tion, (2) supports for persistence, (3) technologies for learning, and (4) assessments of learners and their instructional environments. The research will need a strong instructor training component with instructor supports. To ensure investments of the appropriate scale, a sequence of research should be undertaken that includes exploration, innovation, efficacy testing, scaling up, and assessment development.

Basic and applied research is recommended in several priority areas. First, the characteristics of adult literacy learners should be studied to define instructionally meaningful subgroups to provide a strong basis for differentiating instructional approaches. Second, an empirical basis is needed to help define the literacy skills required in today’s society to meet educational or career milestones and for full social and civic participation. Third, more research is need on the cognitive, linguistic, and neural influences on learning for both typical adult learners and those with learning disabilities. Fourth, the various forces that interact to affect typical and atypical literacy development across the life span—cognitive, linguistic, social, cultural, instructional, and systemic—need to be better specified.

Information about the literacy of adults in the United States rapidly becomes outdated, and adequate information is not available about the literacy instruction provided to adults or its effectiveness. The committee recommends that information about the literacy skills of the nation’s adults and in the diverse systems that offer adult literacy instruction be gathered and analyzed on a continual and long-term basis to know (1) whether the population is becoming more literate and (2) whether efforts to improve literacy are effective at a macro level as well as in specific individual efficacy studies. These efforts should track progress on the components of reading and writing that have been identified in research and on proficiency in performing important functional literacy tasks. The information collected on instructional programs should include learning goals and objectives and the practices, materials, tools, and assessments in use. This information is needed to better understand current practices, plan the appropriate professional development of instructors, create effective out-of-classroom learning opportunities, and better match literacy instruction to emerging literacy demands for work, education, health, and functioning in society.

Implementation of these recommendations will require strong leadership from specific entities in the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Labor. Given the scope of the problem, partnerships need to be developed between researchers, curriculum developers, and administrators across the systems that serve adult learners. It will also be important to enlist business leaders and faith-based and other community groups in the effort. The committee urges particular attention to three issues noted above: (1) variability of instructor preparation, (2) the existence of many different

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement