Exploring Adult Basic Education Student Satisfaction: Influencing Factors and Programmatic Responses

By Carol Hill

A former high school teacher, coach and principal, Carol Hill is currently Director of Florence County Adult Education and a professional development trainer for 16 Habits of Mind, Cognitive Coaching, and Adaptive Schools. At the state level, Carol Hill serves on the SC School Improvement Council Board, the State Technical Assistance Network Board for Adult Education in South Carolina, the Pee Dee Workforce Development Board, and is Chair of the Pee Dee Workforce Development Disabilities Committee. She has an Ed. D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of South Carolina. She trusts the process of building community in order to support adult learners and leaders. 

Read more from Carol here.

 


 

ABSTRACT

With the goal of improving student satisfaction, one local program, the Frances County Adult Education (FCAE) system, chose to create a systemic initiative named Honoring Adult Behaviors and Influencing Thinking Skills. This dissertation in practice explored two questions: 1) What benefits do students expect to receive as a result of student participation in the Frances County Adult Education program? and 2) How does implementation of the Honoring Adult Behaviors and Influencing Thinking Skills (HABITS) initiatives, inclusive of Habits of Mind curriculum and Integrated Educational Training, impact student satisfaction with Frances County Adult Education? Based on two theories, three-factor satisfaction and constructivism, a mixed-methods study gathered qualitative and quantitative data from student surveys and one-on-one interviews over a 4-month period from November 2020 to February 2021. Of the 343 enrolled students at the time, 189 participated by completing one or more research instruments, based on convenience sampling for survey instruments and purposeful sampling to select 12 interview participants. Using descriptive statistical analysis and qualitative data analysis performed in stages, the study found that, in general, adult basic education students came to adult education with a commitment to themselves and a mindset of wanting to do better. The HABITS initiative offered a value-added component to the adult basic education experience and to student satisfaction. The study concluded that FCAE should continue to honor student self-directedness and community by doing the following: pursuing student satisfaction as a programmatic goal; engaging in behaviors that foster trust; offering thinking habits as a foundational practice; and working to ensure high quality workforce-related training opportunities for participants.

Keywords: adult basic education; student satisfaction; 16 Habits of Mind; integrated educational training; WIOA; self-directedness; constructivism; corporate workforce training; andragogy; trust; three-factor satisfaction theory

 


 

EXPLORING ADULT BASIC EDUCATION STUDENT SATISFACTION:
INFLUENCING FACTORS AND PROGRAMMATIC RESPONSES

By Carol Current Hill

Bachelor of Arts Carroll College, 1980

Master of Arts Clemson University, 2003

Master of Education Winthrop University, 2010

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction

College of Education University of South Carolina 2021

Copyright by Carol Current Hill, 2021

All Rights Reserved.

You can view this dissertation in its entirety in PDF form here.


 

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION TO THE PROBLEM OF PRACTICE

“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”
Margaret J. Wheatley (2002, p. 55)

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (USDOE OCTAE) published “Adult Workers with Low Measured Skills: A 2016 Update.” These data indicated that double-digit percentages of employed U.S. workers had low skills in literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving. According to the update, half of those with low skills were under the age of 45, making this a concern for the present and the future of the U.S workforce of employees and employers. Adults with low academic skills struggle in a number of ways. These statistics are only part of the narrative.

Most adult education students have stories of failure—and resilience. Failure can sometimes characterize their academic struggles (Belzer, 2004; Crowther et al., 2010; Davis, 2014). Failure may also characterize the personal, financial, and professional lives of adult education students. The U. S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (USDOE OCTAE, 2017) documented that workers with low academic skills tend to earn salaries that fall in the lowest quartile nationally. The U.S. DOE also found that adults with low academic skills are more likely to be unemployed. The majority of these low skilled workers are minority parents and male, making this concern generational in nature and a matter of equity. Some adults need English language skills to function in American society. Thirty-three percent of the respondents in the lower-skilled working adults report indicated Spanish as a first- language (USDOE OCTAE, 2017).

Legislative restructuring of the Workforce Innovation Act (WIA) resulted in the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in 2014 (USDOE OCTAE, 2019). WIOA designated the work of educating adults in basic skills to be a primary function of adult basic education. A large number of states operate adult basic education programs through their state’s community college system (Miller et al., 2016.). Miller et al. (2016) assessed perceptions of state leaders toward GED programs and found an overall marginalizing of the work and conversations about adult basic education, implying a lack of systemic commitment to the students and their needs.

What does the work in adult basic education programs look like? In 2014 and 2015, the National Center for Education Statistics (2016) showed over 1,500,000 participants in adult basic education working on their high school equivalency degree, their high school degree, or English as a Second Language. Of that nationwide number, 667,500 participated in English as a Second Language instruction (National Center for Education Statistics, 2016).

According to the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) (2021), national comparisons of the level of literacy and numeracy of adults in South Carolina is similar to those across the nation. Approximately 57% of adults in South Carolina score in the lowest levels of literacy and 68% score in the lowest levels of numeracy (PIAAC, 2021). South Carolina has the sixth worst graduation rate in the nation (Kerr & Shin, 2020), indicating a great need for adult basic education programs in the state. South Carolina has 53 adult basic education and literacy programs in the state (South Carolina Department of Education, 2020). On a state level, the National Center for Education Statistics showed that in 2014 and 2015, over 27,000 adults participated in adult basic education programs in South Carolina. Over 4,225 adults participated each year in English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction in South Carolina.

Adult basic education participation is a means by which these adult students might accomplish their personal and professional goals, helping themselves, others, and society. In a general sense, adult basic education functions as a service. Adults come to adult basic education voluntarily, and for some programs, pay a registration fee to attend. Even without a registration fee, the cost of attending adult basic education minimally involves time, travel, and valuable resources for adults with other responsibilities.

Framed in this manner, adult basic education students are investors. How might these students feel honored as a part of their process? The purpose of this dissertation in practice was to explore students’ satisfaction with Frances County Adult Education, specifically examining the impact of an incentive program entitled Honoring Adult Behaviors and Influencing Thinking Skills (HABITS).

Statement of the Problem of Practice

Dissonance at the intersection of two primary factors related to adult basic education contributed to the problem of practice for this research. One primary factor was the voluntary nature of adult basic education learner-participation; the other primary factor was the federally mandated adult basic education mission, which is based on an economic need for a more educated United States workforce. Mandated by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the Frances County Adult Education (FCAE) program began providing more workforce-related training opportunities, but these did not seem to necessarily serve as incentives for student participation. In fact, getting students to participate in workforce related trainings seemed to be more a matter of proactive, time-consuming advertising, marketing, and recruiting efforts that produced minimal participation in the workforce trainings and no obvious impact on student academic participation and progress. The sense was that WIOA mandates did not necessarily serve to incentivize voluntary adult basic education student participation. FCAE realized it could not control federal mandates nor adult-participants’ conflicting values and responsibilities that competed with their educational participation.

Research Questions and Purpose Statement

In the 2018-2019 school year, as FCAE grappled with what it might identify as influential work in the area of incentivizing student participation, it submitted a grant proposal to the Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE) entitled Honoring Adult Behaviors and Influencing Thinking Skills (HABITS). This grant proposal won the national COABE Incentive Award for 2020. The HABITS initiative was a combination of interventions designed to address student satisfaction during the adult basic education experience. Embedded within this initiative was recognition of student achievements, integration of 16 Habits of Mind (HOM) into the curriculum and adult basic education experience, and integration of work-based learning opportunities for students.

Adult basic education programs, like any service-organization, should be concerned with evaluating and monitoring student satisfaction as a means to identify and implement improvements that students might value. With Frances County students and programmatic factors in mind, this study explored the following research questions:

Research Question 1: What benefits do students expect to receive as a result of student participation in the Frances County Adult Education program?

Research Question 2: How does implementation of the Honoring Adult Behaviors and Influencing Thinking Skills (HABITS) initiatives, inclusive of Habits of Mind curriculum and Integrated Educational Training, impact student satisfaction with Frances County Adult Education?

These questions informed the nature of student feedback instruments for the FCAE program and this dissertation in practice.

The primary purpose of this study was to (a) identify student perceptions of their hopes related to participating in the Frances County Adult Education school community; and (b) assess the degree of influence implementing two separate initiatives (Habits of Mind and Integrated Education and Training) had on student satisfaction. Students come to adult basic education with diverse backgrounds and perceptions. The interventions which comprised this research study were designed to honor the student diversity within the program, improve students’ academic foundation, and support students’ sense of satisfaction in the adult basic education program.

One additional purpose of this study was to contribute to scholarly dialogues and programmatic collaborations by offering qualitative and quantitative data related to Frances County Adult Education’s initiatives. There is limited scholarly literature and research related to adult basic education programs. The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies and County Health Rankings and Roadmaps update statistics on the global and local level regarding adult educational levels. Organizations such as the Coalition on Basic Education (COABE) and ProLiteracy maintain some statistical data regarding adult education participation numbers and offer some highlights of yearly student award-winners. In 2013, COABE began publishing a quarterly journal about issues and research related to adult basic education initiatives. Searches through these sources offered some insight into the nature, opportunity, and concerns related to Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act requirements from a national perspective but did not yield articles related to student satisfaction nor direct student feedback concerning WIOA initiatives. There was also no evidence of adult basic education research— literature specific to South Carolina.

Lastly, this action research was uniquely positioned to honor and support adult basic education students in their academic journey and provide the FCAE program with feedback that could inform programmatic reflection on its own practices. Adult basic education learners can be characterized as fearing failure and having low self-concept (Bennett, 2016; Henschke, 2016). In addition, adult basic education student perceptions of their participation in adult basic education vary, with a tendency toward the negative (Bennett, 2016). National, state, and local participant statistics abound. Rose (2012) noted, “What we lack in reports is the blending of the statistical table with the portrait of a life” (p. 49). To create “portraits,” research must occur locally.

Theoretical Framework

One means to the goal of student achievement for all adult education programs is to keep students engaged in learning. So, what theoretical frameworks might inform a study on student satisfaction? The Three-factor satisfaction theory offers a framework for how to elicit and process participant feedback. Constructivism theory aligns well with the nature of adult learners and was a foundational theory for the construction of Habits of Mind curriculum practices. Figure 1.1 identifies theories and theorists that informed the creation of the HABITS initiative.

 

Figure 1.1: Visualization of Theoretical Construct

Satisfaction is a complex and multifaceted construct (Cardozo, 1965; Oliver, 2015; Walter et al., 2020). While two-factor and four-factor theories have been proposed, after decades of research, consensus found the three-factor satisfaction theory honors the complexity of satisfaction (Anderson et al., 2004; Berman, 2005, Füller et al., 2006). Three-factor satisfaction theory defines elements of satisfaction as basic, performance, and excitement (Füller & Matzler, 2008). Basic factors are minimal expectations that consumers might expect of a service (Füller & Matzler, 2008; Matzler & Sauerwein, 2002). When these factors are present, consumers may or may not judge a service as satisfactory, but when they are absent, consumers will definitely judge a service as unsatisfactory. Consumers tend to base satisfaction for performance factors off of their perception of the level of performance (Füller & Matzler, 2008; Matzler & Sauerwein, 2002). Poor-quality performances result in low satisfaction ratings; high-quality performances result in high satisfaction ratings. Excitement factors are surprise factors that a consumer may not anticipate that have a significant positive impact on consumer satisfaction perceptions (Füller & Matzler, 2008; Matzler & Sauerwein, 2002). The three- factor satisfaction theory is considered versatile and valid for diverse services and contexts (Fuchs & Weiermair, 2004; Füller & Matzler, 2008; Matzler et al., 2006).

Known as a critical theory, constructivism emphasizes the “subjective and social construction of knowledge rather than objective knowledge” (Schiro, 2013, p. 174). Knowledge is subjective, something the learners generate in relationship to their context and relationships. Dewey (1929) equated “progress” as dependent on students developing “new attitudes towards, and new interests in, experience” (p. 37). Part of learning for Dewey (1922) was the adaptive development of intelligent habits. Social constructivism theorist, Vygotsky (1930) asserted that “community plays a central role in the process of ‘making meaning'” (p. 90). Other contributors to constructivist theory emphasized the importance of learning in communal real-life context (Bruner, 1987; Dewey, 1929; Piaget, 1952). Learners construct their own knowledge and judge its validity within their social context. Piaget (1952) credited the learner as proactively engaged and self-directed in learning. Constructivism honors self-directedness in the learning process.

