Impact of Participation Project

National and international studies provide strong evidence of the need for and economic value of adult basic skills (ABS). There is little rigorous research, however, showing that participation in basic skills programs directly impacts skill levels, educational attainment, or the social and economic well-being of adults with low levels of education. Most studies use short follow-up intervals and include only program participants, making it difficult to see longer-term patterns of program participation and persistence and to assess long-term impact of ABS program participation.

Although ABS program evaluation and accountability reports typically show small gains for program participants in test scores and other outcomes, these studies rarely include comparison groups of nonparticipants, and most studies that do include such controls have not found statistically significant ABS program impact. Research is needed that compares adult literacy development among program participants and nonparticipants across multiple contexts and over significant periods of time to provide a life-wide and lifelong perspective on adult literacy development, and a better assessment of program impact on a range of outcome measures.

The Longitudinal Study of Adult Learning (LSAL) is one such lifelong and life-wide study. LSAL randomly sampled about 1,000 high school dropouts and followed them for nearly a decade from 1998–2007. LSAL followed both participants and nonparticipants in ABS programs, assessing their literacy skills and skill uses over long periods of time, along with changes in their social, educational, and economic status, offering a rich picture of adult literacy development.

The Impact of Participation Project, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE), created a series of five Research Briefs that utilize LSAL data to examine long-term impacts of ABS program participation on a range of outcome measures. Each Brief looks at a different outcome.

The Impact of ABS Program Participation on Long-Term Economic Outcomes

The Impact of ABS Program Participation on Long-Term Literacy Growth

The Impact of ABS Program Participation on Long-Term GED Attainment

The Impact of ABS Program Participation on Long-Term Postsecondary Engagement

The Long-Term Impact of ABS Program Participation on Voting