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CAELA Currents January 2006


About CAELA Currents

This newsletter is published quartely by the Center for Adult English Acquisition at the Center for Applied Linguistics and is offered free of charge. If you have information that you would like us to consider including in the newsletter, please contact the editor at

To subscribe to CAELA Currents, send a message to

This publication was prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education, under contract no. ED-04-CO-0031/0001

The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education (ED)


January Articles

CAELA State Team Summaries

Second CAELA Technical Working Group Meeting Held

NAAL Results Released December 15, 2005

CAELA's Resources: The Research Collection

Next Steps in the Literacy Agenda: Thinking About Adults Learning English

Two New CAELA Briefs


CAELA State Team Summaries

Between June and December 2005, staff at the Center for Adult English Language Acquisition (CAELA) conducted telephone conferences with teams from all 24 states enrolled in the CAELA state capacity- building initiative. The purpose of the calls was to review the implementation of the state plans developed during and after last spring’s CAELA trainings. State teams have shared with CAELA staff the strengths and weaknesses of the plans and the lessons they are learning as they implement them.

Many states have conducted teacher surveys using and modifying the CAELA teacher survey. These surveys have provided useful information about what teachers want from professional development. Most states offered workshops this past fall and are now following up with additional training (see next paragraph for discussion of follow up training.) A number of states are finding it better to give regional or program-based trainings on topics of interest and importance to teachers, such as the multilevel classroom or lesson planning, rather than offering workshops on these topics as one among many options at regularly scheduled conferences. Giving the trainings regionally helps participants focus more on the topic at hand and allows facilitators the chance to work more closely with participants, leading to a better understanding of their teaching situation. Local trainings allow more instructors and administrators within a program to attend the training together and then plan for appropriate follow up activities.

New areas of professional development that states are presently working on are mentoring systems, study circles, professional learning communities, and using on-line facilities. States are also trying different strategies to provide follow up activities to workshops. These include using conference calls, publishing lesson plans on a Web site or listserv, turning in lesson plans to an administrator, and observing lesson plan implementation during peer observation. Clearly, there is a wide variety of strategies being implemented as states strive to meet teachers’ professional development needs.

CAELA staff found that states are very interested in hearing about other states’ plans for building professional development infrastructure for adult English as a second language (ESL) programs. Teams have indicated that they do do not want to “reinvent the wheel.” They want to hear about others’ promising activities, challenges, and lessons learned so they do not waste time and resources.

Many state teams have given CAELA permission to write short summaries of important elements of their plans, share them on the CAELA Web site at (, and provide contact information so other states can ask directly for more information on topics of interest. Summaries for Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia are online now. These summaries describe the various states’ activities on such issues as developing professional development systems, professional learning communities, working with program standards, and teaching multilevel classes.

Other state summaries will be added to the Web site shortly. If you have questions or comments about these summaries, contact Lynda Terrill at

Second CAELA Technical Working Group Meeting Held


The second annual meeting of CAELA’s advisory board, the Technical Work Group (TWG), was held October 20-21 at the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, DC. CAELA staff Joy Kreeft Peyton, Miriam Burt, Julie Mathews-Aydinli, Lynda Terrill, Carol Van Duzer, Kirsten Schaetzel, Regina Van Horne, and Sarah Young attended, as did OVAE staff Daniel Miller, Ursula Lord, Lynn Spencer, and Rachael Bambenek. TWG members Sandra Belitza-Vasquez, New York; Kathy Escamilla, Colorado; Miriam Kroeger, Arizona; Federico Salas-Isnardi, Texas; Karen Valbrun, Georgia; and Brigitte Marshall, Oakland, CA were present. CAELA partner Andy Nash, from World Education, also attended. TWG member Patricia DeHesus-Lopez was unable to attend.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how CAELA’s activities are building the capacity of states to serve their adult English as a second language populations, to solicit the TWG’s feedback on responding to project challenges and identify relevant topics for upcoming activities and products.

Comments from the TWG included the following:


  • State capacity-building initiative: Participating states should be encouraged to develop a system for professional development so that it becomes a regular, ongoing activity in the state.
  • Dissemination of resources: Two of the greatest needs are materials for non-ESL teachers who have ESL students in their classes, such as vocational and ABE teachers; and materials for administrators who need to support their teachers in multilevel classes.


The TWG also got a first look at the upcoming CAELA Guide for Adult ESL Trainers, which will be piloted this year. TWG members previewed a sample training module and study circle guide, and provided feedback. TWG members encouraged CAELA staff to think about how to disseminate the Guide , and what kind of support CAELA will offer to Guide users.

The next CAELA TWG meeting will be held in October 2006.



Upcoming State Training Meetings

CAELA is planning its second annual capacity-building workshops for state teams. The dates, locations, and participating states forthe trainings are as follows:


Las Vegas, Nevada
March 1 & 2

Houston, Texas
March 27 & 28

Baltimore, Maryland
April 10 & 11





New Mexico

South Dakota







Rhode Island









South Carolina


West Virginia


During these trainings, the state teams will report on the progress of their professional development plans. CAELA staff also will unveil a draft of the CAELA Guide for Adult ESL Trainers, and offer training on how state teams may use sections from the Guide to provide professional development.

Look for more information about regional trainings in the next CAELA Currents, scheduled to be posted on our Web site by April 15, 2006.

NAAL Results Released December 15, 2005

The results of the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) were released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) on December 15, 2005. This was the first national adult literacy assessment conducted since the 1992 National Assessment of Literacy Skills (NALS). The NAAL measured the English literacy of adults (people age 16 and older living in households and prisons). The population in the United States in 2003 was about 222 million, and the NAAL assessed a nationally representative sample of 19,714 individuals.

This report defines the performance levels used and looks briefly at the results of the assessment. It concludes with a brief comparison to the results of the 1992 NALS and lists the few details we have about the representation and performance of non-native English speakers in the NAAL. The information below is taken from the following documents: Key Concepts and Features of the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (White & Dillow, 2005), Adult Education and Family Literacy Act: Program Facts (U.S. Department of Education, 2005), Helping Adults Become Literate (U.S. Department of Education, 2005), New Report on Adult Literacy Levels (U.S. Department of Education, 2005), and Web Documentation for NAAL General Audience Report (National Center for Education Statistics, 2005).


The 2003 assessment defines literacy as “using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” Like the NALS, the NAAL rated literacy in categories of prose, document, and quantitative:


  • Prose literacy: the skills needed to understand continuous texts such as newspaper and magazine articles and instructional materials.


  • Document literacy: the skills needed to understand the content and structure of documents such as prescription drug labels, payroll forms, and bus schedules.


  • Quantitative literacy: the skills needed to use numbers in text such as when computing and comparing cost of food items per ounce or when balancing a checkbook.


Performance Levels

Adult literacy skills were assessed in four levels in the NAAL – below basic, basic, intermediate, and proficient. Each level corresponds to a range of scores and NAAL provides a description of the types of tasks that adults can complete at each level. The levels and sample tasks are described below:


  • Below basic: can do tasks that require no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills; sample tasks include signing a form, adding the amounts on a bank deposit slip, and searching a short text to determine what a patient can drink before a medical test (Note: This level also includes those who were unable to take the main test but were given a simpler, alternative assessment. See discussion below of “non-literate in English.”)


  • Basic: can do tasks that require skills necessary to perform simple and everyday literacy activities; sample tasks include reading a television guide to determine what programs are on at specific times, comparing the ticket prices for two events, and finding information on jury pool selection procedures from a pamphlet for prospective jurors.


  • Intermediate: can do tasks that require skills necessary to perform moderately challenging literacy activities; sample tasks include identifying a specific location on a map, consulting reference materials to determine which foods contain a particular vitamin, and calculating the total cost of ordering specified office supplies from a catalog.


