Home | About Us | Site Map


Policy Examples


Key persistence policy questions:

  • Do the guidelines for the intake & orientation spell out process and content that is optimal for: screening for ability to benefit; preparing adults to begin classes and for learning in general; for engaging their informed commitment; beginning the goal-setting process; and building a sense of belonging to the program?
  • How are hours for extended orientation counted? Can they count toward contact hours?
  • Are students enrolled from the first hour of class or after 12 hours?
  • Is the funding sufficient to cover staff their time to implement the guidelines?

Research suggests that the learners’ first three weeks in the program are critical to their persistence. There is increased awareness among states of the importance of a comprehensive intake and orientation process that fully prepares adults for the learning experience, informs them of their choices and of the programs’ expectations, and engages them right away as new members of  the program/school community. Yet, extending the intake and orientation process may raise policy issues. For example, if funding is driven by contact hours, that sets a disincentive for extending the orientation process, unless orientation can count as contact hours.

Vermont ABE programs must have intake and enrollment procedures that welcome students and establish a strong commitment, support, and clear expectations for each student’s participation, making full use of individual education plans and enabling students to make fully informed decisions regarding program options. The expectation is that by the conclusion of the first twelve hours of service, each learner should have an identified skill proficiency level, established preliminary goal(s), and be engaged in an individual education plan. 

Rhode Island requires that all ABE programs have a clear process (e.g., timeline, activities, responsible persons, etc.) for intake, orientation, goal setting, assessment, and placement, including an effective method by which to convey this to students entering the program.  The goal setting process is viewed as an ongoing process that informs curricula and instruction. Program staff is expected to assist students in developing an individual educational plan to work toward their goals.

The Massachusetts guidelines for ABE programs require that within 30 days of enrollment, programs must provide all students with an orientation and provide each student with a student handbook that clarifies and explains program policies.  Programs must ensure that all students, including limited English proficient students, understand the information provided at orientation.  Student goals must inform instruction and be incorporated into a program’s curriculum development process, and they must be revisited on a regular basis.



Key persistence policy questions:

  • When is a student considered formally enrolled?
  • Can the data system track student transfers from, for example, day time classes to evening classes in the same program?
  • Do policies support reduced turbulence and some form of managed enrollment?

The minimum threshold for countable enrollments in the National Reporting System (NRS) is 12 hours.  In some states, intake, assessment and orientation count toward the 12 hour enrollment. In other states, student completion of orientation, especially a more extensive one, is an early marker of persistence.

Some systems are not set up to track student participation through transfers from, for example, day time classes to evening classes in the same program, and those students show up as drop-outs in the data base.

Research suggests that managed enrollment aids student persistence by reducing classroom “turbulence”, i.e. the coming and going of students in an open entry/exit system.  However, if program funding is driven by aggregate contact hours or “seat time,” that creates a financial risk for programs to move toward managed enrollment because programs could lose funds if they don’t meet their goal for contact hours. Modified versions of managed enrollment entail enrolling students in small cohorts, perhaps through the first month of classes, rather than closing registration.  Shortening cycles is another strategy that makes managed enrollment more manageable for programs and learners.


Key persistence policy questions:

  • What should the performance standards be for attendance?
  • How is attendance calculated, and reported? Are contact hours calculated by seat or by student?
  • What guidance can be provided to programs for attendance policies?
  • Does independent or distance learning count and how are those hours calculated and reported?

Attendance is perhaps the most common measure of learner persistence. However, how it is calculated matters. Calculating contact hours by seat occupied in class rather than by specific students presents a challenge for persistence efforts, particularly if the contact hours are tied to the program’s funding. Calculating contact hours by seat occupied does not help the program determine the extent to which individual students are persisting in their studies. In fact, it encourages frequent intakes and enrollment rather than a focus on retaining enrolled students.

Research tells us that adult learners need on the average 100 -150 hours in order to make one level learning gain:

      • 100 hours (Fitzgerald & Young, 1997)
      • 110 hours (Rose & Wright, 2005)
      • 150 hours (Comings, Sum and Uvin, 2000 for MassINC)

Massachusetts sets its goal between 117 and 131 attended hours per student annually.  The standard is that students attend, on average, between 66% and 76% of total planned student hours. Attendance rates are calculated as follows: Total number of attended student hours divided by the total number of planned student hours.

Rhode Island sets its goal at 150 hours of attendance per student annually.  Programs are expected to have attendance policies that define excused and unexcused absences, what constitutes partial hours, and the consequences of poor attendance.

Connecticut operates a statewide an Adult Virtual High School where hours attended can be either verifiable or proxyVerifiable hours represent the actual contact hours of onsite attendance at a program site. Proxy hours represent the time spent by the learner that can only be verified through student activity and work in the online course, that are over and above the verifiable hours. A learner who enrolls only in Virtual High School courses must have at least 12 verifiable attendance hours in one enrollment to be considered as having been retained for 12 hours.

