Development and delivery of high quality educational services within the WEST ABE consortium

The WEST ABE consortium offers programming in 6 of the 8 activity and service areas identified by WIOA, including: Adult Education, Literacy, Family Literacy, Workplace Adult Education, English Language acquisition and Workforce Preparation. In the past, the consortium offered programming in a 6th area defined by WIOA: Integrated Education and Training (IET).  An example of IET career pathway programming was the Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) Certificate/credit program as described in Narrative Item 4.2.

The consortium hosts one Family Literacy classroom in the community of Buffalo. We do not offer programming in integrated English literacy and civics education, however elements of these two programs are integrated in to our multi-level ESL classes.  WEST previously had a citizenship class that was held 12 weeks per year in Wayzata but this has since been discontinued due to low attendance.

In keeping with the MN ABE Eligible Content policy, our consortium offers Adult Literacy instruction to all enrolled ABE learners in one or more of the following core content areas: Reading, Writing, Mathematics, Speaking, Listening, English as a Second Language, and GED preparation and training.  Learners enrolled in instruction in one of the core content areas may receive supplemental instruction in one of the following areas, as well: Citizenship, Civics, Basic Technology, Statewide Adult High School diploma or GED training, Employability Skills, Health Literacy, Study Skills, Knowing how to Learn, Creative Thinking and Problem Solving, Personal/Group Effectiveness and Financial Literacy.

Instruction is offered throughout the consortium at all 6 federally (NRS) defined ESL and ABE levels. Our consortium places students in their level through assessment using the CASAS (for ESL learners) or TABE’s (for ABE learners) Reading and Math scores. Content and instruction at all levels is currently being aligned to the three content standard domains adopted by the state: College and Career Readiness Standards (to address basic skills), Northstar Digital Literacy Standards (to address digital literacy skills), and the Academic, Career and Employability Skills (ACES)/Transitions Integration Framework (TIF) (to address professional / soft skills needed for Workforce Preparation).

As students move through the various NRS levels, the content of the instruction becomes more contextualized to the needs of the learner and higher level digital literacy skills are introduced. What results is a pathway by which a learner can enter the program, build their literacy skills, and move along the continuum until they reach the level where they have achieved a GED or are prepared for entry into the workforce or post-secondary education and training.

The consortium is geographically large and the majority of its member school districts are located in very small, very rural communities.  However, the consortium has always operated under the premise that it is as important to offer access to ABE services in a small, rural community as it is to offer those same services in one of the larger communities. For this reason, a concerted effort is made to offer access to ABE programming to as many adult learners as possible across the consortium, knowing that sparse attendance and small student numbers may not require full time programming, but should not preclude those students from accessing some level of programming altogether.

Several strategies have been incorporated to ensure that all students have access to quality programming offered at a sufficient intensity to allow students to make substantial learning gains, whether in a small part time program, or in a larger full time program. These include:

Expanded classroom access through online and distance learning programs –

As detailed in Narrative Item 3.3, the consortium receives training and access to a variety of online and distance learning platforms, and all learners are encouraged to enroll in one or more online programs in order to further review or explore concepts learned in class and study independently.  Online access not only introduces learners to digital literacy skills and online learning, but expands the level of service and access to programming we can offer our students, especially in small, rural, part time programs.

Attendance expectations –

Attendance expectations vary by classroom size. In larger classrooms with managed enrollment, or waiting lists for programming, we have implemented a Student Attendance Policy which is fairly easy to enforce, because students can be faced with removal from the class if they continuously fail to attend. In general, every teacher in the consortium is expected to set the tone for attendance expectations as soon as a learner enrolls in class, by reviewing the Student Progress Policy with each student during intake.  In addition, teachers request that students call if they are not able to attend class on a scheduled day, and as a matter of practice, students who need an age waiver for the GED will be required to attend at least 12 hours and achieve required GED Ready or TABE assessment scores before an age waiver will be submitted. In some ESL classrooms teachers have created a “buddy” system having the students be responsible to a classmate if they cannot attend and the students check in on each other by text or phone if the other is not in class.

Student progress expectations –

The consortium implements the statewide Student Progress Policy. Instructors in each classroom are responsible for informing their students of this policy and maintaining a close watch over their progress in order to implement it. For most students who regularly attend class and are actively engaged in their learning, compliance with this policy is not difficult.  However, for students who after 24 months of regular attendance in an ABE class have not met the criteria as outlined in the policy, a Progress Intervention Plan will be implemented, through consultation between the student, classroom teacher, and ABE Coordinator.

