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Federal Legislation Impacts West Virginia's ABE/ESL Program

by Cathy C. Shank, West Virginia Adult Basic Education Special Populations Coordinator 

The structure and funding of adult education and literacy changed dramatically when theWorkforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 including Title II -- The Adult Education and Family Literacy Act was signed into law in August of 1998. West Virginia submitted a five-year State Plan for Adult Basic Education (ABE) and began implementing the plan July 1, 1999.

One of the most important aspects of the new legislation is the emphasis on programaccountability in placement and progress of all students including English as a Second Language (ESL) learners. Title II of WIA specifies core indicators of program performance on which West Virginia will be evaluated at the federal level.

Because ESL has represented only about three percent of the total enrollment for ABE in West Virginia, ESL has been a somewhat insignificant part of the program. The ABE/ESL program offers instruction in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) which encompasses instruction in pre-literacy skills, reading, writing, listening, speaking, grammar, U.S. citizenship, cultural literacy, and test preparation for the TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) and other college entrance examinations.

ABE/ESL is delivered in various formats:

*Individualized or small group instruction -- for individuals or very small groups of LEP adults enrolled in regular ABE classes or literacy programs seeking ESOL instruction in order to focus on improving English literacy skills; and *ESOL classes - groups of LEP adults enrolled in classes specifically focused on English literacy skills and organized according to the participants' language proficiency level, topics of interest, or workplace or family literacy needs.

As part of its five-year State Plan, the ABE program in West Virginia will focus more onassessment and curriculum issues related to ESL learners.

The government has defined 'Federal Functioning Levels' (FFLs) for both ABE and ESL learners. The ESL FFLs describe entry functional skills and specific skills in reading, writing, speaking, and listening in English. The ESL FFLs also use test scores from the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System (CASAS) and the Basic English Skills Test (BEST) as benchmarks to help define the six ESL levels.

To comply with WIA, the WV State Plan has defined several ways of demonstrating progress: One way is to use pre/post standardized assessment instruments (such as CASAS or BEST) to place students in the appropriate FFL and to show progress to a new level. Another way is to use the standardized instruments for placement and then use a variety of performance-based assessments to show mastery of essential objectives for a specific level in order to demonstrate completion of that level. Finally, certain learners who have specific short-term goals requiring less than 30 hours of instruction beyond the basic skill areas (for example to improve pronunciation or to complete a job application process) may be enrolled as 'project learners' with individualized objectives. Progress for these 'project learners' will be demonstrated based on their mastery of their specific objectives.

In the past few months, the WV ABE/ESL program has been scrambling to examine standardized ESL assessments and to train practitioners to use them. In addition, the program has drafted a list of 'essential objectives' for each of the defined FFLs. Field-testing these 'essential objectives' is a first step in the exciting and challenging process of creating an ABE/ESL curriculum for West Virginia adult education and literacy practitioners to use.

Ultimately, ABE/ESL practitioners will have a better understanding of the skill levels of individual students and have a road map of what new skills need to be accomplished. Programs will be held accountable for showing progress of their students through these levels and future funding will be based on the performance of the program in moving students forward.

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W VTESOL Newsletter Editor: Linda Yoder

Salem-Teikyo University

lky@wvu.edu

Copyright 1999 by WVTESOL

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This page was last updated on February 2, 2000.