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New Adult Education Reporting Requirements: Better for Programs and Students

By Marcie Foster and Elizabeth Kenefick

Starting this month, adult education programs are now required to dramatically change how they report data to the federal government on student outcomes—moving adult education toward greater alignment with other education and training programs and laying a foundation for using adult education program data as a tool for incentivizing and measuring system progress for adult education. These changes are being implemented through the Department of Education’s authority to develop and measure progress of federally-funded adult education programs and do not require a reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act.

Currently, the accountability system for adult education—the National Reporting System (NRS)—requires providers to measure progress toward core outcome measures (obtaining a secondary school credential, entering postsecondary education, entering employment, or retaining employment), but only for students who articulate these outcomes as their stated goal when they begin classes. In other words, only students who express an early desire to enter postsecondary education will be tracked as having done so. But new data guidelines established by the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) will now require programs to track core outcomes for specific cohorts of students—not based on stated goals, but on student characteristics. For example, all students who are unemployed at time of entry will now be tracked as to whether they start work after exiting their adult education program. .

These new requirements will greater align adult education with workforce development, which also tracks outcomes for all participants, but uses a different set of employment-related measures, including earnings. Though these actions do not establish a shared accountability system across the two programs, a key CLASP recommendation, closer alignment will help states and local programs work better together across systems. Cross-system collaboration is growing as more states are using career pathways to help low-skilled adults progress into postsecondary education and have an opportunity to reach progressively higher career opportunities.

These new requirements are especially important since poorly aligned systems can make it difficult for programs to work together under a career pathways framework because students may be enrolled in multiple programs that are required to report on different—and often conflicting—outcomes.

This concern and others were the impetus for transforming the NRS measures from a focus on individual students’ goals to a system of automatic cohort designations—a process that began in 2010. CLASP’s own recommendations for the National Reporting System in 2009 presented a foundation for these policy changes and CLASP worked with OVAE as these reforms moved forward. Proposed changes were developed in close consultation with state and national stakeholders over a two-year period, and were revised over several rounds in response to feedback from these groups.

In addition to the changes to cohort designations, programs will also have to begin reporting on three new measures: 1) student’s highest level of education or degree attained, 2) teachers’ years of experience, and 3) teacher certification. These additional measures will also help programs better understand vital student and teacher characteristics, to help continuously improve programming.

CLASP applauds the Department of Education for instituting these reforms and looks forward to the valuable information and opportunities they will provide to help students achieve longer-term outcomes, such as transition to postsecondary education or employment. This important change is an example of non-legislative reforms that can be implemented in adult education to help programs better prepare students for college and career success while Congress works toward a comprehensive reauthorization of WIA.

Read the National Reporting System Revised Accountability Guidelines >>

Read CLASP’s recommendations for a Shared System of Accountability in WIA >>

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