|EFF Content Standards
The 16 EFF Content Standards define the knowledge and skills adults need in order to successfully carry out their roles as parents and family members, citizens and community members, and workers. Keeping a focus clearly on what adults need literacy for, EFF identified 16 core skills that supported effective performance in the home, community, and workplace. Then, through two years of iterative field and expert review, we defined Content Standards that describe what adults need to know and be able to do to use these 16 skills in everyday life.
By identifying four categories of generative skills, EFF broadened the range of skills adult literacy and basic skills basic programs are typically expected to cover. These skills include strong reading, writing, and math skills; they include the skills we need to communicate and work well with others; to solve problems and to keep up with change. These categories of skills (see side bar) include those we traditionally think of as interpersonal skills, and those decision-making and learning skills we traditionally talk about as "higher order" or critical thinking. Our goal in proposing this range of standards and in framing them as we did was to shift the focus of adult literacy and basic skills instruction and assessment away from a decontextualized skills-based curriculum toward a contextualized, practice-based curriculum that was better matched to and firmly grounded in learners' own purposes for returning to schools.
Grouping the 16 generative skills into these four categories is intended to underline the interchangeability of skills within a category. For example, some activities that require adults to Work Together can be carried out most effectively by relying on oral and visual communication skills. In such situations, reading and writing may not be the most important means of communicating with others about what needs to get done. Similarly, the specific interpersonal skills one needs to draw on will vary from situation to situation depending on the task and context. The categories reflect this variability of skills, encouraging adult learners to think about all the skills in a given category as tools they may want to draw on selectively to achieve their purpose more effectively.
Every standards development effort is guided by a set of criteria that reflect shared assumptions about the purpose of adult learning and the role of standards. The following "standards for standards" identify the key criteria that the EFF development team used to develop standards based on the EFF skills:
Since the starting place in defining the EFF Standards is what people do that requires the knowledge and skills that make up each Standard, every effort has been made to assure that the Standards sharply focus on application of skills.
Naming the Standards. The name of each EFF Standard focuses on how adults need to use the skill to carry out the core of activities common to the three roles. The EFF Reading Standard is called Read With Understanding to express the focus on purpose and use: adults need sufficient mastery of decoding and comprehension strategies to accomplish a task requiring them to Gather, Analyze, and Use Information or Manage Resources, for instance. The level of mastery required will vary, depending on task and context. Similarly, the EFF Math Standard is called Using Math to Solve Problems and Communicate to make clear the role that number sense and mathematical operations play in helping adults carry out key activities in their daily lives.
Focusing the content of the Standards. This focus on purposeful application of knowledge and skills is continued in the description of the content (knowlege and skills) of the Standard.
Here is the description of the Standard Read With Understanding:
The Standard has been framed to include the key elements of the reading process as defined in the Reading Excellence Act (REA).19 In the REA, reading is defined as "a complex system of deriving meaning from print that requires all of the following: a) the skills and knowledge to understand how phonemes, or speech sounds, are connected to print; b) the ability to decode unfamiliar words; c) the ability to read fluently; d) sufficient background information and vocabulary to foster reading comprehension; e) the development of appropriate active strategies to construct meaning from print; f ) the development and maintenance of a motivation to read" (Sec. 2252(4)). These necessary components of reading are reflected in all of the components (bullets 1-5) of the EFF Standard. In the EFF Standard, these specific skills and abilities are explicitly wedded to the reader's "purpose."
Using the Standards to teach skills in the context of purpose. EFF research with adult learners has convinced us that purpose is the key to motivation for adults—motivation to learn and motivation to achieve.
The EFF Standards have been designed to encourage adult learners and their teachers
The EFF development team adopted this approach to the Standards for two primary reasons.
Practitioners in the field development process supported this approach to defining standards for similar reasons. They told us that standards focused on "purposes" speak directly to the goals and needs of their students. Adult students are highly goal-directed. They come to formal learning situations actively seeking knowledge and skills in order to build competence in their lives and accomplish things that have an impact on those around them. Making sure that the description of each Standard explicitly defines what the teachers came to call "components of competent performance" enabled teachers to identify with greater specificity what their students can and cannot do so they can better align teaching and assessment with learner needs and goals.
Like other education improvement initiatives focused on accountability issues, Equipped for the Future is a standards-based reform initiative. Standards based reform is based on content standards that represent a consensus of what it is important for students to know and be able to do. Research indicates that standards are a powerful tool to improve the results of education because they make explicit what the goals of instruction should be and therefore provide a way to align curriculum, instruction, assessment and accountability.
In standards-based improvement initiatives, we use the term aligned to describe how instruction, assessment, and accountability all focus on the same thing; what we teach is what we assess is what we are held accountable for. The standards become the definition of quality and every component of a program contributes to achieving them. This effort to use standards to align all parts of a program in order to maximize achievement of desired results is the hallmark of standards-based education and reform.
Since the framework we used to develop EFF Standards includes a focus on both adult learner purposes and policy maker goals, these standards enable us to pay attention to both these critical customers of adult literacy programs. Aligning our program practices toward achieving the EFF Standards helps us sharpen our focus on learner goals, while at the same time aiming to achieve results that are important to policymakers. If we meet EFF Standards, we are being accountable to both our learners and to our funders.