In addition to these two theories, three other conceptual frameworks gave a value- added perspective that informed FCAE programmatic practices. Andragogy was relevant because it lent insight into the nature of adult learners. Trust serves as a critical factor in classroom and programmatic culture, and as such should be a foundation for any school related work. Based off constructivism theory, 16 Habits of Mind provided a curriculum related to internal dispositions for supporting people in thinking through complex academic and life challenges.

Andragogy is the art and science of helping adults learn. The study of adult learners provides some historical context for examining adult basic education initiatives. Largely promoted in the United States by Knowles, andragogy emphasizes the individual learner. According to Knowles et al. (2015), adult learners exhibit the following: desiring contextualized learning, being metacognitive, being self-directed, and having life- experiences and expertise. Knowles et al. (2015) asserted, “Adults need to know why they need to learn something before undertaking to learn it” (p. 43). Understanding how curriculum content and skills connect to real life challenges and opportunities can help increase adult interest in learning. In addition, adults possess life experiences and thinking skills that act as value-added resources for adult-learners and the classroom as a whole.

Trust factors also influence school culture, students, and student achievement (Barth, 1990; Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Garmston & Hayes, 2003). Trust has multiple facets (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Costa & Garmston, 2016). School leader behaviors of trust-building and empowering other adults in the building contribute to a positive school culture (Barth, 2001; Chavez & Fairley, 2010). Teachers both influence school culture and contribute to a positive school culture through their behaviors and language (Pink, 2011; Bennett, 2016; Costa & Kallick, 2009). Trusting relationships result from demonstrating respect, competence, caring, and integrity (Bryk & Schneider 2002; Comings et al., 2003; Tschannen-Moran, 2004). Systemically honoring trust factors can promote student satisfaction among voluntary, adult basic education participants.

Ideally, school culture has a symbiotic relationship with curriculum choices. The 16 Habits of Mind curriculum promotes trust behaviors and student self-directness by offering clarity around intelligent choices people can make when confronting academic and life challenges (Costa & Kallick, 2008). In particular, the 16 Habits of Mind provide a common vocabulary that can be operationalized through instructional practices (Costa & Kallick, 2008; Vazquez, 2020). These internal dispositions can be learned and developed by individuals and communities, making them well suited for school-use (Costa & Kallick, 2008).

In the 2019-2020 school year, legislatively mandated deadlines related to workforce preparation were what the FCAE had to do. Honoring students with a goal of improving student satisfaction was what the program wanted to do. Honoring Adult Behaviors and Influencing Thinking Skills initiatives were developed through a synthesis of adult basic education legislative mandates, constructivist learning theory, andragogical concepts, trust research, and Habits of Mind curriculum. This action research study is a means by which to capture data related to these theories as implemented through the Honoring Adult Behaviors and Influencing Thinking Skills initiatives.

Positionality

In this study, I serve as research-practitioner and Director for FCAE. Prior to my career in education, I was a fast food restaurant manager. During that time, I learned to prioritize and provide quality customer service. When I transitioned to a career in education, I continued the practice of treating all stakeholders with respect and consideration. For over 30 years within the field of education, I have worked as a student- advocate, staff developer, and educational leader, working to increase stakeholder investment. When I transitioned from high school principal to director of adult education, I began to sense that I was serving in three primary roles: educational leader, financial manager, and social change agent. While these roles were not entirely foreign to my previous position, now the students were voluntary participants, the finances were variable, and the responsibility as social change agent felt more high-stakes. Plus, as I started as an adult education director, the nation was fully implementing WIOA, adding to my sense that I had a lot more questions than answers regarding my role as an adult education director. Creswell and Creswell (2018) suggested practitioner-researchers explore the degree to which they can and should conduct action research (p. 23). As a Director, I had several reasons to conduct research relevant to student satisfaction. First, I only had 2 years of experience with adult basic education and was still on a learning curve. Secondly, the HABITS initiative had begun implementation in 2019-2020. Thirdly, WIOA legislation was being fully implemented as of the 2019-2020 school year, resulting in additional programmatic mandates. Fourthly, FCAE had expanded from a city program to a county-wide program in the 2019-2020 school year, creating a number of questions related to programmatic offerings. However, the research was doable, as Directors have direct access to programmatic data. FCAE staff executed the interventions and surveys, ensuring school-community involvement. I scripted interviews to ensure that student voices and values were explored with integrity. A teacher statistician analyzed quantitative data to ensure sound statistical analysis.

Overview of Methodology

Bryk et al. (2017) advocated that school practitioners engage in a “focused learning journey” as a means of improving systemic practices (p. 8). Mertler (2017) added that action research empowers educational practitioners and promotes professional learning. Action research is widely accepted by academia for addressing local questions and present findings localized to specific settings and participants (Herr & Anderson, 2015; Mertler, 2017; Mills, 2018). This particular dissertation in practice aligned with Herr and Anderson’s (2015) validity criteria by creating information, being action- oriented, educating researcher and participant, staying relevant to the local setting, and following processes with integrity (p. 67). The credibility of action research lies in facilitating researchers to provide solutions to their own problems of practice (Efron & Ravid, 2013; Herr & Anderson, 2015; Mills, 2018)

This research used a mixed methodology of qualitative and quantitative research practices to explore student satisfaction in the FCAE program. In its evolution, since the 1960’s, mixed methodology has been a credible form of research (Creswell & Creswell, 2018; Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). Creswell and Creswell (2018) advocated that the nature of the research question should dictate the research methodology. This study explored student perceptions about what students hoped they would gain from attending classes in adult basic education. This research also asked questions that explored the value of programmatic interventions and student perceptions. Collected through student surveys and interviews, data were both quantitative and qualitative in nature. Using a mixed- methods approach was particularly important for this study because it provided the richest possible exploration of factors influencing student satisfaction.

Significance of the Study

The 2014 passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) increased the complexity and accountability for adult basic education programs. Societally, the diminishing number of employment options for low-skilled workers increased the high-stakes nature of adult basic education participation for the learner. This combination of factors increased the importance of this dissertation in practice.

There is a limited body of current research related to the general topic of adult literacy-learning education, making this dissertation of even greater value. On a national scale, most of the research related to adult learning has focused on highly educated professionals and professional development. Other than the exception of some English as a Second Language (ESL) students, the vast majority of adults recruited and retained for adult basic education are adults lacking in basic numeracy and text literacy who need to complete a high school diploma or pass a high school equivalency exam. Many of these students are seeking to make themselves eligible for advanced learning and/or professional employment.

Also, on a national scale, changes to adult basic education programs resulting from the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act are recent. Specifically, WIOA required adult basic education programs to provide workforce training certifications concurrent with high school and high school equivalency degrees, as well as Family Literacy and English as a Second Language instruction. The 2019-2020 school year was the first year of full implementation of these workforce requirements, making this a recent mandate and an apt time to explore the implications of this national policy from a local, student perspective.

This study was implemented to inform, and transform, an adult basic education community of learners and leaders. Because lives were at stake, because Frances County Adult Education program had not achieved all its performance goals in the past, because state-level negotiated performance goals increase yearly, there was an urgent need to act. Action research was a means to improve a system and its results. This research was designed to provide programmatic feedback to improve the Frances County Adult Education program, and hopefully benefit the local and regional community by contributing to a better educated adult population and workforce.

Dissertation Overview

The nature of this research was multifaceted and complex. It will be explained through multiple chapters. Chapter One presents the context, history, and urgency of researching student satisfaction with adult basic education to help students succeed, promote sustained programmatic improvement, and benefit society as a whole. Chapter Two discusses the theory and research-based criteria for conducting this particular action research study and discusses the lack of recent research in adult basic education. Chapter Three identifies the qualitative and quantitative data of student perception, system response, and degree of influence of system interventions. Chapter Four presents findings associated with the investigation and interventions of the action-based research. Chapter Five presents findings, implications, and recommendations. The final sections of the dissertation are References and the Appendices.

Definition of Terms

Adult Basic Education (ABE) – For the purposes of this dissertation in practice, adult basic education refers to education which falls under the supervision of WIOA legislation and is responsible for providing instruction in basic numeracy and literacy skills, high school equivalency preparation, high school diploma credit-work, workforce literacy upskills, and English as a Second Language skills to students, aged 16 and older.

Adult Learner – For the purposes of this study, adult learner refers to a student, aged 16 or older, who is engaged in adult basic education for the purpose of addressing numeracy and/or text-based literacy needs. More often than not, this adult is seeking a high school degree or its equivalent.

Corporate Workforce Training – Training offered through technical colleges or private training companies that offers opportunity for students to earn workforce-related credential-preparation and actual credentials.

English as a Second Language (ESL) – For the purposes of this study, ESL students are students who are developing their English speaking, listening, reading and writing skills as a foreign language-learner. All of these students have home languages other than English.

Habits of Mind – “What successful, ‘intelligent’ people do when they are confronted with problems to solve, decisions to make, creative ideas to generate, and ambiguities to clarify” (Costa & Kallick, 2008, p. 1). Costa and Kallick identify 16 specific habits: Persisting; Listening with Understanding and Empathy; Thinking about your Thinking; Questioning and Problem Posing; Taking Responsible Risks; Thinking Interdependently; Managing Impulsivity; Thinking Flexibly; Striving for Accuracy; Gathering Data Through All the Senses; Responding with Wonderment and Awe; Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations; Finding Humor; Remaining Open to Continuous Learning

Integrated Education and Training (IET) – Mandated by 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, all adult basic education programs receiving federal grant monies are required to create a plan by which students may attain workforce certifications concurrent with their adult basic education curriculum (United, 2014).

Low-skilled – Low-skilled adults, as defined by the Organization for Economic Co- operation and Development are adults scoring at National Reporting System Educational Functioning Level of 2 or below in the Test for Adult Basic Education (TABE).

Student Attendance – For the purposes of adult basic education, student attendance can refer to in-class attendance, distance learning, online learning, workforce related training, assigned teacher homework. Every adult basic education system has to have a way to document and report student dates and hours of attendance (Gaston, 2018).

Student Satisfaction – This refers to a student’s judgment as to the degree that their adult education experience meets (or is meeting) their expectations, including the possibility of under- or over fulfillment (Oliver, 2015).

 

CHAPTER 2: REVIEW OF LITERATURE

This study explored factors influencing adult basic education student satisfaction within the context of Frances County Adult Education (FCAE). An action-based research design, the study explored what students wanted regarding adult basic education participation, and how well aligned FCAE practices were in honoring those constructs. This study grew out a sense of dissonance between the voluntary nature of student participation in adult basic education, and the federally mandated nature of many adult basic education programmatic requirements. With the hope of incentivizing students, FCAE created and implemented an initiative named Honoring Adult Behaviors and Influencing Thinking Skills (HABITS) in 2019-2020. The HABITS initiative incorporated two interventions: implementation of 16 Habits of Mind curriculum and provision of corporate workforce training opportunities. This study was designed to inform FCAE regarding the impact of the HABITS initiative on student satisfaction.

This chapter is divided into sections, beginning with an explanation of student satisfaction within the context of adult basic education. Next, two theoretical frameworks are discussed: 3-factor customer satisfaction and constructivism. A section detailing the historical perspective follows the theoretical frameworks section. The historical perspective is discussed in the context of adult learners in general with applications specific to adult basic education learners. Similarly, in the fourth section, adult basic education in the context of social justice includes a discussion of the ideological challenges from a historic and present-day perspective. In this section, adult basic education challenges specific to South Carolina are outlined. Two additional topics relative to this study are also explored: trust as a critical factor in classroom and programmatic culture is explored, and the 16 Habits of Mind curriculum. The chapter then reviews research related to student persistence and differing factors influencing adult basic education students, followed by a summary section.

An Exploration of Adult Basic Education Student Satisfaction

Challenges abound in the context of adult basic education programs. Adult basic education programs exist for one primary reason: educate adults who have not graduated from high school to provide a better trained workforce. How many adults might this include? The national dropout rate measures the percentage of 16-24-year-old adults who are not in school and have not graduated. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (USDOE NCES, 2020), in 2017, this rate was 5.4%, over 2.1 million students. These students face a variety of challenges returning to school as adults. The primary reason the national political agenda supports educating adults and legislates money at the national level yearly is to promote a better trained workforce (U.S. Department of Labor, 2019). This offers opportunity… and challenges. The regulations regarding the receipt and use of these funds is very workforce oriented, and patriarchal in nature. Adult basic education programs must perform to meet pre-negotiated achievement standards or risk losing funding (King, 2019; U.S. Department of Labor, 2019). Programs that do not meet performance standards may fall into a category of needing state-level technical assistance (King, 2019).

