Gretchen Bitterlin has been an ESL instructor and ESL department instructional leader with the Continuing Education Program, San Diego Community College District since 1971. She was an ESL Teacher Institute Trainer and Chair of the TESOL Task Force on Adult Education Program Standards. She is co-author of English for Adult Competency.
VENTURES IN ADULT EDUCATION:
BACKGROUND AND DEFINITION OF CONTENT STANDARDS
The Adult Education and Literacy Act of 1991 required adult basic education programs in all states to develop indicators of program quality. Since 1998, the federal mandate for accountability has required state and local programs to continually improve performance in terms of moving learners to higher levels of proficiency. Performance reporting must be based on the National Reporting System, which describes national levels of ESOL proficiency. Content standards identify the core knowledge and skills that adult learners are expected to demonstrate. While content standards specify what learners should know and be able to do, performance standards indicate how well learners should perform. According to Regie Stites (September, 1999), "Content standards are meant to serve as general guides for curriculum and should ideally be general, visionary, and not at all prescriptive." Some states that have developed content standards include Arizona, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, California, Florida, and West Virginia.
OTHER TYPES OF STANDARDS
EFF (Equipped for the Future): standards developed by the National Institute for Literacy.
They are organized according to responsibilities learners have in their life roles as workers,
parents, and/or citizens.
SCANS Competencies: a list of workplace skills to help people compete better in
the global economy.
CASAS: a list of 300 life skill competencies deemed essential for adults to succeed in
the workplace, classroom and community.
EXAMPLES OF THE ORGANIZATION OF CONTENT STANDARDS
(1) A trend toward skill based content standards as opposed to standards based on specific
life skill topics.
(2) Development of performance standards to match content standards
(3) Recently the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) has funded a project called
the Adult Education Content Standards Project to develop an electronic warehouse of
standards in order to help states develop their own standards. (See information at
www.adultedcontentstandards.org.) The warehouse lists listening/speaking and
reading/writing standards under the following categories:
Phonological awareness and processing
Fluency and accuracy
Comprehension and expression to derive and construct meaning
on an interpersonal level
Comprehension and expression to derive construct factual meaning
Comprehension and expression to interpret and integrate meaning
Comprehension and expression to critique and evaluate meaning
Cross-language skills (learning and study skills, strategies for learning, etc)
ISSUES RELATED TO CONTENT STANDARDS
(1) Most standards have been written to correlate with the six NRS proficiency levels. The
implementation of standards based instruction by level is difficult in small multi-level classes.
(2) How prescriptive should standards be? Each class is made up of adults with very diverse
needs and goals. Will performance measures based on content standards be realistic for
(3) Is it realistic to correlate adult ESL standards to K-12 standards?
(4) The categories of standards in the electronic warehouse do not relate to categories used
in the teaching of adult level ESL. Will the electronic warehouse be user friendly?
(5) Can progress in non-linguistic areas, e.g. self confidence, be described in content standards
that are leveled?
(6) Will there be a list of national ESOL content standards? Is this appropriate?
(7) Standards will drive assessment, which often determines funding for programs. Will these
assessment tools be realistic and appropriate?
IMPLICATIONS FOR CLASSROOM MATERIALS
(1) Standards will drive content covered in textbooks. Textbooks now list standards in their
table of contents.
(2) In trying to cover all the standards, are textbooks trying to cover too much with too little
practice for each skill?
(3) How do materials developers address standards when there is diversity among state models?
Maryland State Department of Education, Maryland Content Standards for Adult ESL/ESOL, 2003
Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education, The Adult Education Content Standards Warehouse "www.adultedcontentstandards.org/ReferenceFiles/AZESOL.htm"