  • Proficient: can do tasks that require skills necessary to perform more complex and challenging literacy activities; sample activities include comparing viewpoints in two editorials, computing and comparing the cost per ounce of food items, and interpreting a table about blood pressure, age, and physical activity.


Almost one-fifth of the tasks in the NAAL concerned health, providing the first-ever national assessment of adults’ ability to use literacy skills to read and understand health-related material. While the health-related tasks were interspersed among the other tasks on the NAAL, the NAAL scores include a separate health literacy score based only on these tasks. The results are scheduled to be released in the fall of 2006. CAELA will report on them in the fall 2006 newsletter.


Non-literate in English

The NAAL included a category for the “non-literate in English.” This category represents adults who could not be tested on the main part of the NAAL because they did not have the English literacy skills. Two groups make up this category:


  • Adults who were able to take an alternative assessment specifically designed for the least-literate. These adults were asked questions in either English or Spanish, but all supporting written materials were in English. Three percent of those who were tested fell into this category, which probably includes non-native speakers of English, as well as native English speakers with minimal English literacy skills.


  • Adults who could not be tested on either the main part of the NAAL or the alternative assessment because they did not possess the English or Spanish oral skills to understand the interviewer. Two percent of those who were tested fell into this category. In 2003, nearly two-thirds of the adults in this category were deemed unable to participate due to a language barrier; the remainder were unable to participate due to a cognitive or mental disability.  


Comparison of NAAL and NALS scores

The following are the results of the NAAL and NALS by category and percentage of adults scoring at each performance level:


NAAL 2003NALS 1992

Prose Literacy Prose Literacy

Below basic: 14% Below basic: 14%

Basic: 29% Basic: 28%

Intermediate: 44% Intermediate: 43%

Proficient: 13% Proficient: 15%


Document Literacy Document Literacy

Below basic: 12% Below basic: 14%

Basic: 22% Basic: 22%

Intermediate: 53% Intermediate: 49%

Proficient: 13% Proficient: 15%


Quantitative Literacy Quantitative Literacy

Below basic: 22% Below basic: 26%

Basic: 33% Basic: 32%

Intermediate: 33% Intermediate: 30%

Proficient: 13% Proficient: 13%




The average quantitative literacy scores of adults increased 8 points between 1992 and 2003, however, prose and document literacy scores did not differ significantly from those of 1992.


Non-native English Speakers

White and Dillow’s (2005) preliminary analysis of categories that might indicate non-native English speakers indicated that the average prose literacy scores of Asians/Pacific Islanders increased, rising 16 points between 1992 and 2003; the average prose literacy scores of Hispanics decreased 18 points from 1992 to 2003, and average document literacy scores of Hispanics decreased by 14 points.

The background questionnaire given to those who participated in the NAAL included questions on language background, as well as education background and experiences. Further analysis of these background data – though, unfortunately, no data exist for the two percent of adults who were unable to respond to the interviewer’s questions in either English or Spanish – is needed before we truly can identify the English literacy skills of non-native English speakers in the United States. For an example of such a study done after the 1992 assessment, and a possible reference point for comparative analyses with the 2003 results, see the NCES publication, English literacy and language minorities in the United States (Greenberg, Macias, Rhodes, & Chan, 2001).

For more information and analysis of the NAAL, go to For discussion by adult education practitioners on issues related to the NALS and to adult literacy assessment in general, go to


Adult Education and Family Literacy Act: Program facts. (2005). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Greenberg, E, Macias, R. F., Rhodes, D., & Chan, T. (2001). English literacy and language minorities in the United States. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. NCES 2001-464.

Helping adults become literate. (2005). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

New report on adult literacy levels. (2005). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Web documentation for NAAL general audience report. (2005). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

White, S. & Dillow, S. (2005). Key concepts and features of the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. NCES 2006-471.

CAELA’s Resources: The Research Collection


With the launch of CAELA’s Web site this autumn came access to a body of research collected with adult ESL practitioners in mind. As part of CAELA’s goal to provide technical assistance and resources for practitioners, programs, and states that assist adults learning English, we are adding to the research base that we began building at the beginning of 2005.

