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Adult literacy and economic growth - WP 04/24

Appendix 2 – Studies of literacy training programmes

Mandatory employment-related programmes

The National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies (NEWWS) examined the impacts on welfare recipients and their children of 11 welfare-to-work programmes in 7 sites, all of which began as JOBS initiatives. Some of the programmes concentrated on enrolling people in education or training (primarily basic skills education or GED preparation); others emphasised getting people into work as soon as possible, even low-paid or temporary work. NEWWS randomly assigned welfare recipients (predominantly women) to either participating in the programme or to the control group, or, in sites where two programmes were offered, to either one of the programmes or to the control group. Programme intake for the study began in June 1991 and ended in December 1994. The results of the NEWWS study, after a five-year follow-up period, are summarised in Hamilton (2002).

Bos et al (2002) looks at the experiences of participants who are the target group for adult education: those without a high school diploma or a GED. The study uses data from three of the education-focused programmes in NEWWS: Atlanta, Georgia; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Riverside, California (which was also studied in the GAIN evaluation). About a quarter of the sample in Riverside’s education-focused programme did have a high school diploma or GED, but had poor reading or maths skills, or limited English, and were therefore considered to be in need of basic education. About half the treatment group actually participated in adult education offered by their local programme. The average treatment group member spent about 244 hours (or about twelve 20-hour weeks) in adult education. Only 18% of the control group participated in adult education outside of NEWWS. The sample was tested two years after assignment using the Test of Applied Literacy Skills (TALS) document literacy test and the CASAS Maths Test. TALS is very similar to the tests given in NALS and IALS and participants can achieve a score between 0 and 500. Receipt of a GED was also recorded. Data were obtained for between 2,500 and 3,000 sample members.

California’s state-wide Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN) programme began in 1986. GAIN emphasised education as the way into paid employment and most participants were assessed as requiring some type of basic education (basic literacy education, GED preparation, of ESL) before any other employment-related services were provided. The GAIN evaluation was conducted in six Californian counties, beginning in the late 1980s, and involved randomly assigning welfare recipients to either the treatment group, which received the GAIN services, or to a control group, which did not.

Martinson and Friedlander (1994) look at the experiences of more than 2,500 participants – treatments and controls – who were assessed as needing basic education. Data were available from five of the counties in the evaluation: Alameda, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, and Tulare. Around 40% of the treatment group actually participated in a basic education programme (others got jobs, fell ill, chose to receive job search services, etc). Those who participated attended classes for around 8 months, on average, during a two-to-three-year follow-up period, although were only in class for about 60% of their scheduled hours. People in the treatment group with relatively low levels of literacy tended to be put in remedial reading and mathematics classes, while those with relatively higher levels of literacy tended to participate in GED preparation classes. Only around 8% of the control group participated in adult education outside of GAIN. Around 1,100 sample members were tested between two and three years after assignment using the Test of Applied Literacy Skills (TALS) document and quantitative literacy scales, and the CASAS Maths Test. TALS was administered in English, so those people in the sample who were not proficient in English were not tested. Receipt of a GED was also recorded for all of the sample.

Voluntary employment-related programmes

The Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) was passed in 1982 to establish job training programmes for low-skilled or disadvantaged people. The National JTPA study randomly assigned nearly 21,000 JTPA applicants at 16 sites to either participating in JTPA (two-thirds of the sample) or to a control group (one-third of the sample) which was not allowed to enrol for 18 months. People in the control group were permitted, however, to enrol in other employment or training courses. Random assignment lasted on average about 15 months in each site, beginning in 1987 and ending in 1989. Data was collected on 15,981 sample members and were obtained from sources such as state unemployment and welfare records, and two waves of follow-up surveys. Earnings were recorded over a 30-month follow-up period. JTPA provided several types of training including basic education, vocational training, on-the-job training, job-search assistance, and subsidised work experience. In order to look at the effects of each type, random assignment occurred after each person in the sample was recommended for a particular type of training but before they actually received it (or didn’t receive it). The study is described in Bloom et al (1997a).

The Washington Workforce Training Study looks at the outcomes for participants in adult basic skills programmes, offered at community colleges and technical colleges in Washington State. Only participants who enrolled in a basic skills programme in order to gain employment were included in the study. Data was collected in 1995, on participants who left a relevant programme in 1991-92 or in 1993-94. This meant that effects over both the short-term (7 to 9 months) and medium-term (three years) could be examined. A comparison group was constructed from people who were registered with the employment service as job-seekers and who had not participated in a basic skills programme. Members of the comparison group were selected to be equivalent to participant group members with respect to age, ethnicity, gender, education, employment history, earnings and receipt of welfare benefits. Comparison group members were not, however, matched on the basis of their literacy skills, which is a weakness of the study. Data for the study were obtained from administrative records of the particular programmes involved, the state employment service, and welfare and unemployment insurance offices. The study is described in Beder (1999).

Workplace literacy programmes

Krueger and Rouse (1998) look at the impact of a workplace literacy programme for low-skilled workers in two midsized companies (250-800 employees) – one a manufacturing company and the other a service company – in New Jersey. The literacy programme was focused on low-skilled workers and was designed and run by a community college. Training ran from late 1992 until early 1994, and consisted of twice-weekly two-hour classes running for 8 to 12 weeks. Training covered subjects like basic reading, writing and mathematics and English as a second language, and was in part tailored to specific company needs. Attendance was voluntary, and a combined total of 480 workers attended one or more courses. The federal government met all of the direct costs of the training through the Workplace Literacy Program. Data for the study was obtained from administrative company records, including the hourly wages of participants and non-participants.

Community and family literacy programmes

The Even Start Family Literacy Program is a federally-funded programme delivered to adults with poor literacy skills and to their children (aged under eight years). The programme, which began in 1989 and is still ongoing, has a core of three components: early childhood education, adult literacy training, and parenting education. The national evaluation of Even Start ran from 1990 to 1993. Details of the evaluation are given in St. Pierre et al (1995). The evaluation had two arms: an annual survey of all Even Start projects and participating families, and an in-depth study of 200 families from five Even Start projects. These 200 families were randomly assigned to be in either Even Start or in a control group. Literacy skills of parents were measured using the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment (CASAS) test, which has been used extensively as a measure of learning gain in adult literacy. Parents were tested before entering the programme, after 9 months and again after 18 months. Testing took place whether or not the programme families were still participating in Even Start or if control group families had participated in literacy programmes through other sources. Acquisition of a General Educational Development (GED) diploma was also recorded. GED in the United States is a second-chance qualification equivalent to obtaining a high school diploma.

Brooks et al (2001a) study the progress made in literacy by adults in dedicated, mainstream basic skills programmes in England and Wales. A sample of 2,135 learners from 71 Colleges of Further Education or Local Education Authorities were given a reading test and 1,224 of these were given another reading test some months later. The period between tests varied, but did not exceed 20 weeks of literacy provision. More than half of those taking the second test received less than 40 hours tuition and only 17% received more than 60 hours. It is not clear from the survey description whether people taking the first test were at beginning or mid-way through their courses; likewise it is not clear whether the people who didn’t take the second test had completed their courses, had dropped out, or had refused to take part. There were two reading tests, A and B, and half the sample were given A first and B later, and half were given B first and A later. The reading tests contained 25 items from the IALS prose and document items, including all the Level 1 items. Items used in other literacy surveys were also included. In both the first and second tests, participants were given an estimated composite IALS score between 0 and 500.

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