For many adults, the enhancement of component reading and writing skills itself is not the ultimate objective, but the attainment of larger life goals related to career and educational advancement and improvement in the lives of their families. The instructional practices studied in research must have clearly stated learning goals and objectives. These should take into account both the need to develop component skills of reading and writing and the literacy facility needed for education, work, parenting, and other purposes. It is also important to empirically document the particular constellations of component literacy skills needed to perform important literacy tasks associated with larger learning goals (e.g., GED preparation, college entry and completion, fulfillment of parental responsibilities, performance of workplace skills, participation in civic responsibilities).
Although learners across programs share literacy development needs and learning goals, the current system of instruction is a loose mix of programs in many places that lack coordination and coherence with respect to what is taught and how. There also is a lack of alignment to be addressed in the learning objectives for literacy development across adult education, colleges, and K-12 instruction. Adult literacy research is hampered by the lack of a coherent system and established curricula with materials and standard practices that can be tested. An empirical mapping of component skills to literacy tasks and learning goals would offer a basis for aligning literacy instruction across places and systems of instruction and for developing standard instructional curricula and practices to meet the needs of diverse learners across learning contexts.
At present, information is limited from adult education programs and colleges about the specific reading and writing development needs of the adults they serve; the instruction that is used and whether it is implemented effectively; and whether the instruction facilitates development of reading and writing skills needed to achieve broader learning goals. There is a need for ongoing collection across the systems that provide literacy instruction of data on learners’ skills, the quality of instruction they experience, and other characteristics of learners and learning environments to enable planning and implementing instruction effectively and the tracking of progress. A sound assessment system is needed to support and monitor learning at the individual, program, and systems levels to plan instruction and track progress in the component reading and writing skills and functional literacy skills related to broader learning goals.
A primary problem to resolve is how to engage adults in the amount and intensity of instruction and practice that is required to develop literacy skills and conduct the needed research. High attrition rates, which are typical of both adult literacy and college developmental education programs (Alamprese, 2009; Comings, 2009; Goldrick-Rab, 2007), compromise the integrity of research findings and can be a disincentive to research. Several