. Similarly, ABE resources have grown significantly from under $100,000 in the 1970's to over $40 million today. Programming is coordinated between a wide variety of partner agencies - public schools, CBO's, colleges, prisons/jails, and workforce centers. All of these ABE collaborations and resources help enable Minnesota residents who need ABE to access programs in every county and school district in the state.!

The Issue: The relatively recent growth in MN-ABE has understandably led to a corresponding increase in the demands for system accountability: i. e. What evidence is there that ABE is being successful and cost effective? Although we know that our efforts result in many learner success stories, the need to standardize learner results and quantify success in a consistent, comparable manner has led to the development and use of the National Reporting System (NRS), a system of core indicator/outcome measurement and reporting. The NRS includes indicators of learner academic progress (level change), GED/Diploma attainment, finding/retaining employment, and transition to post-secondary ed. Target goals for each of these indicators are established on an annual basis through a process of negotiations between my office and the federal ABE office (USDOE-Div. of Adult Education and Literacy). These target percentages for each indicator become the goals for all MN-ABE programs. Also, the state ABE! system as a whole is held accountable for target attainment by the national ABE office and by other MN state agencies (i. e. DEED, MNSCU, and the Governor's Workforce Development Council) that are part of the Workforce Investment Act
(WIA), as is ABE. The success of the WIA-funded programs in Minnesota is tied to all agency partners attaining their goals - and federal incentive money for goal attainment is on the line under this system.

Our Results: In 2001-02, MN-ABE failed to meet its core indicator targets and the ABE system fell under considerable scrutiny by national and state policy-makers. After re-negotiating lower targets with federal officials for 2002-03, the MN-ABE system met its targets and the state will be awarded a $750,000 incentive grant for use by the Governor's office for projects under the scope of the WIA law. It is likely that most of this money will go towards Workforce Education for employed workers with limited English proficiency, a project that will clearly involve many ABE programs.

The "jury is out" on the MN-ABE results for 2003-04. That data is due to MDE-ABE on June 1, 2004. However, targets were raised for that program year
(e. g. from 20% success to 25% on the level change indicators). Also, targets had to be increased under the federal "continuous improvement" concept for the 2004-05 year (e. g. new targets are around 33% on average). While those targets are a difficult stretch for our system, our performance and our targets are alarmingly among the lowest in the nation. There are many reasons for this low standing - some we know and some we don't - but the bottom line (and our objective) is one of visible improvement and successful performance on the NRS goals.

The Challenge: As this office gears up to encourage a greater emphasis on accountability, we know that our focus on NRS results will not be successful without a significant "buy in" from ABE practitioners that deliver the service. All instructional staff must have a commitment to understanding this core indicator framework for accountability and strive for learner results that align with that system. The fact is that as far as our funders and policy-makers are concerned, only through the NRS reporting structure can we validate the effectiveness of our current ABE system.

Several states have recently changed their ABE delivery mode from a predominately K-12 model to a community college or workforce center model. These wholesale shifts in service delivery model were made to improve ABE effectiveness in those states with the belief that those systems can be more focused on targeted results and use limited resources more cost effectively. I personally believe that our school district (+ partners) delivery mode is superior to other models due primarily to the ability of public schools with an array of partners to provide ! greater learner access to quality programming. However, if Minnesota ABE continues to compare poorly on the national scene, or outright fails to meet targeted goals, the continuation of our current system is in very serious jeopardy. I have no doubt that there are other, alternative systems in Minnesota that would be eager to assume ABE duties and funding.

I am optimistically confident that we have the ability and competence to achieve our current NRS targets and move up in the national comparisons. If you are involved in ABE in any way - teacher, volunteer, coordinator, support personnel - you have a critically important role in the future of your local program and in the continuation of the overall ABE system. I urge you to find out all you can about the accountability system that ABE is operating under, get to know your local program results, thoughtfully identify and address any barriers to learner success, and establish improvement strategies if they are needed. You, the local AB! E practitioner, are the key to learner accomplishment and the future of ABE is truly in your hands.

The next "ACCOUNTABILITY UPDATE" will feature information from Anne Marie Leland, MDE-ABE Accountability and Policy Specialist. In that article, Anne Marie will provide more specific information about the National Reporting System (NRS) and share helpful hints about what local program staff can do to positively impact their NRS core indicator results.


Lyon County Government Center    607 W. Main St.    Marshall, MN 56258    (507) 537-7046

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