While practitioners naturally value resources for the classroom, including lesson plans, activities, and descriptions of instructional strategies, CAELA’s research collection (see “Research” at our Web site:, allows our users to go further, to dig a little deeper to find the research that supports the “how to” resources. CAELA’s research collection is for those wanting to conduct research for themselves, or look into the background and scholarly foundations of methods, curricula, and principles of ESL instruction. It pulls together references to articles, case studies, books and monographs, statistics, dissertations, and reports—all in one place and all searchable.

The search function relies on a simple search engine that lets the user search the collection by author, word or phrase, document type, date of publication, population (or group) of interest, likely users, and so forth. Information on each reference in the collection includes an abstract, bibliographic details, and, whenever possible, live links to full-text versions of sources. (delete the comma) Items get chosen for inclusion after careful consideration of their source, quality, and relevance for adult ESL practitioners. We continue to search for new materials to add to the collection.

Here is the abstract for one item—Item No. 72—chosen for its bibliographies as much as for its general usefulness to the field:

“This latest edition of the REEP Curriculum from the Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP, Arlington, Virginia) includes information any serious ESL teacher—whether just beginning to teach, or a veteran of many years in the classroom—would need to know about providing instruction to adult English language learners. The curriculum comprises the following units: learner needs assessment, learner evaluation, instructional units from levels 100 (pre-literate, no English ability) through 550 (high advanced English), and includes specific sections on ESL techniques, technology integration, and family literacy. The Web site includes links for learners and teachers as well as "Best of the Web" links for the lifeskills topics used in the curriculum. In particular, see the “Index of Bibliographies" at: which has useful bibliographies on such areas as learner needs assessment; learner goals; instructional resources; and technology.

Upcoming issues of CAELA Currents will discuss some of the document types and some of the interesting sources for research in the field, both here in North America and abroad.

Feel free to call CAELA or write for help in using this resource. Ask for Craig Packard (362-0700, extension 504) or write directly to:

 Next Steps in the Literacy Agenda: Thinking About Adults Learning English


On November 14, 2005, Georgetown University hosted A National Summit for Action to consider the next steps in a literacy agenda for the United States. The summit, sponsored by Georgetown University, the National Coalition for Literacy, and the Verizon Foundation, had a broad set of goals – to review what works in literacy instruction and the data we have as evidence of this, and to shape an agenda for the public and private sectors in the development of literacy of the United States. Overarching themes shaping the work of the summit were as follows:

  • Literacy is fundamental to success in education and the workforce.
  • If we do not act now, the U.S. workforce will not be equipped to be successful in the areas needed.


Literacy leaders from across the United States – federal, state, and local policymakers; state and local adult education program administrators; teachers; and researchers came together to report on research and programs and to discuss topics that must be considered in the development of a literacy agenda. As a result of information shared at the summit, the Verizon Foundation plans to shape its strategic plan and collaborate with other organizations to promote high-level literacy in the United States.

In a breakout session on “Issues in Literacy for Adult Second Language Learners,” JoAnn (Jodi) Crandall (University of Maryland Baltimore County, and Miriam Burt (CAELA, discussed factors specific to adult English language learners that need to be considered and addressed in a strategic plan for literacy development. These factors also need to be addressed in the design and implementation of programs for adults who are nonnative speakers of English – whether they are being prepared for further educational opportunities, for workforce settings, or to be effective participants in and advocates for their families and communities. The factors are listed below and the references after them provide support for the points made.