Adult basic education programs, nationally and locally, have a student success rate of about 60% (King, 2018). Students who are successful benefit because they attain high school degrees and language skills that enable them to seek higher-paying employment and advanced degrees and certifications. Reflecting a national trend, locally, 81% of the jobs in the Francis County regional area require a high school diploma as a minimum (Dukes, 2019). The local community benefits when adults succeed in adult basic education because it then has a more highly educated workforce that is better equipped to fill these jobs. In addition to the community gaining a more highly educated worker, for each adult high school graduate, the local community benefits by having an additional adult with increased spending-revenue potential. Based on Coalition on Basic Education (2020) “fact sheets,” adults with high school diplomas earn $9,620 more per year than non-high school graduates, creating increased spending revenue for local economies.

Theoretical Framework

Two theories contributed to the integrated framework for this dissertation in practice exploring adult basic education student satisfaction: three-factor satisfaction theory and constructivism theory. While ABE students are more investors in their own education than consumers of education, ABE programs are providing services, and three- factor consumer satisfaction theory framed a complexity of factors inherent in the concept of a school system attending to student satisfaction. Constructivism theory provided a sense of congruency with the philosophy of ABE students as investors in their own learning and helped frame the educational initiatives associated with the problem of practice. Three-factor satisfaction theory and constructivist learning theory were combined to inform the FCAE HABITS initiative and, in turn, influence and inform research questions and related interventions. Figure 2.1 is a visual representation of the theoretical construct of this dissertation in practice.

 

Figure 2.1: Visualization of Theoretical Construct

Three-Factor Satisfaction Theory

Satisfaction is a multifaceted construct (Oliver, 2015; Walter et al., 2020). Research regarding measuring satisfaction began in the 1960’s as a means of analyzing customer behaviors (Grigoroudis & Siskos, 2010). Cardozo’s laboratory study sought to understand possible relationships between satisfaction and consumer buying and found that consumer satisfaction corresponded to the degree to which the consumer’s expectations regarding the product were met. The study further suggested that satisfaction levels were influenced positively when a consumer had to work to obtain a product for which they had high expectations. Cardozo concluded that satisfaction was a complex issue. Later research also suggested that satisfaction was a complex issue (Anderson, 1973; Cohen & Goldberg, 1970; Oliver, 1977; Swan, 1977).

Early in the study of satisfaction, Weaver and Brickman (1974) distinguished feelings of satisfaction from summary judgments. Hunt (1977) summarized speaker presentations at the first consumer satisfaction conference saying that satisfaction was a self-assessment of an emotion. Oliver (1977) posed a multi-faceted process called the expectancy disconfirmation mode which proposed that customer anticipation prior to a purchasing experience influenced post-purchase satisfaction level. Satisfaction was defined as the emotional response to the before-after comparison. Two-factor theory evolved from a variety of studies (Cadotte & Turgeon, 1988; Maddox, 1981; Swan & Combs, 1976); the two factors being satisfiers and dissatisfiers (Matzler & Sauerwein, 2002). Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, various studies supported the two-factor theory, either partially or in-whole (Cadotte & Turgeon, 1988; Maddox, 1981), with some exceptions (Leavitte, 1977).

Kano (1984) offered a more sophisticated, non-linear approach for analyzing satisfaction via four attributes: threshold, performance, excitement, and indifference. Based on Kano’s model, threshold attributes are factors consumers expect as a minimum. So long as they are present, they do not add to greater satisfaction. A larger quantity or higher quality does not affect a level of satisfaction in this case, but the absence of threshold attributes does contribute to dissatisfaction. The performance attribute can be measured linearly: low performance quality corresponds to low satisfaction; high performance quality corresponds to high satisfaction. The excitement attribute is a value- added attribute; the consumer may not expect excitement attributes, so their presence pleasantly surprises the customer, adding a level of excitement or delight to the experience and contributing to a higher degree of satisfaction. A lack of the excitement attribute does not necessarily create dissatisfaction. Indifferent attributes are factors that are of little to no importance to a consumer and thus do not affect satisfaction whether they are present or absent.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s other research supported a three-factor theory (Brandt, 1987, 1988; Brandt & Reffet, 1989; Johnston, 1995; Silvestro & Johnston, 1990). The three-factor theory mirrors three of Kano’s (1984) attributes but excludes the indifference attribute. Matzler and Saurewein (2002) identified the three factors in this theory as the following: basic factors, performance factors, and excitement factors.

Basic factors include experiences consumers expect and that negatively influence a person’s sense of satisfaction if not lacking. Figure 2.2 illustrates the relationship between basic factors and satisfaction. When basic factors are met, people may not judge an experience as one of satisfaction, but when they are not met, people definitely judge an experience as less than satisfactory (Füller & Matzler, 2007; Matzler & Sauerwein, 2002). Like Kano’s threshold factors, basic factors are experiences people assume will occur.

 

Figure 2.2: Illustration of Relationship between Basic Factors and Satisfaction

Performance factors can be judged as high or low based on the perception of how well others did in providing service (Füller & Matzler, 2007; Matzler & Sauerwein, 2002). Figure 2.3 illustrates the relationship between performance and satisfaction. Like Kano’s performance factors, in three-factor satisfaction theory, when performance factors are judged to be high, people rank their satisfaction as high; when performance factors are judged to be low, people rank their satisfaction as low.

 

Figure 2.3: Illustration of Relationship between Performance and Satisfaction

Like Kano’s excitement factors, three-factor satisfaction theory excitement factors include life experiences (Füller & Matzler, 2007; Matzler & Sauerwein, 2002). They are positive in nature, characterized as a delightful surprise above and beyond what people expected or hoped. These are considered value-added because if people do not experience excitement factors, they do not tend to feel dissatisfied, and, in fact, could still feel very satisfied with their experience(s) (Füller & Matzler, 2008; Matzler & Sauerwein, 2002). Figure 2.4 illustrates the relationship between excitement factors and satisfaction.

 

Figure 2.4: Illustration of Relationship between Excitement Factors and Satisfaction

Research over several decades has resulted in consensus regarding the three-factor structure of satisfaction (Anderson et al., 2004; Berman, 2005; Füller et al., 2006; Oliver, 1997), supported by a variety of research methods (Brant, 1988; Cadotte & Turgeon, 1988; Johnston, 1995; Mersha & Adlakha, 1992) and validated in research related to a variety of diverse services and contexts (Fuchs & Weiermair, 2004; Füller & Matzler, 2008; Johnston, 1995, Matzler et al., 2006). The three-factor satisfaction theory informed the creation of student satisfaction instruments for this dissertation in practice and illuminated the findings.

Constructivism Theory

Because this dissertation in practice explores the specific context of participant satisfaction regarding adult basic education services, it warranted an educational theory that aligns with adult-student learning. Since the 1970’s, constructivism theory has gained validity as a means by which to explain the art and science of teaching and learning (Prawat, 1992; Schiro, 2013; Solomon, 1994). Philosophical and psychological works of Dewey, Vygotsky, Piaget, Bruner, Goodman, and others have contributed to constructivism as a theory (Perkins, 1991; Doolittle, n.d.). Known as a critical theory, constructivism emphasizes the “subjective and social construction of knowledge rather than objective knowledge” (Schiro, 2013, p. 174). Knowledge is subjective, something the learner generates in relationship to their context and relationships.

Role of Education

Dewey (1929) believed education was foundational to “social progress and reform” (p. 39). Dewey (1938) advocated students acquiring skills and techniques by means of producing products and processes. Dewey (1929) criticized educators who adopted a mindset of mechanically teaching structure. In constructivist theory, the instructor contributes to an interactive, collaborative, dialectic culture of learning, embedding content knowledge in realistic situations, often of a problem-solving nature (Ertmer & Newby, 2013; Harasim, 2012). Dewey (1929) equated “progress” as dependent on students developing “new attitudes towards, and new interests in, experience” (p. 37). Part of learning for Dewey (1922) was the adaptive development of intelligent habits.

Nature of Intelligence

As a social constructivist, Vygotsky (1930) asserted that “community plays a central role in the process of ‘making meaning'” (p. 90). Other contributors to constructivist theory emphasized the importance of learning in communal real-life context (Dewey, 1929; Piaget, 1952). Vygotsky (1930) asserted, “Learning is a necessary and universal aspect of the process of developing culturally organized, specifically human, psychological functions” (p. 90). In constructivism, “learning is a function of the interaction between people and their environment” (Schiro, 2013, p. 120). Piaget (1952) explained that intelligence “is entangled in a network of relationships between the organism and the environment” (p. 19). In constructivism, learners are expected to construct their own knowledge and judge its validity within their social context.

Piaget (1952) defined intelligence as relationally and experientially based. The mind assimilates, accommodates, and organizes data to both make and change meaning. “It is by adapting to things that the mind organizes itself and it is by organizing itself that it structures things” (p. 8). Piaget credited the learner as proactively engaged and self- directed in learning. Constructivism honors self-directedness in the learning process.

Doolittle (n.d.) stated,

Constructivism acknowledges the learner’s active role in the personal creation of knowledge, the importance of experience (both individual and social) in this knowledge creation process, and the realization that the knowledge created will vary in its degree of validity as an accurate representation of reality (para. 2).

Individual self-directed interest and engagement are critical elements for learning.

Learner-Centered Curriculum

Constructivism is learner-centered (Schiro, 2013) meaning focused on “the needs and concerns of individuals,” and their personal growth (p. 5). A curriculum that reflects learner centered ideology tends to emphasize students learning in interactive, multi- dimensional contexts that involved student choice. Part of the job of the engaged learner in a learner-centered curriculum is to organize the knowledge for themselves which requires student initiative and decision making. The role of the teacher is to facilitate inquiry and learning on the part of the adult learner.

Teacher Beliefs and Competencies

Learner-centered teacher competencies of serving as observer, diagnostician, and facilitator align with constructivist beliefs. As the experiences of adult learners are honored, classroom learning becomes more collaborative in nature. Lindeman (1926) affirmed the social nature of learning; “Knowing-behavior, which is intelligence, is social in two directions: it takes others into account, and it calls forth more intelligent responses from others” (p. 165).

Historical Perspectives

Steeped in a rich history, adult teaching and learning have attracted the focus of ancient cultural and philosophical figures, such as Confucius, Hebrew prophets, Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato, but a specific term for adult teaching and learning was not recognized until 1833 (Henschke, 2016; Knowles et al., 2015; Loeng, 2018). A German high school teacher, coined the term, andragogic, using Plato’s teaching as a foundation and emphasized reasoning skills, metacognition and character development (Henschke, 2016; Loeng, 2018). This early term evolved in its definition and meaning as a distinct concept over time (Knowles et al., 2015).

The Evolution of Andragogy

A more modern exploration of educating adults began in the United States in the 1920’s (Knowles et al., 2015) when Lindeman (1926) identified “a new kind of education” based on the assumption “education is life” (p. 6). Lindeman named this idea adult education because an adult perspective “defines its limits” (p. 6). Some of what Lindeman (1926) affirmed concerning adult education was the following:

  • Adult education assumes people can continue to grow in reasoning and adaptability.
  • Adults education honors human need for power because “genuine power is wisdom” (p. 43).
  • Adult education helps individuals transform “experience into influence” (p. 57).
  • Adult education promotes personal freedom that is “conscious of a degree of self-direction proportionate to our capacities” (p. 79).
  • Adult education is an “agency of progress” (p. 166) for the larger community.

Lindeman emphasized the importance of honoring the experiences that adults bring to their own learning. In 1928, Thorndike et al. (1928) provided scientific evidence that adults could learn, a previously assumed, but not proven concept. In 1938, Sorenson delineated adult interests and abilities differed from those of children.

Knowles extended andragogical understandings, making the teaching of adults into a distinct practice with a strong emphasis on the individual learner. Referring to the study of adult learning and teaching, prior to the mid-1960’s, Knowles et al. (2015) stated, “What was needed was an integrative and differentiating concept” (p. 38). In 1967, an adult educator from Yugoslavia, visited America and used the term andragogy to label the study of adults as learners (Knowles, 2015, p. 38). In 1968, Knowles defined andragogy as the “art and science of helping adults learn” (Knowles, 2015, p. 38). Knowles began using the term in speaking, teaching, and writing anchoring andragogy as a precise and distinct, even necessary, term by distinguishing it from the more commonly used term for teaching and learning, pedagogy. Knowles et al. (2015) asserted, “andragogy is applicable to any adult learning transaction, from community education to human resource development in organizations” (p. 557).

