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Improving literacy/numeracy outcomes. Presenter: Diana Jackson Executive Director, Youth Workforce Solutions Basic skills deficiency remains a challenge.

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Improving literacy/numeracy outcomes

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Improving literacy/numeracy outcomes

Presenter: Diana Jackson

Executive Director, Youth Workforce Solutions

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Basic skills deficiency remains a challenge

  • In PY 2009, 55% of all WIA youth exiters were basic skills deficient

  • 70% of out of school exiters were basic skills deficient

    • 50% of out of school exiters who had diplomas or GEDs before participation were still basic skills deficient when they exited

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  • In PY 09, the national target for meeting the literacy/numeracy measure was 28.7%

  • One-fourth of states did not meet the measure

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Overcoming the challenge: 5 strategies

  • Understand the measure

  • Report accurately

  • Design programs to improve engagement and retention

  • Use youth-friendly assessment principles and practices

  • Use instructional strategies that are effective for at-risk youth

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Understanding the Performance Measure

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Literacy or Numeracy Gains

Of those out-of-school youth who are basic skills deficient

Number of participants who increase one or more educational functioning levels

Number of participants who have completed one, two, or three full years in the program plus the number of participants who exit before completing a full year in the program

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Who is in the measure?

  • Youth who are

    • Out of school AND

    • Basic skills deficient

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Who is in the measure: Definitions

Out of school

  • School dropout or has received a diploma but is basic skills deficient, unemployed, or underemployed

    Basic Skills Deficient

  • Reads, writes, or computes at or below 8th grade level; OR cannot read, write, compute, or speak English at a level necessary to function on a job

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Who is in the measure: length of participation

  • Youth who do not post-test or who exit before completing a year of programming are INCLUDED

  • Youth who are participants for two or three full years, as measured from date of youth participation, are INCLUDED in the measure as long as they remain basic skills deficient

  • Youth who continue participation beyond three years are EXCLUDED the measure

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Important to Note

  • Gains are needed in one area (literacy OR numeracy) to meet performance

  • Unlike ABE, WIA youth programs are not required to show gains in the participant’s lowest –scoring category

  • Youth who remain participants for over a year are not included in the measure again for a full second year.

  • Out of school youth who are NOT basic skills deficient are excluded from this measure.

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What is Successful Performance: A Recap

  • Increase in one EFL level per year of participation

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Report accurately

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  • Sometimes low performance can be attributed to inaccurate reporting

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Accurate reporting is critical

  • If it’s not in WIASRD, it didn’t happen

  • (with thanks to Bob Haas, ODJFS!)

  • Be sure to record the correct score (the scale score)

  • Train personnel who enter data in the system

    • In the system itself

    • In WIA youth programs

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Timing is everything

  • If you miss testing a youth before their one, two, or three-year anniversary, it is a negative outcome, even if the youth shows a gain on the test

  • Use strategies like tickler files to make sure you don’t lose out just because you missed that deadline!

  • But don’t retest too often just to make sure you have a test score;

  • Remember that literacy/numeracy is a real-time measure; exit cohorts are not relevant to this measure

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Design programs to increase engagement and retention

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Why worry about engagement?

  • Some research indicates that the level of youth (or student) engagement has more impact on educational outcomes than instructional methods

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Understanding who you serve: needs of out of school youth

  • Many already have taken on adult roles, such as parent or primary wage-earner

  • An immediate, sustained income is often required

  • Lack of basic skills make immediate, steady employment, esp. at a living wage, unrealistic

  • Family/other responsibilities make attendance at school or employment training difficult

  • Multiple years of programming to prepare for work and life are required

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Impatient with routine, sitting a long time, or learning environments with little variety

Practical learners

Externalizers—do not see a relationship between effort and achievement

Believe that results are beyond their control and so do not take personal responsibility for success or failure

Understanding who you serve: Characteristics of discouraged learners

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Low self-confidence, have deep feelings of helplessness


Distrustful of adults and adult institutions

Don’t see a future, so planning may be irrelevant to them

Basic skills deficient

Parents and family members often have same characteristics, which makes involving them difficult

Often prefer peer relationships to adults’ attempts to engage them in positive (from the adults’ perspective) social activities

Source: At-Risk Students: Reaching and Teaching Them by Richard Sagor and Jonas Cox

Characteristics of Discouraged Learners

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Disconnected youth are often

  • Without hope

  • Without dreams

  • Without trust

    Reconnection can happen through


    recruitment, engagement, retention

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What does it mean to be youth-focused?