Highly trained instructors –

There is no substitute for highly trained teachers in the quest to help students on their path to educational success.  If a teacher flounders, their student flounders. Our teachers are very highly trained and skilled to detect and address deficiencies in literacy skills.  They know how to use the tools and resources at their disposal to get to the heart of a problem and to align the correct materials and resources so that a student can quickly make measurable skills gains.

Alignment to statewide content standards –

The consortium is currently undergoing an examination of its resources, materials and instructional strategies as well as professional development and training, to align programming to statewide content standards which were recently adopted.  Professional Learning Committees (PLC’s) were formed in an effort to get teacher input and also to have a focused group to tackle this task. Ultimately, this will result in a pathway of programming, using vetted materials and standard content of instruction to ensure that all ABE learners, whether enrolled in small or large programs, will have access to high quality instruction and resources appropriate to their level of need.

A coordinated effort has been made to incorporate the essential components of reading instruction throughout the consortium.  Over the last few years two teachers from this consortium participated in STAR training cohorts sponsored by ATLAS. STAR stands for Student Achievement in Reading and is a project from the national Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) that provides training and support for teachers of intermediate reading students in effective, evidence-based practices in the four major components of adult reading instruction: alphabetics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

STAR is not a reading curriculum, but rather a reading reform initiative which requires a rather rigid set of changes to the way in which reading instruction has typically been offered. Students are selected for participation in STAR Reading classes according to their CASAS or TABE assessment scores in reading.  Once initially identified for STAR reading instruction based on the CASAS or TABE assessment, a learner is given further diagnostic tests in the four reading component areas (alphabetics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension), the results of which are used by the teacher to plan and deliver evidence-based reading instruction (EBRI).  STAR classes are held in both Buffalo and Wayzata. EBRI strategies include: Alphabetics instruction to assist students at the lowest levels of ESL and ABE programming to help them better communicate and pronounce words, vocabulary instruction and comprehension strategies taught at all levels of ESL and ABE programming, and guided practice with small groups and one-to-one instruction to build fluency and increase comprehension.

The first line of defense in building a program that offers high-quality educational services to adult learners is to provide highly trained, well informed classroom instructors to our adult learners.  As outlined in Section 3, our staff has been highly trained in a number of areas of effective educational practice, including:

  • Student Achievement in Reading (STAR) – a project from the national Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) that provides training and support for teachers of intermediate reading students in effective, evidence-based practices in the four major components of adult reading instruction: alphabetics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
  • MN Numeracy Institute, a year-long professional development activity offered by ATLAS to explore the content, context, and cognitive and affective components of numeracy through the online course Foundations of Teaching Adult Numeracy.
  • College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) Implementation Cohort Training – an intensive, long-term, professional development opportunity to prepare program teams to align curriculum and instruction to the CCR standards and develop a long-term standards implementation plan for their program.
  • Academic, Career and Employability Standards (ACES) – Professional Learning Communities  provide teachers with the opportunity to explore and practice integrating skills from the Transitions Integration Framework (TIF) into their instruction and to work collaboratively with colleagues to develop their teaching practice. The TIF is divided into six skills categories: Effective Communication (EC), Learning Strategies (LS), Critical Thinking (CT), Self-Management (SM), Developing a Future Pathway (DFP), and Navigating Systems (NS).  These have become the basis for Soft Skills instruction in MN ABE.
  • Universal Design for Learning (UDL) – training offered by PANDA to assist teachers in creating classroom learning environments that minimize barriers and maximize learning for all students, based on scientific insights into how humans learn, and helps teachers refine why they teach, what they teach and how they teach

The consortium currently hosts proctored Northstar Digital Literacy Assessments is working on getting all staff trained to be proctors.  All staff have access to and utilize the non-proctored assessments with students in their programs, and use the content measured by the assessment to drive the content of digital literacy instruction within their classrooms.

As mentioned in Section 3, the consortium has staff  who participated in both the first and second cohort trainings on the College and Career Readiness Standards, is working to create standards-aligned lessons plans and learning to evaluate materials and resources to make sure that everything used with students for both primary and supplemental instruction is of good quality and well aligned to the Common Core standards for Adult Education.