Knowles et al. (2015) spoke of andragogy as a transactional model that built “effective learning processes for adults” (p. 4). Lindeman (1926) stated, “Growth should be a process of integrating emotions with thought, an evolving capacity for feeling more deeply and thinking more clearly” (p. 172). In other words, process becomes product. Knowles et al. (2015) suggested adult education should help adults “examine their habits and biases and open their minds to new approaches” (p. 45). Lindeman (1926) also valued the process of learner metacognition suggesting,

Adult education is a process through which learners become aware of significant experience. Recognition of significance leads to evaluation. Meanings accompany experience when we know what is happening and what importance the event includes for our personalities (p. 169).

The learners self-assess meaning and learn through metacognition as a means of defining values for themselves.

Knowles’ concept of andragogy has its critics. Hartree (2006) described findings based on Knowles’ perception of andragogy “contentious” (p. 1), and Jartree and others viewed Knowles’ concept of andragogy as largely a North American concept rather than a global definition (Henschke, 2016; Loeng, 2018). Knowles’ concept of andragogy is more focused on adults as individual learners, while other global perspectives of andragogy view adult learners from a more social perspective (Henschke, 2016; Loeng, 2018). Because Knowles’ theory appear to ignore social and political contexts, it has not been viewed as a critical theory (Chan, 2010; Loeng, 2018). Rather, Knowles’ concept of andragogy is perceived as aligning with linear reasoning, westernized values, and middle- class assumptions, and, as such, is incongruent with diverse ways of knowing and thinking culturally (McGrath, 2009; Roberson, 2012; Sandlin, 2005). Still, Knowles’ framework of andragogy has persisted as a useful conceptual frame for guiding adult learning and learners.

Andragogy Specific to Adult Basic Education Students

Andragogy is a broad theory encompassing a large diversity of adult learners. Lindeman said, “In an adult class, the student’s experience counts for as much as the teacher’s knowledge” (Gessner, 1956, p. 166). Knowles acknowledged adults were “heterogeneous in terms of background, learning style, motivation, needs, interests, and goals” (p. 44). Adult basic education (ABE) students are also a diverse subgroup within the larger group of adult learners.

On a national scale, most of the research related to adult learning has focused on highly educated professionals and professional development. With the exception of some English as a Second Language (ESL) students, the vast majority of adults who participate in adult basic education are low in basic numeracy skills and text-literacy skills, and lack a secondary school diploma. ABE students have varied life experiences and varied reasons for participating in adult education. Henschke (2016) identified some learner characteristics specific to adult basic and adult literacy learners and aligned these learner- descriptors with some andragogical practices for supporting them. Learner characteristics included the following: “Immediate concerns; low self-concept; different value systems; use of defense mechanisms; sensitivity to nonverbal communication; alienation; reticence and lack of; hostility and anxiety toward authority; fear of school, failure and change; limitations from deprived home life; cultural exclusion” (p. 21). Henschke (2016, October) also created a Modified Instructional Perspectives Inventory for teachers of adult learners that measures teachers in seven areas, five of which align with andragogical practices: “empathy with learners; trust of learners; planning and delivery of instruction; accommodating learner uniqueness; learner-centered learning process” (p. 6). Henschke’s work serves to support teacher thinking about the usefulness of andragogically-aligned teacher strategies, primarily for teachers to build trust.

Adult Basic Education in the Context of Social Justice

Advocates for adult basic education see it as an agent of social change. For example, the Senior Technical Advisor at World Education wrote, “I believe quality adult education is an anti-poverty and an anti-intergenerational poverty strategy” (Mortrude, 2018, p. 114). Historically and philosophically, adult education has had potential to serve as an impetus for social change (Bragg, 2016; Jurmo, 2021; Lindeman, 1926; Pickard, 2016).

Ideological Challenges for Adult Basic Education Programs: A Historical Analysis

With the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, the Federal government created a national vision for adult basic education, establishing educational opportunities at the secondary level in every state (USDOE OVAE, 2013). The Adult Education Act of 1966 established and funded adult basic education based on minimal student participation (USDOE OVAE, 2013). Federal legislation from 1998, the Workforce Innovation Act (WIA), created national regulations regarding the purpose, evaluation, and funding of adult basic education programs (WIA, 2018). WIA created a workforce identity for adult basic education, distancing it from its more inclusive identity of Community Education, the latter being more associated with adult hobbies and interests (USDOE OVAE, 2013, p. 24). Redefining adult basic education as a school for adult learners in need of basic academic skills such as literacy, numeracy, and English language learning also changed adult basic education funding. Adult basic education began to be accountable for recruitment, retention, and academic gains related to numeracy, literacy, and high school or high school equivalent degrees (American, 2013, p. iv).

In 2014, WIA was superseded by the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (U.S. Department of Labor, 2019). This act, which allowed for gradual implementation over 4 years, once again changed the identity of adult basic education. The goal of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is to provide a more highly educated and skilled workforce of American workers, particularly youth ages 16- 24 (U.S. Department of Labor, 2019). Funding for adult basic education has to be attained through grant submissions which requires programs to show multiple years of prior academic success with students (U.S. Department of Labor, 2019). Programs also have to create career certification pathways that students can earn concurrently with their high school or high school equivalent degrees or English as a Second Language (ESL) learning (Uvin, 2016). WIOA named this concurrent certification process Integrated Education and Training. Thus, over the past 20 years, under the nomenclature of Innovation and Opportunity, adult basic education evolved from a fairly all-inclusive life- enrichment focus of education to a production-oriented, degree-and-workforce training focus (USDOE OVAE, 2013, p. 32). As a requirement of WIOA, all adult basic education programs must partner with regional Workforce Councils of Government, Commission for the Blind, and Vocational Rehabilitation, creating collaborative services for students to provide for local workforce needs (USDOE OCTAE, 2019).

The emphasis on vocational training aligns with social efficiency ideology as defined by Schiro’s (2013) statement, “Youth achieve an education by learning to perform the functions necessary for social productivity” (p. 5). In 1918, Franklin Bobbitt, considered one of the early social efficiency theorists and advocates, published “Scientific Method in Curriculum Making,” advocating that schools construct vocational curriculum from investigating local employment needs and skills required within specific jobs, and then teach those things. Bobbitt (1918) complimented the city of Indianapolis for identifying “knowledge, habits and skills needed for effective work” (p. 15) and constructing curriculum accordingly. In “Education and the Cult of Efficiency,” Callahan (1962) was “surprised and dismayed” (viii) by the degree of business influence on education curriculum and practices:

What was unexpected was the extent, not only the power of the business industrial groups, but of the strength of the business ideology in the American culture on the one hand and the extreme weakness and vulnerability of schoolmen, especially school administrators, on the other. (p. viii)

The financial tie between adult basic education and workforce preparation in WIOA legislation evinces the enduring influence of social efficiency ideology and corporate workforce power over adult basic education.

The 2014 legislative Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which governs the jurisdiction and funding for adult basic education, gives power to local workforce boards deciding for technical colleges, employment offices, and adult basic education programs what adults can be trained to do, much of which is designed to meet present labor needs (Bragg, 2016). Washington (1995) would have approved of providing a skilled workforce to “do what the world wants done” (p. 35), whereas DuBois (1903) was critical of Washington’s asking youth to sacrifice civil rights and “concentrate all their energies on industrial education, and accumulation of wealth” (p. 22).

Similarly, Freire (1970) criticized literacy programs that ignored the marginalized nature of their students, contending, “They will never question the very reality which deprives men of the right to speak up” (p. 180). A proponent of freedom, Freire stressed that marginalized populations “cannot overcome their dependency by ‘incorporation’ into the very structure responsible for their dependency” (p. 181). Ladson-Billings (2009) and Hooks (1994) valued collaborative student dialogue and community-building as components of knowledge-building pedagogy. Hooks (1994) said, “To educate as a practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn” (p. 13). All three confront socio-economic class issues. Ladson-Billings (2009) narrated how teachers provided resources and experiences for students, including personal grooming for one of her students (p. 9). Hooks (1994) shared her personal reactions to “bourgeois values” (p. 180) in college classrooms.

WIOA legislation and its funding provisions created a scenario in which adult basic education programs must manage conflicting ideological values of honoring the learner-centered nature of andragogy and constructivism theory while appeasing patriarchal political mandates aligned with social-efficacy theory. This dissertation in practice is designed to help the FCAE program manage this tension in a way that honors students.

Challenges Specific to South Carolina

A variety of data indicate a great need for South Carolina adult basic education programs to serve as social change agents for the state. According to Kerr and Shin (2020), South Carolina graduation rates were 4% lower than those of the nation, and only 5 states had lower success rates. Low graduation rates accounted for 365,850 working- age adults in South Carolina without a high school credential (South Carolina Department of Education, 2019). According to Riser-Kositsky (2019), the percentage of special education students in South Carolina is approximately 13.5%. Ravipati (2017) reported that students with learning issues were three times more likely to drop out, making them potential participants for adult basic education. Many of them do matriculate to adult education. According to the South Carolina Office of Adult Education, 13% of adult basic education participants in SC in the 2019-2020 programmatic year did have a disability, creating additional challenges for programs (LiteracyPro, 2021).

While the need for ABE is great in South Carolina, the funding has been limited. According to COABE, 57.5% of students in South Carolina adult basic education programs tested in grade levels 0-8.9 (Educate and Elevate, 2020). Approximately 5% of the state’s population are English Language Learners (Data USA, 2019). According to the COABE (2020) fact sheets, the federal funding levels for adult basic education nationwide were about $641/student. According to the COABE South Carolina Fact Sheet, the average amount of federal funds per adult learner in South Carolina is only $390/student. This funding is low compared to approximately $10,000/student each year received by K-12 educational institutions (Educate and Elevate, 2020). In other words, local adult basic education programs in South Carolina receive less money to educate larger numbers of students with greater needs for differentiated instruction and academic accommodations than the K-12 system. South Carolina adult basic education programs also receive less money than adult basic education programs in many other states. Many of these adult basic education students have learning barriers, and the majority of these students perform academically at a middle school level or lower. In addition to learning needs, the general population in South Carolina struggles with financial and health concerns at a higher rate than many states in the nation. According to Data USA (2019), in 2019, 16.6% of the population was below the poverty line, whereas the national average was 13.1%. Also, 15.8% of residents had not seen a doctor in the last 12 months because of cost, and only seven states in the nation had a higher percentage (Data USA, 2019). These life-challenges add to the challenge of South Carolina adults succeeding in adult basic education programs.

Trust as a Critical Factor in Classroom and Programmatic Culture

Given the challenges adult basic education students and systems face, the voluntary nature of ABE, and the high-stakes nature of performance-based funding, programs must consider what norms support their work. The more high stakes for academic accountability exist, the more schools must foster trust (Barth, 1990; Bryk & Schneider, 2002). Trust measures are often the primary indicator of school community and culture (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Barth, 1990). Trust can exist on multiple levels and depends on multiple factors (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Tschannen-Moran, 2004). Costa and Garmston (2016) identified four trust factors most relevant to mediational work:

  • Relational-trust
  • Self-trust
  • Trust in the Environment
  • Trust in the Process

All of these trust factors contribute to the level of overall trust supporting system work.

Relational Trust

Bryk and Schneider (2002), in their school-based research, categorized three types of trust: organic, contractual, and relational. Of these, relational trust was the most important for school leaders to improve schools (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Tschannen- Moran, 2004). Trusting relationships result from demonstrating respect, competence, personal regard for others, and integrity (Bryk & Schneider 2002; Tschannen-Moran, 2004; Comings et al., 2003). Leaders earn respect by valuing all stakeholders in the educational process. Other researchers concur that social relationships within organizations influence organizational results (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Garmston & Hayes, 2003). The effectiveness of school staff to perform defines competence. Teachers both influence school culture and contribute to a positive school culture through their behaviors and language (Bennett, 2016; Costa & Kallick, 2004; Pink, 2011). School leaders contribute to a positive school culture through behaviors that demonstrate and earn trust and choices that empower other adults in the building (Barth, 2001; Chavez & Fairley, 2010).

Personal regard is the degree to which people feel a sense of caring from others. Barth (1990) said, “My years in school suggest that the quality of adult relationships within a school has more to do with the quality and character of the school and with the accomplishments of students than any other factor” (p. 162). Others echo the importance of caring in establishing trusting relationships (Costa & Garmston, 2016; Tschannen- Moran, 2004; Tschannen-Moran et al., 1998). Integrity is the perceived measure of congruency between what others say and what they actually do. People process others’ words and actions to inform their own behaviors regarding degree of reliance and risk (Costa & Garmston 2016; Heifetz & Linsky, 2002; Murrell, 2020). Beder and Medina (2001) recommended teachers exhibit behaviors that are learner-centered and honor student voices and values as a means to promote student learning.