  • The adult English language learner population is diverse. Learners in adult education programs can include individuals from 16 to over 80 years old, with very different goals, needs, and time available to spend in the program. They also can have very different levels of literacy in their native/home language and in English. They can include adolescents, who would be in high school but have experienced interrupted or minimal schooling at the elementary and secondary school levels and are now in adult education programs; and “generation 1.5” learners, whose literacy in the first language is limited and who have lost or are in the process of losing their home languages without having learned their writing systems or academic registers. Learners include those who are preliterate, non-literate, literate at basic levels, as well as those who are highly literate in their native language and in the process of becoming literate in English. The level of literacy that the individual brings to the educational situation in the native/home language and in English influences the type of instruction needed and the rate of learning that can be expected.
  • Differences in native language and English literacy levels influence all components of the development of reading skills – understanding of alphabetic principles , vocabulary knowledge of fluency, and reading comprehension.
  • Instruction in all four of these components must recognize and be responsive to learner differences in native language, culture, and literacy levels. Instruction for English language learners at all levels, from basic literacy to advanced reading, must be based on effective practices (as determined by research) and make effective use of technology.
  • Program administrators, teachers, and support service providers must have adequate training in working with adult English language learners. Adult ESL credentials should be valued and granted; professional development for credentialing and effective practice should be provided; and states should have infrastructure in place to provide systematic, effective, and ongoing professional development.
  • Mechanisms must be in place for English language learners to be able to make transitions from beginning ESL classes with an oral language focus, to increasingly higher levels of literacy instruction, to vocational and academic programs, and to the workforce. This requires coordination among programs and effective articulation of program offerings to the targeted populations.
  • Adult ESL instruction and services must be augmented through collaborations and partnerships with local education agencies (LEAs) that provide K-12 instruction and with other education providers (community colleges, universities, community-based organizations, libraries); entities that provide job opportunities (for profit and non-profit businesses); and organizations that provide social services (resettlement agencies, mutual assistance agencies, churches and faith-based groups).


 Any education agenda for the United States must take into account the fact that 43.8 percent of the learners in adult education programs are learning English as a second language (See These individuals need to be recognized as valued, contributing members of our society. The structures and strategies for ensuring that they are successful in all aspects of their participation also need to put in place.

Resources on the Topics Covered

Immigrants in the United States and the workforce

Burt, M., (2003). Issues in improving immigrant workers’ English language skills. CAL Brief. Washington, DC: National Center for ESL Literacy Education.

Capps, R., Fix, M. E., Passel, J. S., Ost, J., & Perez-Lopez, D. (2005, June.) A profile of the low-wage immigrant workforce.

Chiswick, B. R. , & Miller, P. W. (2002). Immigrant earnings: Language skills, linguistic concentrations, and the business cycle. Journal of Popular Economics, 15, 31-57.

Fry, R. (2005). The higher drop-out rate of foreign-born teens: The role of schooling abroad. Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center.

Greenberg, E, Macias, R. F., Rhodes, D., & Chan, T. (2001). English literacy and language minorities in the United States. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. NCES 2001-464.

Harklau, L. (2003). Generation 1.5 students and college writing. CAL Digest. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Kamil, M. (2003). Adolescents and literacy: Reading for the 21 st century. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Liebowitz, M., & Taylor, J. C. (2004). Breaking through: Helping low-skilled adults enter and succeed in college and careers. Boston: Jobs for the Future.

M, J., Chalous, B., & Birkes, A. (2005). Investing wisely in adult learning is key to state prosperity. Atlanta: Southern Regional Education Board.

Shin, H. B., & Bruno, R. (2003). Language use and English-speaking ability. Census 2000 Brief. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.

Thonus, T. (2003). Serving generation 1.5 learners in the university writing center. TESOL Journal, 12(1), 17-24.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education. (2005). Enrollment and participation in the state-administered adult education program.

Wrigley, H. S., Richer, E., Martinson, K., Kubo, H., & Strawn, J. (2003). The language of opportunity: Expanding employment prospects for adults with limited English skills. Washington, DC: Center for Law and Social Policy.

Young, S. (2005). Adolescent learners in adult ESL classes. CAELA Brief. Washington, DC: Center for Adult English Language Acquisition.

Programs for adult immigrants

Chisman, F., Wrigley, H. S., & Ewen, D. (1993). ESL and the American dream: A report on an investigation of English as a second language services for adults. Washington, DC: Southport Institute for Policy Analysis.