  • Youth Involvement –engaging youth in shaping and designing program offerings

  • Positive Peer Influence –harnessing the influence of youth’s peers through group activities and lessons to encourage youth to take part in program offerings

  • Youth Popular Culture –utilizing young people’s music, fashion, creativity, language and entrepreneurial spirit to engage them

    Source: Youth Development Research Fund, Youth Cultural Competence Program Manual

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Ten Tips for Youth Friendly Programming

  • Even those these tips are not necessarily about teaching literacy or numeracy, they are about keeping at-risk youth engaged

  • If youth aren’t engaged, if they drop out of your program, it doesn’t matter how great your reading instruction is

  • Again, how engaged youth are may have more of an impact on outcomes than instructional methods (though some instructional methods lend themselves to greater engagement than others)

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Tips for Youth-Friendly Programming: #1

  • Design intake procedures to be youth-friendly.

    • Provide a checklist of documentation that youth need to provide;

    • Use intake forms that focus on strengths, not just deficits

    • Intersperse interesting activities with data gathering;

    • Consider using tape recorders to record some information;

    • Be prepared to explain the purpose of questions that youth might consider intrusive and explain who will have access to the information.

    • Honor them for being courageous enough to ask for help.

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Tips for Youth-Friendly Programming: #2

  • Design interpersonal support into your programs.

    • Caring adults such as case workers, counselors and mentors are essential for positive youth development.

    • Train your staff to be welcoming and knowledgeable including, if possible, the secretaries and janitors.

    • Recruit or place youth in groups or teams for mutual encouragement.

    • Youth mentors can provide support and model desirable behavior. Involve parents and families.

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Tips for Youth-Friendly Programming #3

  • Make honesty, authenticity and respect central to your programs.

    • Provide what you promise and don't promise what you cannot provide.

    • Give youth genuine opportunities to contribute and lead in your organization and community.

    • Develop as a culturally competent organization that acknowledges and respects the values, beliefs, customs and traditions of the youth being served.

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Tips for Youth-Friendly Programming #4

  • Meet immediate needs first

    • If a youth needs help NOW, meet that need as soon as possible

      • Do not wait until you’ve done an objective assessment; as soon as you determine eligibility, you can start providing services

    • Even if it isn’t an urgent need, use the initial assessment to identify something that would help the youth right away and provide it as soon as you can

    • Meeting an immediate need builds trust; the youth is more likely to give you a chance because you said you would help them and you did

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Tips for Youth-Friendly Programming #5

  • Help them envision a future

    • Many older, out-of-school youth don’t see a future for themselves

    • Help them see where they can go, beginning with where they are

    • Break up the “big picture” into small, manageable steps

    • Point out positive role models—adults who have overcome similar difficulties

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Tips for Youth-Friendly Programming #6

  • Make planning a partnership

    • Never develop a plan FOR a youth, only WITH a youth

    • Don’t force goals onto a youth

    • Encourage basic skills deficient youth to set a reachable skill achievement goal

    • Talk about options and let the youth make the choice about what program or service is right for them

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Tips for Youth-Friendly Programming #7

  • Focus on assets

    • Every youth has gifts, talents, and assets

    • When planning (e.g. developing an ISS), start with the youth’s strengths and build on those instead of starting with problems and barriers

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Tips for Youth-Friendly Programming #8

  • Don’t set youth up for failure

    • Don’t enroll drop-outs in any program that looks like a traditional school (e.g. large group instruction without personalization, inflexible scheduling, etc.)