Self-Trust

Garmston and Costa (2016) identified self-trust as an important factor in being able to foster trust, dependent on several factors:

  • “Awareness of one’s actions and the effect they have on others” (p. 96)
  • “A high stage of affective development, characterized by a strong sense of values” (p. 96)
  • Awareness of how one “processes and makes meaning of experiences” (p. 96)

Inherent within human neurobiology, people have the capacity to grow in self-awareness (Costa & Garmston, 2016; Costa & Kallick, 2008; Sutton, 2016). Growing in self- awareness means people are more aware of their choices and how they affect others, as well as why they make the choices they do. People can intentionally develop their level of consciousness (Costa & Garmson, 2016; Costa & Kallick, 2008). This often involves people viewing themselves less as victims and more as efficacious agents. Others can serve as mediators of a person’s degree of self-trust (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001; Eger, 2006; Costa & Garmston, 2016; Kallick, 2008). Tools such as paraphrasing, pausing, and asking open-ended questions when used in non-judgmental ways can support others’ sense of efficacy (Costa & Garmson, 2016; Murrell, 2020)

Trust in the Environment

Stakeholders within an organization, make conscious and unconscious judgments regarding the degree they trust the system. The degree of trust in an environment is based largely on the perceived level of congruency between what the organization says it values compared with its daily behaviors. Personal judgments regarding the degree of systemic integrity result from a variety of cultural elements, such as organizational norms, values, and rituals (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; MacNeil, et al., 2009). In turn, personal judgments that stakeholders make regarding their perception of the degree that the organization acts with integrity affect the degree that those stakeholders choose to engage with, and depend on, the organization as a whole (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Costa & Garmston, 2016). School leadership plays a role in influencing school culture (Chavez & Fairley, 2010; MacNeil, et al., 2009). Costa (2008) suggested leadership offer clear and congruent verbal and behavioral signals that “the development of the intellect and cooperative decision making are the school’s basic values” (p. 233). Mediational coaching of school stakeholders can improve their capabilities to build more trustworthy school environments (Costa & Garmston, 2016; Ellison & Hayes, 2006).

Trust in the Process

Trusting in a process has the double layer of trust itself being a process (Blomqvist, 1997; Costa & Garmston, 2016). Processes usually involve multiple steps over time and often include some level of ambiguity as to exactly what to do when, where, and why. The learning process is extreme complex, often lacking clarity or purpose (Costa & Kallick, 2008; Marzano et al., 2001). School management options regarding the process of teaching and learning are comprised of a myriad of facets: teaching strategies, methods of delivery, length of time in instruction, nature of curriculum, instructional setting, teacher style, nature and size of the learning cohort, etc. Empowering students by offering choice and honoring their voice in their own process of learning serves to build student trust in the process (Costa, 2008; Costa & Kallick, 2004). Plus, intentionality matters. Costa and Garmston (2016) asserted that adults tend to be more trusting of a process when the intent of the process is to “grow intellectually, to learn more about learning, and to mutually increase their capacity for self-improvement” (p. 99). In addition, aforementioned aspects of trust in relationships, self, and environment can support students trusting in the process of learning (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Costa, 2008; Costa & Garmston, 2016). Trust research gives a value-added perspective concerning constructivist theory and andragogy which can inform adult basic education programmatic practices.

The Nature of 16 Habits of Mind Curriculum

Another value-added perspective for adult basic education programs is an understanding of the 16 Habits of Mind Curriculum. Based on constructivist theory, 16 Habits of Mind curriculum promotes student self-directedness (Campbell, n.d.; Costa & Kallick, 2008; Muscott, 2018). Costa and Kallick defined the 16 Habits of Mind as intelligent choices for people to practice when they are confronted with “problems to solve, decisions to make, creative ideas to generate, and ambiguities to clarify” (p. 1). Learner-centered, Habits of Mind help students develop dispositions that build capabilities to self-monitor, self-manage, and self-modify thoughts and behaviors as they face life and academic challenges (Costa & Kallick, 2008; Carner & Iadaviaia-Cox, 2012; Anderson, 2017). Costa and Kallick (2008) emphasized the importance of common terminology regarding thinking practices. Vazquez (2020) affirmed this. This mindset influenced Costa and Kallick (2008) to identify specific dispositions, which they named habits. These internal dispositions can be learned and developed individually and by communities (Costa & Kallick, 2008).

Teaching the Habits of Mind curriculum has proven benefits. Habits of Mind instruction supports learners in feeling more resourceful to resolve problems (Chang, et al., 2011; Houston, 2009; Vazquez, 2020), although students value some thinking habits more than others (Hew & Cheung, 2011; Houston, 2009). Teaching Habits of Mind curriculum has also supported student growth related to perceived use of Habits of Mind (Houston, 2009; Marshall, 2004). Applied use of Habits of Mind has academic and life benefits (Hew & Cheung, 2011; Houston, 2009; McArthur, 2011; Vazquez, 2020). Vazquez (2020) also found that quality of instruction can influence the impact of Habits of Mind on students. What follows are the 16 Habits of Mind as identified by Costa and Kallick:

  • Persisting;
  • Listening with Understanding and Empathy;
  • Thinking about your Thinking;
  • Questioning and Problem Posing;
  • Taking Responsible Risks;
  • Thinking Interdependently;
  • Managing Impulsivity;
  • Thinking Flexibly;
  • Striving for Accuracy;
  • Gathering Data Through All the Senses;
  • Responding with Wonderment and Awe;
  • Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations;
  • Finding Humor; and
  • Remaining Open to Continuous Learning.

Research related to Habits of Mind curriculum was relevant because of the inclusion of Habits of Mind curriculum into the HABITS initiative.

At the intersection of constructivist theory, andragogical concepts, trust research and 16 Habits of Mind are two primary constructs: self-directedness and community connectedness. This intersection suggests that adult basic education programs should offer choices to their adult basic education learners, choices that honor and promote student self-directedness within the student’s community contexts. Figure 2.5 illustrates this relationship of ideas.

Related Research

Several studies have explored ABE programmatic responses to student needs and programmatic accountability measures. Historically, researchers have largely been interested in adult basic education student persistence issues. Some studies have explored differing influences on adult basic education students.

Figure 2.5: Visual Representation of the Intersection of Constructivist Theory, Andragogical Concepts, Trust Research and Habits of Mind Curriculum

Exploration of Student Persistence

Thematically, factors related to ABE programs influence on student persistence. In particular, Comings (1999, 2000, 2001, 2003) collaborated with other researchers in various regions in the United States on studies related to student persistence and programmatic responses. These studies were sponsored by the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy prior to the inception of WIOA.

Comings et al. (1999) sought to identify measures for persistence in pre-GED students and began exploring factors that might influence student persistence. They found that most student demographic factors did not inform programs as to how to support adult persistence and concluded that ABE programs should pay attention to helping students identify and achieve goals. Nearly half (48.7%) of participants mentioned “life demands” as a deterrent to literacy participation. Such life demands included health, fatigue, child care, transportation, lack of income, and work. This study also recommended redefining persistence and challenged programs to increase their resourcefulness and mindset in helping students to persist who might not be able to attend formal class sessions consistently. The study identified four supports of greatest help to students: student-goal, student self-efficacy, “student management of positive and negative forces that help and hinder persistence,” and student goal-progress (p. 71). Comings et al. (2000) made identical recommendations and encouraged programs to view their students as “long-term customers” by providing ongoing services that students can use on a flexible basis over time, with perhaps intermittent stops and starts (p. 6).

Comings and Cuban (2000) researched adult learner persistence and documented strategies libraries could employ to increase learner-persistence: childcare; relevant curriculum; more classroom hours; teacher training; improved instruction; and student orientations. Results of these initiatives appeared in Comings et al. (2000; 2001; 2003).

Porter et al. (2005), with the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy and Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, researched implementation and influence of strategies designed to increase adult persistence in literacy instruction. The study recognized promising programmatic practices, yet no demographic group showed a significant increase in participation over time. Some recommendations did emerge from the study, elicited by listening to participants and analyzing patterns of attendance:

  1. Provide students with referrals to other social agencies that can help them with life-challenges (p. 44).
  2. Offer support to students, such as child care (p. 45).
  3. Create more pathways for literacy learning, such as online and off-site options (p. 46).

The study referred to programs becoming more aware of student persistence trends and possible promising interventions, but there was no deep-dive into student stories that might lend insight as to reasons for limited attendance patterns and differences in attendance patterns.

These explorations in student persistence provided the historical foundation of a significant body of research related to adult basic education. The findings provided insights into adult basic education student needs and some programmatic responses. This dissertation in practice chose to distinguish itself from the historical norm of exploring problems related to student persistence by looking instead at exploring the potential associated with student satisfaction.

Exploration of Some Influences on Adult Basic Education Students

Related to adult basic education student self-concept, Nwosu (2012) conducted a mixed-methods exploration of the impact of technology on the self-beliefs of ABE learners. The study involved four training centers and 85 students in north west Ireland. Two groups used computer technology, and two did not. Based on interviews and surveys, the study found that computer-learning contributed to increased learner self- confidence as compared to those who did not have the benefit of computer-learning. The study found that computer use felt safer and contributed to a greater sense of empowerment.

Mellard et al. (2013) focused on adult basic student motivation during learning, particularly looking at dispositional factors affecting motivation. They used three survey instruments and a questionnaire in their qualitative study of 274 ABE and adult secondary education students. They found that dispositional and demographic variables accounted for little explanation in the difference between 204 students who made academic gains versus the 70 who did not. Reasons why students participated in ABE differed. Hope, for example, was a “goal-directed construct” (p. 534). The research also found that connecting students with outside agencies could enhance learners’ sense of agency and provide them with a greater sense of resourcefulness to overcome barriers.

Drago-Severson (2014) engaged in a qualitative study of eight women enrolled in a diploma program. Participants engaged in multiple interviews over 14 months. Three findings emerged related to why participants enrolled in the program and what they hoped to gain:

  1. Participants had workforce related goals.
  2. Family responsibilities affected when participants chose to enroll in the program.
  3. The participants had goals of family- and work-related leadership.

Participants valued and engaged in goal-oriented behaviors.

Related to adult basic education satisfaction and technology, Riddle (2004) conducted a survey study using Likert scale ratings of 106 ABE students and found they got their greatest sense of satisfaction from being able to measure improvement. High levels of technology use did not correspond to higher levels of student satisfaction, but Riddle recommended that ABE programs continue to use technology as a means to promote student-centered instruction and digital literacy.

Telef et al. (2015) conducted a quantitative study surveying 173 Turkish adolescents. The study found a positive correlation between how the student participants perceived teacher support and their level of school satisfaction. The implications were that student-teacher relationships can serve as a foundation for school satisfaction.

All of these studies explored student mindsets regarding their hopes for participation and/or experiences in participating. The overlap between these studies and this dissertation in practice is the insight gained into student perceptions of what FCAE adult basic education students might value.

Summary

From the literature review, adult basic education learners clearly come to adult basic education with diverse backgrounds, perceptions and experiences. The literature review also identified obligations to academic instruction, workforce preparation, and student achievement. The passage of WIOA increased the complexity and accountability for adult basic education programs. Societally, the diminishing number of employment options for low-skilled workers has increased the high-stakes nature of ABE participation for the learner. A synthesis of research related to three-factor satisfaction theory, constructivist theory, andragogical concepts, trust research, and Habits of Mind curriculum informed the design of programmatic interventions and the data collection instruments related to this dissertation in practice. There is no current or past research on the Frances County Adult Education (FCAE) program, which serves adult learners whose literacy and/or numeracy skills fall below the level of a high school graduate, students who have often been unsuccessful in traditional school settings. Because of the diverse student body, FCAE served as an appropriate convenience sample for current research. Because of recent implementation of policy changes, 2020–2021 served as an apt time for research related to adult basic education and full-implementation of WIOA. This combination of factors, combined with limited recent research on the adult basic education student increases the importance of this dissertation in practice.

 

CHAPTER 3: METHODOLOGY

Born of a desire to investigate adult basic education student-perception, a mixed- methodology design using surveys and interviews sought to explore student perceptions. This chapter highlights the problem of practice, research questions, and purpose of the study and explains more fully the research design, nature of participants, data collection measures and research procedures. The chapter also discusses data analysis and data use in supporting students and system feedback and improvement.