Crandall, J. (1993). Professionalism and professionalization of adult ESL literacy. TESOL Quarterly, 27(3), 497-515.

Crandall, J., & Sheppard, K. (2004). Adult ESL and the community college. New York: Council for the Advancement of Adult Literacy.

Van Duzer, C., & Florez, M. C. (2003). Adult English language instruction in the 21 st century. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Wrigley, H. S. (2005). A conversation with FOB: What works for adult ESL students. Focus on Basics. National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy.


Development of reading and writing skills of adult English language learners

Burt, M., & Peyton, J. K. (2003) Reading and adult English language learners: The role of the first language. CAL Brief. Washington, DC: National Center for ESL Literacy Education.

Burt, M., Peyton, J. K., Adams, R. (2003). Reading and adult English language learners: A review of the research. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics and National Center for ESL Literacy Education.

Burt, M., Peyton, J. K., & Van Duzer, C. (2005). How should adult ESL reading instruction differ from ABE reading instruction? CAELA Brief. Washington, DC: Center for Adult English Language Acquisition.

Florez, M. C. , & Terrill, L. (2003). Working with literacy-level adult English language learners. Washington, DC: National Center for ESL Literacy Education.

Gillespie, M. K. (2001). Research in writing: Implications for adult literacy education. The Annual Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, Vol. 2 (pp. 63-110). National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy.

Gillespie, M. K. (1994). Rationales for adult native language literacy and directions for research. Philadelphia, PA: National Center for Adult Literacy. NCAL Technical Report TR 94-03.

Moss, D., & Ross-Feldman, L. (2003). Second language acquisition in adults: From research to practice. Washington, DC: National Center for ESL Literacy Education.


Two New CAELA Briefs

Adolescent Learners in Adult ESL Classes
by Sarah Young, CAELA

This brief examines the population of adolescent English language learners (ELLs) (defined here as those between 16 and 18 years of age), who are enrolled in adult English as a second language (ESL) programs. It provides a comprehensive look at this particular student body, beginning with a discussion of the general characteristics of adolescent ELLs. Looking at current research, the brief explores not only the demographics of these students, but outlines distinguishing educational, societal, and personal factors that may affect their educational achievement and should, therefore, be familiar to educators. It goes on to explain the different types of training that adult ESL teachers working with these adolescent ELLs can benefit from, such as building awareness of the developmental differences between adolescents and adults or learning about mentoring techniques, and suggests specific ways in which classroom instruction can support adolescent ELLs. The brief concludes with advice for ESL program administrators who seek information on how better to support their adolescent learners, including transitioning to other programs. This brief is available on CAELA’s website and can be downloaded at


Online Professional Development for Adult ESL Educators by Julie Mathews-Aydinli, CAELA, and Karen Taylor, Arlington ( Virginia) Education and Employment Program (REEP)

On-going professional development for teachers of adult English as a Second Language (ESL) is an important need, but one that is not easy to meet for various reasons, including limited finances in many adult ESL programs, the part-time nature of many adult ESL teachers, and the widely varying educational and professional backgrounds of these teachers. Both for adult ESL teachers and for educators in general, there is growing interest in using online services to meet professional development needs. For the adult ESL instructor considering online professional development options or the adult ESL program administrator wondering whether this option would be appropriate for their program’s instructors, it is important to understand what current research is saying about online professional development, and how to choose between the existing options for online professional development. This brief describes current efforts to provide online professional development opportunities and resources for adult ESL teachers and discusses factors that must be considered in the development, delivery, and evaluation of professional development that is available online. It is available on CAELA’s website and can be downloaded at

Upcoming Briefs

The following briefs will be available in the coming months:

  • Teaching Civics in the Adult ESL Classroom (available late February or early March 2006)
  • Supportive Practices for Multilevel Classes (available April 2006)
  • Preparing Adult English Language Learners for Post-Secondary Education (available June 2006)