    • Don’t insist that a youth get a diploma or G.E.D. before providing them with work experience

    • Don’t enroll basic skills deficient youth in G.E.D. preparation without remediation

    • Don’t use a one-size-fits-all approach by placing youth in your “out of school program” whether or not it meets their needs

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Tips for Youth-Friendly Programming #9

  • Programming must be interesting and relevant

  • Out of school youth are not typically engaged by

    • Abstract, theoretical instruction

    • Passive learning activities like lecture

    • Activities that are disconnected from their experiences or needs

  • Out of school youth are typically more engaged by

    • Active, hands-on learning activities

    • Academic instruction that is presented in an authentic, relevant context

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Tips for Youth-Friendly Programming #10

  • Value and respect all youth

    • Teach tolerance, value diversity

    • Race, ethnicity, culture, religion (or lack of it), sexual orientation, gender identity

    • Have policies and procedures in place that assure all youth are protected from all forms of violence, including bullying and harassment

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Use youth-friendly assessment principles and practices

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Assessments for Literacy/Numeracy

  • Must be crosswalked to National Reporting System educational functioning levels

    • Either ABE or ESL

  • Each ABE or ESL level describes skills in areas of reading, writing, numeracy, speaking, listening, functional, and workplace skills.

  • See TEGL 17-05 Change 1, Attachment A for EFL descriptors

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Assessments for Literacy/Numeracy

  • Assessments must be standardized (has standard administration and scoring procedures)

  • Must use the same instrument for pre- and post-test

  • Youth with disabilities should be tested with appropriate accommodations.

  • Participants should continue to receive remediation until they are no longer basic skills deficient. They will not count in the measure again until they have received a second full year of programming.

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Assessments Crosswalked to EFLs

  • Currently acceptable list for literacy/numeracy testing

    • TABE

    • CASAS

    • GAIN

    • MAPT

    • Work Keys (High Intermediate Basic Education and above)

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Principles of Effective Assessment

  • When done well, assessment is an important tool in

    • Uncovering a young person’s strengths and interests

    • Identifying possible problems and challenges

    • Placing youth at appropriate instruction levels

    • Evaluating program effectiveness.

  • When done poorly, assessment can have a negative impact on individual youth and program success.

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Principles of Effective Assessment

  • Make sure assessment processes are youth-friendly.

    • A 3-hour assessment should not be the first thing that happens when a young person walks in the door looking for help.

    • Meeting an immediate need first helps create trust and buy-in from the youth.

    • Consider using reading or math subtests only if valid.

    • Make testing surroundings as pleasant as possible. Provide water or soft drinks. Allow youth to use iPODs (as long as other test-takers aren’t disturbed).

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Principles of Effective Assessment

  • Tell youth why they are being assessed and how the results will be used.

  • Don’t use the word “test.”

  • Be sure they know they cannot fail.

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Use instructional strategies that are effective for at-risk youth

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To understand the teacher’s goals

To be actively involved in the learning process

To relate subject matter to their own lives

To follow their own interests

To receive realistic and immediate feedback

To experience success

To experience an appropriate amount of structure

To have time to integrate learning

To have positive contact with peers

To have instruction matched to their level of cognitive development and learning style

Jones and Jones, Comprehensive Classroom Management

Youth’s Academic Needs

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Meeting youth’s academic needs

  • If these needs are not met, or if the youth perceives they are not being met, youth may act out or simply stop coming

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Contextual Learning

  • Uses R.E.A.C.T. principle

    • Relating: linking the concept to be learned with something the youth already knows

    • Experiencing: hands-on learning and teacher explanation allow discovery of knowledge

    • Applying: Applying knowledge in the real world

    • Collaborating: Team approach to solving problems

    • Transferring: students take what they’ve learned and apply it in new situations

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In summary

  • Improving literacy and numeracy scores can happen when

    • Staff, youth, and other stakeholders understand the measure and what is expected of them

    • Staff are fully trained so that reporting is accurate and timely

    • Programs are designed to engage and retain hard-to-serve youth

    • Instructional methods meet youth’s academic needs

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