A Retention through Redirection document from Canada includes a useful review of promising attendance policies and a host of strategies (see Feature # 3 on p. 16).


Key persistence policy questions:

  • At what point should the pre-test be administered?
  • What should the performance standards be for post-test rates?
  • What is the minimum number of hours of instruction students should receive before they can be post-tested?
  • What policies should guide programs’ goal setting processes with students given that the National Reporting System only captures goals that students articulate at intake and that can be attained within the same academic year?

States commonly require pre-testing in reading, writing, math and/or ESOL to be administered to all learners within the first 12 hours of instruction. 

For the Massachusetts ABE system, the goal is that between 66% and 76% of eligible students are pre- and post-tested, and that between 47% and 56% of students demonstrate significant gain on approved standardized tests. In addition to the required student assessments, programs must develop their own classroom-based assessments.  Both the required and the classroom-based assessments must be used to measure student progress, inform students of their progress and inform instruction.  These assessments may include activities such as role-plays, mock interviews, writing exercises, quizzes, dictations, student self-assessment, portfolios, presentations, etc

Rhode Island recommends no fewer than 50 hours between pre- and progress or post-testing. 

Vermont expects that adult learners demonstrate a gain on approved standardized assessments in reading, writing, mathematics or ESOL equivalent to one grade level for every 75 hours of instruction.


Key persistence policy questions:

  • Do the policies require and fund programs of sufficient intensity for learning gains to occur?

Research on Massachusetts ABE programs concluded that more intensive, shorter duration GED programs yielded higher completion and graduation rates than when students attended the same number of hours over a longer period of time (Comings, Sum and Uvin, 2000 for MassINC). This study led the researchers to predict that “students who receive 100 hours of instruction in classes that meet for 12 hours per week are as likely to earn a high school credential as students who receive 225 hours of instruction in classes that meet for 6 hours per week” (p. 65-66). Although many adult learners cannot or will not attend 12 or more hours a week, some do. As long as state policies and funding can underwrite more intensive classes, that is an option programs should consider offering.  

Massachusetts ABE programs must provide a minimum of five hours of instruction up to a maximum of 20 hours of instruction each week.  (The optimum range is 7 to 9 hours per week for working adults and 12 to 20 hours per week for unemployed adults) for a minimum of 32 weeks up through a maximum of 48 weeks per year.

Rhode Island ABE programs must offer at least 30 weeks of instruction (with exception of work-based learning projects) and up to 48 weeks preferably, not less than 4 hours per week with a minimum of 2 hours per week (on average) for 1-on-1 tutoring that is primary instruction and up to 15 hours per week or more if feasible or required (e.g., welfare participants; TRADE, or Even Start).


Key persistence policy questions:

  • How do the funding and policies support multiple learning pathways and flexibility in responding to learner needs?
  • How can self-study be supported through distance learning and technology?

Persistence researcher, John Comings, identified five persistence pathways: long-term, mandatory, short-term, try-out, and intermittent. He called on policymakers to develop program approaches and accountability criteria that correspond to these pathways, and to “support program experimentation with new ways to deliver services by providing funding and allowing programs to count hours for self-study.” http://www.ncsall.net/fileadmin/resources/ann_rev/comings-02.pdf  Examples of multiple pathways include drop-in resources centers, make-up classes on a set schedule, hybrid classes that combine face-to-face and online instruction, take-home study packets and other independent learning options.

In Rhode Island, programs must provide a minimum sequence of four staff-assisted learning options from most basic ABE/ESOL Literacy to ASE/Low Advanced ESOL and transition/bridge-to-college levels to make sure learning upon completion or upon change in life circumstances is not interrupted. Options for learning pathways may be offered at programs directly or elsewhere in the community via partnership agreements, including but not limited to:

  • classroom-based instruction;
  • one-on-one tutoring (initial primary instruction for those on waiting lists, for those uncomfortable with classroom settings, and for those temporarily stopped out of classroom instruction and supplemental instruction for those in classrooms);
  • staff-assisted learning resource or tutoring drop-in centers;
  • staff-assisted distance learning or technology-based classroom initiatives; and
  • other staff-assisted technology-based and other learning arrangements.


Key persistence policy questions:

  • What is an appropriate and affordable counseling function and who is charged with its provision?
  • How is the counseling function defined related to persistence?
  • What professional development is provided for counselors?

There is some evidence from research that counseling aids adult learner persistence (MDRC, 2009). In many programs and ABE systems, teachers double as informal counselors. In other systems, the teaching and counseling functions are separated to lessen the burden on teachers and to provide students another option to consult a trusted person.  