Problem of Practice

On a local level, Frances County sustains about an 80% graduation rate in its K- 12 system (County Health Rankings, 2018). This accounts for data indicating that over 17% of the adult population, approximately 22,330 adults in Frances County have less than a twelfth-grade education (SC Department of Employment & Workforce, 2021). Included in these figures are over 8,000 Frances County adults who have less than a ninth-grade education (SC Department of Employment & Workforce, 2021). The Limited English Proficiency population in Frances County is around 1,800. The poverty level in Frances County is 28 percent, compared to 23 percent statewide (County Health Rankings, 2018). According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Frances County’s unemployment rate was 9.1%, which was almost triple the percentage for SC overall (3.2%). Also notable, teen births in Frances County are more prevalent than across SC as a whole, with a disproportionately higher percentage of those mothers being Hispanic (County Health Rankings, 2018).

Because the Frances County Adult Education program offers high school diploma classes, GED classes, ESL classes, Generational Family Literacy classes, and onsite childcare options, the program is uniquely resourced within the county to help a significant portion of the population. Frances County Adult Education, a mid-sized program in the state of South Carolina, historically has over 450 participants yearly (LiteracyPro, 2021).

Adults with low academic skill levels are disadvantaged in many ways. According to the Coalition on Adult Basic Education (2020), low skilled adults tend to be two times more likely to be unemployed, three times more likely to be low-income, and four times more likely to be in poor health. Low academic-skilled adults come to adult basic education by the hundreds in Frances County, South Carolina, and by the millions nationwide, to engage in learning. What might they hope to gain? What are some of the factors that contribute to adult basic education student satisfaction?

Presented with federal mandates as to what adult basic education programs must provide in the way of workforce training and preparation, one local program grappled with a way to support those mandates and the thinking skills students have as adult learners while also promoting student satisfaction. The Frances County Adult Education system chose to create a new initiative called Honoring Adult Behaviors and Influencing Thinking Skills (HABITS). The HABITS initiative was a combination of interventions designed to address student satisfaction in the adult basic education experience. Embedded within this initiative was recognition of student achievements, integration of 16 Habits of Mind (HOM), and integration of work-based learning opportunities for students. Student satisfaction seemed an important factor to explore as a follow-up to this initiative as an additional means by which to honor students, build trust, and influence individual and system results.

Research Questions

With Frances County students and programmatic factors in mind, this study explored the following research questions:

Research Question 1: What benefits do students expect to receive as a result of student-participation in the Frances County Adult Education program?

Research Question 2: How does implementation of the Honoring Adult Behaviors and Influencing Thinking Skills (HABITS) initiatives, inclusive of Habits of Mind curriculum and Integrated Educational Training, impact student satisfaction with Frances County Adult Education?

Research Design

This mixed-methods research design gathered qualitative and quantitative data relative to student satisfaction with the FCAE HABITS initiative. Grigoroudis and Siskos (2010) asserted that because satisfaction is an overall perception by the consumer, using multiple assessment measures provides greater reliability. Surveys and semi-structured interviews were data instruments for this exploratory study. Mixed methodology facilitates data-rich explorations (Creswell & Creswell, 2018; Mills, 2018). Student surveys provided quantitative and qualitative student-perception data. Interviews provided narrative-rich student data, which facilitated evaluation of the HABITS initiative and informed future initiatives. Demographic data contributed to the descriptive nature of the data analysis. Creswell and Creswell (2018) identified this form of mixed- methodology as exploratory sequential. After generating qualitative data to explore participant views and analyze for understandings and themes, researchers can cross-reference quantitative data with the qualitative data to offer additional insights into the problem of practice.

Research Constructs

Constructivism presupposes that learners bring intelligent, internal resources to participation in adult basic education. At the intersection of constructivist theory, andragogical concepts, trust research, and the 16 Habits of Mind are two primary constructs: self-directedness and community connectedness. Supported by the positive presumption of adult-learner diversity and capabilities, this intersection suggests that adult basic education programs should offer choices to their adult basic education learners, choices that honor and promote student self-directedness within the student’s community contexts. Figure 3.1 illustrates this relationship of ideas.

FCAE created the Honoring Adult Behaviors and Influencing Thinking Skills (HABITS) initiative to offer a cohesive approach to providing what was nationally mandated of FCAE in a way that promoted student self-directedness and supported students making choices that best served them within their community contexts of family, work, school, and personal activities.

Interventions

Adult basic education students should be respected for making the life-choice to engage in additional learning. As a means of honoring these participants, the FCAE program asked itself, “What factors might influence adult student satisfaction?” Included in this initiative was an exploration of student perceptions about what students hoped they would gain from participation in adult basic education. Asking students what they hoped to gain provided data from which to gain insights on student satisfaction in relation to the Honoring Adult Behaviors and Influencing Thinking Skills (HABITS) initiative.

Figure 3.1: Visual Representation of the Intersection of Constructivist Theory, Andragogical Concepts, Trust Research and Habits of Mind Curriculum

The HABITS initiative was designed to offer a framework that honored student self-directedness regarding academics, work, family, and life while also satisfying federally identified mandates for the FCAE program. The HABITS initiative included two interventions:

  • Integration of Habits of Mind dispositions into teacher training and student orientation and instruction.
  • Initiation of corporate workforce training opportunities.

The “Thinking Skills” within the HABITS initiative were operationalized as the 16 Habits of Mind (Costa & Kallick, 2008). The HABITS initiative provided staff with ongoing professional development in the 16 Habits of Mind. The goal in sustaining this ongoing emphasis was to influence student resourcefulness in setting goals, and responding to life and academic challenges. Staff had been engaged in the use of Habits of Mind for 2 years. Awareness and integration of Habits of Mind had been an ongoing priority for the FCAE program, with Habits of Mind training included in monthly professional development faculty meetings and school visuals. Students first encountered the language of Habits of Mind during orientation through a Habits of Mind self- assessment survey. This part of the initiative was designed to influence the entire school culture in promoting awareness of, and growth in, thinking habits. A second intervention was offering options related to concurrent educational and workforce training certifications called Integrated Education and Training (IET). Embedded into the HABITS initiative was provision of workforce training opportunities for students. FCAE worked collaboratively with local training providers and partner agencies to provide students with training opportunities. In many cases, these collaborations resulted in the resources to pay for the trainings, and the means to access trainings in terms of schedule and location. New student orientation included career exploration and counseling. College and Career Navigators followed-up with students, offering career counseling and matching student interests and skills with training opportunities for students to consider. To evaluate these interventions, designed to improve student satisfaction, surveys and student interviews measured the degree of influence. Figure 3.2 offers a visual construct of the participants in relation to the programmatic interventions and desired outcomes.

 

Figure 3.2: Visual Construct of Participants in Relation to Programmatic Interventions and Desired Outcomes

Research Setting

This research was conducted with FCAE students using a mixed-methods research design during the 2020–2021 academic school year, from August through February. The county-wide FCAE program included multiple sites that served students on-site and virtually. For research purposes, four physical school sites located in different geographic areas of the county served as the locations for student in-person access.

The research-practitioner for this study was the Director for FCAE. As the Director for the program, the research-practitioner knew the participants on a first-name basis. The only data collection in which the Director had direct contact was when she conducted all the one-on-one interviews, recording and scripting participant-responses for coding. The research-practitioner chose to conduct the interviews herself to standardize interview protocols for all interview-participants. FCAE teachers and College and Career Navigators facilitated students’ taking various surveys. The research-practitioner worked with a FCAE teacher-statistician to analyze quantitative data to ensure insightful, descriptive analysis.

Participants

One overarching ethical guideline for research-practitioners engaged in transformational research includes researching with a goal of benefiting the community (Belmont, 2018; Creswell & Creswell, 2018). Creswell and Creswell (2018) advocated spending time with the community to “build trust” (p. 68) and offered the following questions as an ethical compass for transformational research:

  1. “Will the research findings be credible to that community?”
  2. “Will communication with that community be effective?”
  3. “Will the data collection open up avenues for participation in the social change process?” (p. 69).

Another question Creswell and Creswell (2018) asked that resonated in this research is, “Did the participants initiate the research, and/or were they actively engaged in the project?” (p. 69). This research was designed to honor the people involved in the process, and work consistent with transformational research.

The Frances County Adult Education program, serves adult learners whose literacy and/or numeracy skills fall below the level of a high school graduate, students who have often been unsuccessful in traditional school settings. FCAE also serves English as a Second Language (ESL) learners. Since adult basic education does not have attendance zones related to student-residency, students participating in FCAE may reside in other counties in the state. Students choose to participate with FCAE because of the nature and convenience of its offerings, and/or because of the convenience of school- locations to student homes and work. Less than 1% of FCAE students in the 2020-2021 school year were less than 17 years of age or court-ordered to attend, making student participation voluntary in nature for the vast majority of FCAE students (LiteracyPro, 2021). This study only included students who were voluntary participants in adult basic education.

FCAE served a diverse population of 343 enrolled students at the time of this study. An enrolled student is one who had completed registration, testing, and at least 12 hours of participation in the program.

Given that this research design focused specifically on FCAE, convenience sampling was appropriate to gather perception data for the following instruments:

    • “Why Adult Education?” Survey (see Appendix A)
      • Student Survey – Largest population of 159 students surveyed during student orientation.
      • The results provide a context of informing the organization as to student hopes and expectations.
    • Habits of Mind Self-Assessment Surveys (see Appendix B)
      • 142 students surveyed during student orientation.
      • The survey provided a means to educate students as to the nature of the 16 Habits of Mind and their own uses of them.
      • Results informed the organization regarding baseline data for student perception as to how well students applied 16 Habits of Mind to school and life.
    • Student Satisfaction Surveys (see Appendix C)
      • 72 students completed this survey after approximately 40 hours of participation.
      • Results provided quantitative and qualitative data informing the organization regarding student satisfaction related to HABITS- related initiatives.
    • Pre- and Post-Corporate Workforce Training Surveys (see Appendices D and E)
      • 13 students completed both pre- and post-surveys.
      • Results informed the organization regarding student satisfaction with the training and the organization.
    • One-on-one Interviews (see Appendix F)
      • 12 students participated.
      • Qualitative data informed the organization regarding student satisfaction related to HABITS-related initiatives.

Convenience sampling was chosen because of convenience and availability and because it was integral to a practitioner-focused study. All students were asked to participate. Of the 343 enrolled students, 189 chose to participate in some form. This number accounted for 55% of the student population enrolled at the time. All participants were actively enrolled in adult basic education and represented a diverse cross-section of FCAE students. The Adult Education Barrier Assessment, included as a part of the registration form, lists 37 possible barriers related to learning, income, behavior, health, or family issues (see Appendix G). Collectively, student-participants in this research self-identified as representing all of the listed barrier options (LiteracyPro, 2021). Table 3.1 identifies the student demographics of the population of enrolled students compared to the sample of students who contributed feedback to one or more research instrument(s). All student-demographics reflect how students self-identified themselves using language- choice options provided by the federal government for adult basic education use. Student participants were very similar demographically to the total student enrollment population.

Table 3.1: Student Descriptors: A Comparison of Enrolled Students to Research- Participants

 

 

Figure 3.3 represents the overlap of student populations providing feedback. All students who completed the Habits of Mind Self-Assessment survey had also completed the “Why Adult Education?” survey. Of the 72 students who completed the student satisfaction survey, 36 had not completed other surveys. Thirteen students who completed pre- and post-corporate workforce training surveys had all completed one or more other survey. All 12 student interviewees completed the student satisfaction survey but had not necessarily completed any other survey. FCAE also explored student data related to the following variances: gender, age, ethnicity, economic status, and program status (adult basic education, adult education, adult high school, and English as a second language).

 

Figure 3.3: Diagram Illustrating Overlap of Student Participation

Data Collection Instruments

This research design used six data instruments, including five student surveys. Surveys can facilitate participant sharing of thoughts and opinions as quantitative and/or qualitative data (Creswell & Creswell, 2018; Dana & Yendol-Hoppey, 2020; Mills, 2018). Surveys used drop-down choices, open-ended questions, and Likert-scale items. Mills (2018) recommended the use of both closed and open-ended questions in surveys and interviews (p. 121). Drop-down choices and Likert-scale items lend valid insight to research questions through descriptive statistical analysis (Creswell & Creswell, 2018; Mills, 2018). The sixth instrument was a one-on-one semi-structured interview protocol for in-person use with students. Interviews can provide depth of data that is typically more qualitative in nature (Creswell & Creswell, 2018; Dana & Yendol-Hoppey, 2020; Mills, 2018). Semi-structured interviews benefit data collection when the intent is to facilitate exploration (Dana & Yendol-Hoppey, 2020). The interview format also honored “freedom to express diverse opinions,” which Green and Johnson (2010) said is, “for many, the hallmark of a democratic society” (p. 225). In addition, this study referenced a student data base that tracked student demographics and participation.

