Marshall Adult Education
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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
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
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.