Massachusetts ABE programs must have a designated Educational Counselor /ADA Coordinator to provide learners with support services and guidance in meeting their educational goals, and to coordinate and document all ADA support services. Programs are expected to have the capacity to communicate and provide counseling with the most predominant student language group in their native language.  They must coordinate counseling and ADA efforts with classroom teachers and be involved in crafting appropriate and reasonable responses to ADA issues.

The Educational Counseling responsibilities include:

  • Intake, assessment, and follow-up, and goal setting coordinated with teachers to inform instruction.
  • Referrals to other community resources/agencies.
  • Assistance in overcoming barriers to attendance such as childcare and transportation.
  • Assistance with transitioning students to concurrent and/or the next step in their academic/job training experience, which includes maintaining a close and proactive working relationship with area Career Center and Community College admissions staff.

Rhode Island ABE policies require programs to provide “integrated services” where adult education is linked to other services participants may need to achieve their goals, such as training, structured work experiences, work readiness training and assessment, job development and job placement, and case management/coaching for welfare recipients offered either through program or partnerships.

Pennsylvania and Connecticut now fund case manager positions in several ABE programs and have provided professional development for them.


Key persistence policy questions:

  • How do the funding and policies support ongoing staff development? Are they informed by what we know about effective professional development?

Persistence also depends on engaging instruction that is perceived by learners as relevant to achieving their goals, and that assists them in seeing progress toward those goals. This calls for adequate funding for preparation of lessons and informal assessment, professional development and related policies.

Evidence-based practice from both K-12 and adult education research on effective professional development indicates that it should:

  • be sustained over time (e.g. a semester);
  • connect with teachers’ real work;
  • include a variety of activities such as demonstration, practice and follow-up;
  • emphasize analysis and reflection, not just learning new techniques;
  • organize teachers and other staff from the same workplace to participate together;
  • focus on studying and understanding students’ thinking; and
  • make use of performance data.

(Bingman & Smith, 2007; Smith & Gillespie, 2007)

The implications for policy (Smith & Gillespie; Association of Adult Literacy Professional Developers, 2007) are:

  • Integrate professional development with program improvement, so that teachers can apply what they learn.
  • Improve quality of instruction through more professional development and better working conditions for staff.
  • Allocate more funding for professional development release time as well as for packages of comprehensive professional development.

In Massachusetts, every staff member in a program, e.g., teachers, support staff, counselor, and director, no matter how experienced, must participate in professional development activities.  Each program must identify a Staff Development Facilitator (P/SD) to assist staff in their staff development efforts.  The program director and Program/Professional Development Facilitator work together to ensure that the program uses a continuous planning process that links program goals with individual professional development plans, and that is reviewed annually.  Types of staff development activities include: peer coaching, study circles, teacher research, mini-courses and institutes, reading, visiting another program to learn new practices, as well as workshops. 

Annually, each staff member must:

  • Assess his/her needs for professional development.
  • Set and prioritize goals for each year's staff development.
  • Create an individual staff development plan.  The plan should address the individual staff member’s goals for professional development and also align with the program’s improvement goals.
  • Engage in the selected staff development activity.
  • Evaluate and document the staff development effort and activity.

It is required that for both full and part-time staff, 2.5% of each staff member’s time (or 12 hours, whichever is greater) must be used for staff development activities.  This 2.5% is in addition to the 15-hour New Staff Orientation required in the first year of hire.  A full time staff member working 40 hours/week throughout the year receives support for and is required to complete 52 hours of staff/professional development each year.  The program must make time available for staff development activities by providing substitutes or using other strategies in order that staff has access to development opportunities. 

It is required that each program engage annually in a formal planning process for continuous improvement.  Key steps in the continuous improvement planning process include:

  • Assess program needs/strengths re. intake, orientation, curriculum development, instruction, assessment, counseling, instruction, follow-up, etc.
  • Define and prioritize goals for program improvement, based on needs
  • Develop a continuous improvement (action/work) plan to meet goal(s) that incorporate individual staff development plans.
  • Engage in activities to implement the plan in order to meet those goals and document these efforts 
  • Evaluate efforts and progress (e.g., the effectiveness of the plan, making revisions as needed).


Key persistence policy questions:

  • How do the funding and policies support student involvement in the program decisions and operations, and the development of students’ leadership and advocacy skills?

Anecdotal evidence suggests that opportunities for student involvement and leadership in their programs and beyond build a sense of belonging and community and aid persistence. While not all students have time or interest in getting involved beyond attending classes, others welcome this opportunity and thrive. These student leaders become role models for their peers, advocates for adult education, and many are hired by their programs as paid tutors or outreach workers, or computer lab assistants. As consumers of adult education, they offer an invaluable perspective for program planning and decision-making.  Some states, such as Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Vermont set aside ABE funds for student leadership development. VALUE is a national organization governed and operated by current and former adult learners that is a resource for student leaders.