Survey 1: Why Adult Education?

For the purpose of learning about the students, and raising student and programmatic awareness regarding student motivation for participation in adult basic education, students completed a practitioner-designed Student Expectation Survey, entitled “Why Adult Education?” (see Appendix A). Drop-down choices stemmed from listening sessions during student orientations during fall 2019. Conversations with ESL teachers contributed three additional options to the drop-down menu. The nature of the survey was such that students could choose as many drop-down menu items as they wanted. In addition to the drop-down options, students could add additional thoughts before submitting the survey. The drop-down options enabled students to articulate some visionary-level hopes they might have for themselves. For instance, instead of offering the option of “Get my GED,” drop-down menu items offered choices like “Feel smarter” and “Open doors to more education later.” Broad goal statements create a greater degree of resourcefulness (Costa & Garmston, 2016; Rock, 2009). A pilot survey in informal orientation sessions with adult basic education students in the FCAE program in spring 2020 yielded sufficient student responses, with very few students offering any additional comments.

Survey 2: Habits of Mind Self-Assessment

The Habits of Mind Institute had earlier published a self-assessment Habits of Mind instrument (Huffman, 2008), which this study adapted for a lower reading level, with the institute’s approval. The Habits of Mind Self-Assessment Survey (see Appendix B) was embedded into student orientation during the 2019–2020 school year to introduce students to thinking habits. Students assessed themselves along a 1-5 Likert scale, defined by the statements, “Not yet, but I’m learning” and “I usually behave this way.” Survey results offered feedback to the program related to student-perceptions of their uses of Habits of Mind, which in turn informed teacher-instruction concerning Habits of Mind.

Survey 3: Student Satisfaction

This practitioner-designed student satisfaction survey (see Appendix C) embedded questions related to possible factors that might contribute to student satisfaction as identified through the review of literature: school culture, instruction, related supports, overall satisfaction. The eight items regarding school culture embedded questions related to trust factors like respect, relationships with staff and students, and feedback on processes and environment. One item in this section refers back to the educational hopes that students referenced as a part of orientation to ascertain their perceptions regarding how the program has helped them in areas they hoped it would. The five items regarding instruction honored constructivist theory. The first two items asked students to evaluate programmatic instructional provisions. Questions three and four asked students to evaluate program partnership with them. The fifth item asked students to self-assess their own progress, a hallmark of constructivism (Schiro, 2013). Within the eight items included in the section of the survey entitled “Some Optional Adult Education Related Supports,” specific questions addressed HABITS initiatives: Habits of Mind applications and perception of workforce training experiences. The last section of the survey, “Overall Satisfaction” included three items related to overall satisfaction. Quantitatively formatted questions supplemented six qualitatively formatted questions about school culture, learning experiences, and level of satisfaction. Pilot- testing with staff in August 2020 yielded feedback for revision. Based on three-factor satisfaction theory, some assessment items asked participants for their perspective on basic factors, some on performance factors, and some on optional aspects of adult basic education participation that might be classified as excitement factors for some students.

Surveys 4 and 5: Pre- and Post-Corporate Workforce Training

Two practitioner-created surveys, based on student feedback, served as pre- and post- surveys for adult student-participants in corporate workforce trainings (see Appendices D & E). Pilot-testing with students in July 2020 ensured ease of use and programmatic relevance. Drop-down options reflected student feedback in accordance with constructivist theory (Items 3, 4, 5, 7) and WIOA workforce related interest (Items 1, 2, 6). Post-survey drop-down options corresponded to drop-down options in the pre-survey with one difference being the use of past tense. A second difference was that in the post-survey students could select that they “Learned that this was something I liked doing” and/or select “Learned that this was something I did not like.”

  1. Corporate Workforce Pre-training Survey (see Appendix D). This practitioner- designed survey asked participants what they hoped to gain from their workforce training experience and also asked them to conjecture as to how they think their participation in corporate workforce training might affect their degree of satisfaction with their ABE experience.
  2. Corporate Workforce Post-training Survey (see Appendix E). This practitioner-designed survey asked how participants benefitted from their corporate workforce training and their perception of how the experience affected their degree of satisfaction with their adult basic education experience.

One-on-One Interviews

A sixth instrument, the Student Satisfaction Interview (see Appendix F), facilitated one-on-one semi-structured interviews with student-participants. The pause- paraphrase-question pattern of interaction and the design of the questions derived from Costa and Garmston’s (2017) Cognitive Coaching framework. Open-ended questions related to participant’s ABE experience allowed interviewees the flexibility to name the ABE-related factors they valued. The nature of the protocol and the questions themselves were designed to facilitate and honor student metacognition and opinions. Table 3.2 details the interview questions and their intentional order.

Table 3.2: One-on-One Interview Questions

Research Procedure

The study began with permission from three school district superintendents to conduct research at their sites (see Appendix J) and approval through the Institutional Review Board (see Appendix K). Flyers posted in building sites and distributed through 66 email notified students of the study (see Appendix L), and students received letters of invitation to participate (see Appendix M).

FCAE staff collected data between November 2020 and February 2021. Students accessed all surveys via Google Forms, using personal or school devices. Student- participants took two surveys associated with the research as a part of their orientation to adult basic education: Why Adult Education? and Habits of Mind Self-Assessment. Students who participated in corporate workforce trainings were asked to complete the pre and post training surveys. Throughout the student-experience, students were exposed to Habits of Mind visuals, applications, and instruction.

Sampling regarding student satisfaction was multistage sampling (Appendix H) which elicits more in-depth data from a smaller population within the larger population (Creswell & Creswell, 2018). Once students had attained a measurable skill gain and/or participated for 40 hours, they were asked to take the Adult Education Student Satisfaction Survey. From within that larger sample, students volunteered to participate in an interview. Purposeful sampling led to a smaller sample of students for the Student Satisfaction Interview Protocol. As students registered to participate in Corporate Workforce Trainings, they were invited to complete the Pre-Corporate Workforce Training survey. As they completed a training, they were invited to complete the Post- Corporate Workforce Training survey.

Data analysis also took into account student demographic data obtained from student registration forms at the time of enrollment and entered into a database system associated with Literacy Pro Systems. The State Department of Education, Office of Adult Education contracts with Literacy Pro Systems to house all student registration data associated with all students enrolled in SC Adult Education. This database system limits access to authorized users for the program and State Department. The FCAE employee entering these student data has over 13 years of experience with accurate data entry for the program.

Interviews occurred in private offices at table and chairs currently used for student-conferences. All interviews followed a semi-structured protocol. Interviews were audio-recorded by use of a digital recording device. Interviews lasted between 8 and 32 minutes. All interview recordings were transcribed, staying as accurate as possible to student use of syntax, pronunciation, and phrasing. Interviewees verified transcripts by reading, signing and dating them, thus validating the research process (Creswell & Creswell, 2018; Creswell & Miller, 2000; Merriam & Tisdell, 2016) This dissertation is also available to the FCAE community as an additional form of integrity in research.

Anonymized data protects the identity of the participants and setting. Participating students submitted surveys through Gmail accounts, which facilitated aligning demographic and programmatic participation data. Thereafter, 5-digit identification numbers replaced student names. Interview narratives also received student numbers prior to data analysis. These protocols served to honor student input while protecting student anonymity.

Data Analysis

Data analysis was both formative and summative. Formative analysis is characterized as “ongoing” throughout the study, whereas summative analysis occurs as data collection has ended (Dana & Yendol-Hoppey, 2020). In this study, formative analysis included reviewing student responses during the piloting stages of generating the data instruments. Surveys and interview questions piloted during registration and orientation sessions for the 2019–2020 school year, informed the final instruments. As data collection began, regular reports determined which students had achieved 40 hours or a measurable skill gain and were therefore eligible to participate in the student satisfaction survey. Survey analysis was ongoing to determine which student demographic might be under or over represented compared to the total enrolled student population of FCAE, followed by targeted outreach to students in underrepresented demographic sectors. Additional examination of survey respondent demographics guided invitation of interview participants who might be representative of the program and survey sample.

Summative analysis varied based on the data collection methodology. Survey data warranted statistical analysis and grounded theory, depending on the survey items. Survey items using a Likert scale were analyzed based on numerical values, from 1–5 and figuring the mean, median, mode, and standard deviation. This form of descriptive statistical analysis helps summarize data (Dana & Yendol-Hoppey, 2020).For open-ended and narrative survey data, grounded theory methods offered trustworthy protocols for gathering and categorizing student perceptions (Corbin & Strauss, 2015; Urquhart, 2013). Urquhart (2013) asserts that grounded theory methods “allow the data to tell its own story” (p. 17). This research used a four-step process recommended by Dana and Yendol- Hoppey (2020). The first step was to read the narratives and summarize the data with a description (see Appendix N). The second step was to look for patterns and outliers in the data. Also known as open coding, this involved disaggregating the participant-provided longer narrative text into smaller phrases and words (Dana & Yendol-Hoppey, 2020; Urquhart, 2013), in this case, concise text-statements on strips of paper. The third step was to begin axial coding by interpreting the narrative based on possible theories or themes (Dana & Yendol-Hoppey, 2020), in this case, titling charts based on patterns and themes that emerged from the text-statements. These first three steps were recursive, changing over time from continual reflection on data and research constructs. A spreadsheet compiled data from the original sources, along with axial codes, student identification numbers, the source of the statement, and the date of collection. This document enabled the creation of an Axial Code Listing document. The fourth step in analyzing qualitative data involved exploring implications (Dana & Yendol-Hoppey, 2020, p. 188). Core codes identified findings.

Quantitative data were analyzed using descriptive statistical analysis. All items scored with a 1–5 Likert scale were analyzed for mean, median, and mode and disaggregated by gender, age, socio-economic status, ethnicity, and program participation to see what trends might emerge. Sum Squared Error (SSE), which measures statistical differences between group-responses was calculated per question between the different variables to look for themes. For items that students could choose to not answer, omissions were labeled as a 6, which kept those responses from biasing the results. This only affected six of the items on the Student Satisfaction Survey.

Pre- and Post-Corporate Workforce Training survey data were evaluated for student-participants who completed both the pre- and post-survey. Several reasons accounted for some students having completed one survey but not both. Survey completion was voluntary, and some corporate workforce trainings lasted for multiple weeks and were ongoing past the data-collection timeframe for this study. Using data collected from pre- and post-surveys allowed for statistical comparisons of which responders selected any given item on the pre-survey against each item on the post- survey. An analysis compared the non-selected items on the pre-survey against selected items on the post-survey calculated the number of responders who did not choose a given item on the pre-survey but did choose the corresponding drop-down option on the post- survey. The percentages for each pair were calculated and ranked.

Qualitative perception data were compared to quantitative data as a means of triangulation to strengthen educational research (Creswell & Creswell, 2018; Mills, 2018). Additional findings were identified and documented. This research design assumed that programmatic insights would be gained from qualitative, quantitative, and narrative data. Engaging in all of these analyses provided the richest possible exploration of the FCAE system and culture, with the hope of promoting benefits for students programmatically.

Summary

Adults with low academic skill levels are disadvantaged in many ways. This dissertation in practice was designed to explore student perceptions of what students hoped to gain from participation in adult basic education and how satisfied they perceived themselves to be with their adult basic education participation. Exploring student satisfaction could honor students, build trust, and influence individual and system results. The research design included two interventions designed to honor and enrich the adult basic education experience of the participants: integration of Habits of Mind in instruction, and participation in Integration of Education and Training programs. Data collected through six instruments, including surveys and interviews over a 4-month period, underwent quantitative descriptive statistical analysis and qualitative analysis using grounded theory. Additional student demographic and participation data contributed to the findings, providing a rich exploration of FCAE student satisfaction factors.

 

CHAPTER 4: PRESENTATION AND ANALYSIS OF DATA

The passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 2014 changed the identity and accountability of adult basic education programs. Full implementation of these changes was effective during the 2019–2020 school year, making the 2020–2021 school year an apt time to research implications related to local program implementation. This increased emphasis on adult basic education programs providing students work certifications concurrent with their academic study coincided with a diminishing number of employment opportunities for low-skilled workers, making the work of adult basic education of greater importance to learners and a larger society.

Overview of Study

Within the frame of this larger societal context, Frances County Adult Education (FCAE) chose to create an initiative called Honoring Adult Behaviors and Influencing Thinking Skills (HABITS). One goal of FCAE was to structure its workforce preparation offerings (adult behaviors) while also building cognitive resourcefulness (thinking habits) that could support students in academic, personal, and professional challenges. This research was designed to explore adult basic education student satisfaction regarding this initiative at the local program-level using qualitative and quantitative means of discovery. The two questions related to this study were as follows:

Research Question 1: What benefits do students expect to receive as a result of student-participation in the Frances County Adult Education program?

