Voices and Viewpoints

Survey shows U.S. is falling behind on improving adult skills: How using equity-guided, data-driven practices can improve adult skills

by Edmund Graham III / Feb 14, 2014

The U.S. is falling behind in improving adult skills according to the recent Adult Skills Survey results from the Organisation of Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). The survey showed that the U.S. is behind in adults’ proficiency in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving. What’s more troubling for those striving for educational access and equity is that racial and ethnic minorities experienced even greater disparities in skills than their White counterparts. This skills gap has long-term implications for health, civic engagement, and workforce needs. 

I recently discussed the survey results as a participant in the regional meeting sponsored by the Joyce Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE). This diverse group of stakeholders convened in Chicago in December to help shape a national action plan for improving adult skills by strengthening the link between foundation skills and the economy and employment. An important element of the discussion was on scaling what works and closing the achievement gap.

The Pathways to Results (PTR) process developed by the Office of Community College Research and Leadership (OCCRL) addresses these same issues in its work to help P-20 schools, colleges, and partners close equity gaps for all students. PTR has been used by 43 of the 48 public community colleges in the state of Illinois, and it is being adopted by TAACCCT consortium with community colleges nationwide. PTR combines developmental evaluation and continuous improvement with outcomes assessment, all of which are guided by an equity perspective. Improving transitional outcomes from secondary, to postsecondary, and to employment is the goal. PTR encourages a diverse set of stakeholders to identify a problem that impedes students’ progression through a pathway and program of study to reduce or remove barriers and help students reach their intended goals. This model addresses two primary issues that are present in the OECD survey results. First, by examining student characteristics and outcomes data, barriers are identified and adult skills-related outcomes are improved. Second, by focusing on equity and identifying solutions that produce equitable outcome for all adults of different backgrounds, the nation’s goal of improving the economy and placing citizens back to work is addressed.

More regional engagement sessions are planned. If you would like to contribute to the discussion, visit OVAE ’s website. Learn more about implementing the continuous process improvement model on the PTR site or by attending the Scaling up Pathways to Results 2014 conference on March 5, 2014. The Scaling Up PTR conference focuses on improving P-20 education through career pathways to achieve equitable outcomes for all students. Marcy Drummond, lead senior program officer with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will serve as the keynote speaker.

Edmund Graham III, is a doctoral student in the Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership with a specialization in higher education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and currently works as a graduate research assistant for OCCRL.

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