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A Look at the 2017-2018 Virginia Adult Education Performance Data

by Virginia Department of Education staff

How was 2017-2018 different from the previous year? How closely does your program data reflect the state trends?

First, watch the YouTube video recording presenting the 2017-2018 adult education demographic and performance data in Virginia. The presentation will give you the high-level story of the state data. Then, read through the article below, which poses questions about the data and offers options to consider for addressing some concerns. Look at your own class, program, and regional data as well as the economic realities in your region as you consider solutions to the questions posed.


Virginia’s program year (PY) 2017-2018 total enrollment was down from PY 20162017 by 1,112 students, from 19,208 to 18,096. Although there is a national trend for declining enrollments in adult education and community colleges as the economy picks up, is that the full explanation? Was enrollment down in your program and region, and if so, what were contributing factors?

We see that 25-44-year-olds are the largest age group by far, at 54 percent of the total population. These are adults in their prime working and family-raising years, yet they are finding time to add education to their already-busy lives. How does your program help these busy adults succeed in reaching their educational, family, and work goals?

Just over half, 51 percent, of our students reported at intake that they were employed. That percentage is slightly higher than the previous year when it was 49 percent. Meanwhile, a quarter of students identified as being out of the labor force. Do you know why a segment of your students reported being out of the workforce? Do you see students benefiting from the workforce preparation instruction and occupational training offered through your program and reentering the workforce?

Adult education students often adjust their stated participation goals as they begin to learn of new options and gain confidence. Although the state-level data does not allow us to track whether students who initially identified as out of the labor force do gain employment, these are learner trajectories that you might hear of locally that are worth sharing as success stories with your workforce partners and inspirational stories for recruitment efforts.

Do you know where your students are employed? From the student records that were matched with employment records from the Virginia Employment Commission, the industry category with the highest percentage of employed students is the accommodation and food services industry, followed by retail trade, and health care and social assistance (slide 7). Jobs in these industries will very likely require skills in public-facing interaction. Do you have connections with employers in your community? Do you know what these employers value and reward in their employees so that you can address those skills in your program?


Overall, Virginia achieved the 43 percent measurable skill gain (MSG) attainment rate that was our federally negotiated target. This is terrific news and is thanks to all the teachers and tutors who delivered high-quality instruction, to the administrators who provided direction and leadership, and, of course, to the students whose diligence, dedication, and persistence led the charge toward our goal. Great job everyone!

Slides 12 and 13 in the video show the PY 2017-2018 enrollment percentages and measurable skill gain (MSG) rates by educational functioning levels (EFL). The intermediate levels in both Adult Basic Education (ABE) and English as a Second Language (ESL) accounted for over half of the total state enrollment. ABE levels 3 and 4 totaled 5,416 students and ESL levels 4 and 5 totaled 4,699 students. But as shown on slides 13 and 14, the intermediate levels were not the highest-performing levels. Slide 14 shows that 10,407 students made an EFL gain; that means that 7,689 students did not stay in programs long enough to be post-tested or otherwise make a gain. The state performance overall would be strengthened if we assisted more students in the intermediate EFLs to make gains.

What does the performance data show from your program or classes? Which are your largest enrollment groups and what is the rate of MSG attainment per enrollment group? How are you meeting the instructional and support needs of the students you serve?

“The state performance overall would be strengthened if we assisted more students in intermediate EFLs to make gains.”

The Critiquing Adult Participation in Education research project set out to learn from adults who were not participating in adult education. The project convened focus groups over a number of months in five states, including in the Roanoke area of Virginia. Three resulting studies share the findings and the voices of adult learners. You may have attended a session at the 2018 VAACE conference with one of the researchers, Dr. Margaret Patterson. The findings are worth considering as you address continuous improvement in enrollment, recruitment, retention, and performance in your program. You may want to pose some of the findings or quotes to your own students, graduates, or non-participating adult community members to get their reactions. Do they feel the same barriers and pressures as the study participants? Do they have different barriers arising from the local circumstances? What advice do they have for programming and services?

Sharing program and class-level data with students opens up a new dialogue with our most important stakeholders and can help us understand their perspectives in order to make our programs and services more responsive.

This article was prepared by the staff of the Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education.