Factors influencing functional literacy performance among adult basic education students

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The functional literacy performance among a significant portion of American adults is considerably low. The purpose of this study was to educe a comprehensive profile of the adult learner and his or her literacy performance by examining factors which are a manifestation of both the formal school experience and the environment. The problem investigated was: How do selected developmental, academic, and environmental factors influence the functional literacy performance of adult basic education students?

Multiple regression analysis was used to determine the tenability of ten research hypotheses that each included one of the ten literacy subtests of the Adult Performance Level Assessment. A secondary analysis was performed across sex and race subgroups to determine if the hypotheses were valid for those groups.

One hundred and twenty-three ABE students who were attending a four-week summer school session in Montgomery County, Maryland comprised the initial sample. Data were collected between July 6 and July 27, 1982 inclusive and involved the following four instruments: (a) a demographic questionnaire, (b) the Adult Performance Level Assessment, (c) the Wesman Personnel Classification Test, and (d) the Moos Family Environment Scale. At the close of the data collection period, 76 adults had completed all four instruments and comprised the final sample.

Four hypotheses involving literacy performance in community resources, consumer economics, government-and-law, and identification of facts and terms were accepted. An alternate hypothesis for each of the ten primary analyses suggested factors which have more utility in understanding functional literacy performance than those factors hypothesized.

The secondary analysis revealed that the selected factors had a differential influencie on literacy performance for sex subgroups but not for race subgroups. The most important general finding was that the environmental perceptions (current and past) held by ABE students significantly influenced each of the ten performance subtests and, in many instances, exerted a stronger influence than developmental and academic factors.