Spotlight on Best Practices in Program Standards

By Dan Devers

If you have attended a professional development workshop or conference during the past few years, then the buzzwords retention and persistence should sound quite familiar. In fact, these are broad terms that encompass a single, common issue that most adult education programs have experienced – students dropping or stepping out of class with little or no notice. Unfortunately, many of these students seldom return.

As we all know, adult education students have many barriers that may interrupt their education such as childcare, transportation, and sick family members. Perhaps one of the greatest barriers may simply be the fear of returning to a classroom. In order to address these types of situations, adult education programs have offered everything from incentives to supportive services and have experienced varying degrees of success in student retention. Many programs have gone a step further and have begun to adopt best practices found in The Harvard Model for Evidence-Based Adult Education.

A few best practice examples found in the Harvard model are stricter attendance expectations, managed/structured enrollment, routine data monitoring, periodic staff meetings, professional development, and distance learning. Vigo County School Corporation adopted many of these best practices in the fall of 2012. Under the leadership of Adult Education Director Jeff Clutter, VCSC experienced the following advances in performance during the 2012-13 program year: 55% increase in student contact hours; 82% increase of students post tested; 99% increase in funded gains, which includes multiple NRS level gains, GED, diplomas, transition to post-secondary, and completion of WorkINdiana training; and 66% increase in performance incentives (dollars earned by student gains).

Jeff and his staff were able to attain these achievements by making significant changes such as requiring students to obtain at least 12 hours per week. These hours can be earned through classroom attendance and distance learning*. In addition, Jeff strengthened his student entry process by offering weekly orientations lasting two days. These periodic orientations ensure that every student who comes into the program hears the same information and expectations. It also helps filter out those students who may not be serious about starting classes. If they attend the orientation and never make it to class, then at least the teacher has not wasted time registering the student.

During this orientation period, strong cohorts are created through activities including TABE testing and a writing activity. The writing activity helps in three ways. First, it engages students with Indiana Career Explorer and helps them think about possible career pathways. Second, it helps VCSC staff to gauge the writing ability of the students. Lastly, students are encouraged to type their essay. If they have difficulty typing, teachers know they need to work with those students on some basic keyboarding skills.

Indiana Career Explorer also aids students in deciding if pursuing a career certification through WorkINdiana would be of benefit. During the orientation, students are also given the opportunity to express concerns about immediate barriers, and solutions are discussed.

Through the development of innovative activities and procedures, VCSC has created an academic program that has allowed students to become more comfortable with their environment and understand the relevance of adult education in obtaining their ultimate goals, as well as experiencing great strides in performance.

*Please refer to DWD’s Distance Education Policy for further clarification on distance learning.
For research on managed enrollment, please refer to