New York State is engaged in a serious effort to raise standards for all students, including adult learners. The strategy for raising standards, as articulated by Commissioner Richard Mills, includes three elements:

  1. Setting clear, high expectations/standards for all students and developing an effective means of assessing student progress in meeting the standards.

  2. Building the local capacity of schools/districts to enable all students to meet standards.

  3. Making public the results of the assessment of student progress through school reports.

The learning standards approved by the Board of Regents reflect the intensive, collaborative work conducted over the past few years by the State Education Department and by national groups, such as the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching (NCREST), the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the New Standards Project.

Learning standards have two primary dimensions. Content standards describe what students should know, understand, and be able to do. Performance standards define levels of student achievement pertaining to content. The teaching and learning which takes place in between these two dimensions is, perhaps, the most crucial element of the entire process.

The Need for Higher Standards

The effort to raise learning standards for adult literacy is linked directly to the K-12 initiative. The need for higher standards for adults and parents is evident. Research by the Rand Corporation (1996) indicates that one of the most important influences on student test scores is the level of parental education. Other research offers compelling evidence of this important link.

  • Statistical profiles of schools with low or declining performance show that these schools serve comparatively high percentages of students whose parents have limited or no English language proficiency, have not completed high school, read at less than an eighth grade level, and currently receive public assistance. Most of these schools do not offer comprehensive adult education and training programs.

  • The 1996 Kid’s Count data indicate that 43 percent of New York State’s fourth graders score below the basic reading level and 41 percent score below the basic mathematics level.

  • The 1994 State Adult Literacy Survey (SALS) indicates that approximately 25 percent of all learners served in adult basic education programs function below the sixth grade reading level and 69 percent of all learners in English for Speakers of Other Language (ESOL) programs function at the lowest two levels of English language proficiency.

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