Research Question 2: How does implementation of the Honoring Adult Behaviors and Influencing Thinking Skills (HABITS) initiatives, inclusive of Habits of Mind curriculum and Integrated Educational Training, impact student satisfaction with Frances County Adult Education?

Over a 4-month time frame between November 2020 and February 2021, this mixed- methods study gathered student feedback from a convenience sample through surveys and one-on-one interviews with a subsequent purposeful sample. A total of 189 FCAE students (55% of enrolled students) participated in one or more research instruments. The 189 students represented a diverse cross-section of enrolled students. One of the survey instruments was a student satisfaction survey of 72 students, 12 of whom participated in one-on-one interviews as a means of exploring student satisfaction at a deeper level.

Findings

The larger goal of this initiative was to use student feedback to assess the degree to which FCAE had created a programmatic culture that honored student satisfaction using methodology designed to also facilitate student satisfaction. The mixed methodology associated with this dissertation in practice produced data that were quantitative and qualitative in nature. Descriptive statistics guided quantitative data analysis. Grounded theory practices guided qualitative data analysis. In action research, data analysis is multi-layered (Efron & Ravid, 2013; Herr & Anderson, 2015). Specific to this research, two questions filtered data analysis.

Question 1: What benefits do students expect to receive as a result of student- participation in the Frances County Adult Education program?

The “Why Adult Education?” survey results provided some insights as to what students hoped to gain from participation in adult basic education (see Appendix A). The survey used drop-down menu items to allow students an opportunity to make selections relative to their hopes for participating in the program. Frequency of choices featured in Table 4.1 capture the results in rank-order by most often chosen option down to the least chosen option. One hundred fifty-nine enrolled students, representing diverse ages, ethnicities, program participation, and socio-economic income status responded to this survey. The total frequency of each option offers some insights into which hopes resonated most with students. The 159 students who participated in the survey, selected 727 responses. No students surveyed added any additional hope-comments to the survey for chart-inclusion or coding consideration.

Four of the five most commonly selections aligned with the theoretical construct of student self-directedness. The number one reason students chose was “Fulfill a promise to myself.” Student comments from other instruments echoed this sentiment. One student commented in an interview, “I want to become a better person for myself and for others” (12621, 02-11-2021). Another interviewee said, “I want to make myself proud. Just the fact that I want to do it for myself, the fact that I see a future for myself that I want to achieve and that I know I can achieve due to the help that I have here” (97257, 1-25-2021). A fourth student testified,

This is my testimony and my belief for my future, that I believe that one day I can be able to say, “I made it. My picture’s on the wall. I graduated!!! I graduated.”

I’m looking forward to that day, but I’m going to miss too in a way because then I realize I accomplished the goals that I need to be here, and the time here be almost like ended, but on a good note. That I came in, didn’t really do what I thought I could at the beginning, but in the end, I accomplished a world that I’m not scared to go out and face anymore. Yeah. This gonna be my story, and a chapter ended, but it gonna end with good note (85328, 02-09-2021).

All of these statements spoke to the student hope and value of living up to their own expectations for themselves as a part of their adult basic education process.

Table 4.1: Student Hopes for Adult Education Participation in Rank-Order

 

The second most chosen hope of adult basic education students surveyed was to “Open doors to more education later.” One student in interviews and open-ended survey questions referenced this idea. The student commented, “I want to study technology when I learn more English. Start career. Maybe I work in the career. Now I need to study” (70007, 02-04-2021). Other students when speaking of their future spoke of joining the military or going to work, which implied additional learning, without overtly stating so.

The third most selected drop-down option regarding student hopes was to “Improve my quality of life.” Some student comments supported this theme. One student said, “The decisions that I’ve made now is that I’d rather come here and get the GED and after that, do something with my life” (97669, 02-11-2021). Another student commented in a student satisfaction survey, “I’ve been through some this most difficult events in the last year. That’s usually why we’re in the situation to get a GED because life hasn’t handed us the best cards, but your hand will get better if you graduate” (97257, 01-25- 2021). Another interviewee commented similarly, “With hope there’s a future. There’s a good future waitin’ on you, but you got to believe” (85328, 02-09-2021). One student confessed, “When I first started coming here, I really didn’t want to be here, and then I started coming more and more and more. It influenced me where I wanted to start coming back so I could change my life around” (97669, 02-11-2021). Another student survey respondent stated, “I see a difference in where I wanted from where I am now and where I know I want to go to having to know where you want to be in life is really great. It gave me a lot to think about maybe something I might want to do in life” (59179, 12-16-2020).

The fourth most selected hope was to “Feel smarter.” Students mentioned the word learn 45 times in a variety of interview and open-ended survey questions. One ESL student equated learning with feeling satisfied with their adult basic education experience, “I’m satisfied because I have learned a lot. It is a great experience” (12679, 02-03-2021). In a satisfaction survey comment, one student wrote, “I can finally say I found peace with myself just being here and learning other things” (59179, 12-16-2020). Related to this, one of the Habits of Mind that students self-assessed highest, Remaining Open to Continuous Learning accounted for the third highest number of codes related to Habits of Mind. Some students also indicated this was a habit they had developed as a result of their engagement with adult basic education. One interviewee commented,

School open up my mind, so I’m glad of that. I want to stay mindful of how the way you learn, how the way you open up your mind. So keep my mind open and be willing to listen and stay focused. I look for certain grades for me. Not saying that the teacher say, “You got a bad grade.” I just look for see if I’m improving myself (85328, 2-09-2021).

Another interviewee contributed the following,

If somebody come to me right now and ask me how to do something, I can tell them, step-by-step, or show them step-by-step. You know, I’m really learning day by day things I didn’t know at first and what I should have already know, but I didn’t know at the time (65738, 1-28-2021). In response to a Student Satisfaction question, one student replied, “It’s great and it’s a challenge. I have learnt and still willing to learn more” (55196, 2-09-2021).

The fifth most common hope that students selected in the “Why Adult Education?” Survey was “Be a role model for my children.” One student commented, “I’m really truly happy to be back in school, and to show myself, and then I can show my kids that I succeeded, I made it. I made it too. It maybe took me a while, but I made it too” (85328, 02-09-2021). Another mother commented in a survey, “Everything went well, and I can now move forward with my goals I’m determined to accomplish! Getting myself to be a better person for myself and my child and to get my GED and to become someone in life” (12758, 01-22-2021). One student interviewee shared,

I want to be successful and be able to do something, show my grandkids what they grandma did. Even I did it late, but still, I got it, though. My kids, they went to school, I really didn’t know how to teach them, so I had to get extra help for them because I didn’t know. I was ashamed about it, but you know, still they got what they needed. But my grandkids, I can tell them to work hard (65738, 01-28- 2021).

Another interviewee said, “The decisions that I’ve made now is that I’d rather come here and get the GED and after that, do something with my life. I don’t wanna disappoint any of my family members; I don’t want to disappoint myself” (97669, 2-11-2021).

In addition to the “Why Adult Education?” survey, other instruments contributed data relative to student hopes and expectations regarding participation in FCAE. In these follow-up instruments, students identified hopes they had for their adult education experience retrospectively. The open-ended nature of the interview questions and some student satisfaction survey items, combined with fact that students completed them after they had been participating with the adult education program over time seemed to facilitate student reflection as to what they valued about their adult education experience, factors that they might not have considered upon entry. In particular, trust-concepts resonated with students. Two items, one on the student satisfaction survey and one in the one-on-one interview specifically asked students about trust. Other survey items were more open-ended, worded as “What additional feedback might you want to give regarding school culture/learning experience/adult education experience?” Another open- ended question on the student satisfaction survey was “What are some things that have contributed to your level of satisfaction?” Participant responses resulted in 101 codes related to trust factors, all but three of which were positive. Juxtaposing these data to quantitative student data indicating that students would recommend FCAE to others and were very satisfied with their overall experience resulted in the finding that students highly valued a high-trust environment.

With this in mind, two other drop-down options from the “Why Adult Education?” survey grew in significance. “Build relationships” ranked 12th out of 17 options, but qualitatively, 17% of student comments were coded as associated with aspects of relational trust. Table 4.2 includes the statistical data related to some of the student satisfaction survey data regarding school culture. The highest mean scores from the student satisfaction survey occurred in response to questions regarding staff relationships with students. The level of respect students felt that staff exhibited towards them and the level of respect students felt staff exhibited toward others received the highest mean scores of any items in the survey. The third highest mean score of 4.84 was in regard to student satisfaction with their relationships with staff. The student satisfaction survey asked students, “How well do you trust the adult education staff?” This question yielded a mean of 4.69 on a 1-5 scale.

Table 4.2: Student Satisfaction Survey Data Regarding School Culture: Mean, Median, Mode, Variance, and Standard Deviation

 

 

When asked in interviews, “How would you describe the degree to which you trust the school and its staff?” 12 out of 12 participants responded favorably. One interviewee responded,

They will not steer you wrong. They will help you. I’d say they’re always 100% honest about anything. Like, they will tell you whether or not if it’s a good idea or not. They leveled with me with the GED transfer, transitioning into high school diploma (12621, 02-11-2021).

Another participant responded similarly,

I trust you a whole lot. I feel like I can tell you things and I know it’s not going to get back out. But whatever I’m telling you, I feel like I’ve got somebody telling me the right thing to do. You all ain’t telling me nothing wrong to go do. You got… your teachers, you know, you keep your teachers around and they not the only ones in life, you … stay and help, do all this, for number one. I’m glad for you. And you ain’t looking at people like you got yours and I ain’t got mine and I don’t care (65738, 1-28-2021).

On a more personal level, one participant replied, “I would entrust my life to some of the staff here, to like my teachers, and to some administrators” (83430, 1-26-2021).

In addition, “Earn self-respect” ranked 9th out of the 17 drop-down choices in the “Why Adult Education?” survey, yet the value of developing self-respect in the form of self-trust emerged as a significant theme in student qualitative feedback. In student satisfaction and interview questions, students celebrated that they gained a greater sense of self-trust through their participation with adult education. One student shared in an interview, “It’s very complicated, but I know I can do it. I believe that I can do it, can pass it. As whenever I first came here, I didn’t believe in myself (97669, 2-11-2021).

Other students echoed a similar theme,

I feel like I’m more inspired to be a better person. The staff as a whole has helped me be successful, like, them showing me what I can do and what I’m capable of doing, and really me surprising myself of what I am capable of doing. Honestly, two years ago, I doubted myself on a mental state when it came to really my work and how I was doing it (83430, 1-28-2021).

Another student echoed a similar thought,

I learned that I’m capable, and I learned what I learned, and I learned this with the help of the teachers. Just believe that… take a chance. Believe in yourself. That’s my ultimate goal and to realize that even me, I can make it. I learned not to second-guess myself, to believe that I can instead of say, “I don’t think I can do that.” I know I can do it, and I can accomplish it (85328, 2-9-2021).

In a satisfaction survey response, one student wrote, “I’m very proud of myself, and the path I’m on. I really have a better mindset now that I can finally say I have a high school diploma” (12758, 1-22-2021). When asked in the student satisfaction survey, “What advice might you give to new students?” one student implied that self-trust was most important by writing, “You are intelligent enough to complete this program successfully” (11908, 1-20-2021).

While students did not initially articulate hopes that they might trust the school environment or the learning process, analysis of student responses resulted in multiple codes related to these themes. Overall, student ratings of school culture were high, with mean scores of 4.4 or higher for each item in that section of the student satisfaction survey. For the purpose of this research, school culture included student relationships with students and staff, as well as registration and orientation processes. In addition, from survey and interview comments, 17 codes related to student-trust in the overall school environment. All of them were positive, though most were vague in nature indicating something about culture or atmosphere in general, using descriptors like “good,” “friendly,” “smooth,” and “nice” (Appendix S). Some responses were more explicit. One student wrote on the student satisfaction survey, “I think that it is a great place. I can finally say I found peace with myself just being here and learning other things” (59179, 12-16-2020). Another student volunteered, “I don’t know the school before, so for me, I discover this, and that is one of the point what make me feel better, safer, protected because oh, this I have” (1732, 1-28-2021). One student compared FCAE to other schools by saying, “Here, I can see you love. People should register and give it a try” (83430, 1- 28-2021).

Being able to trust in the learning process also seemed important to students. An analysis of student responses resulted in 19 codes related to student-trust in the learning process. Unusual as compared to other responses, not all of these were positive. One student was critical of building closings due to COVID-19 (73820, 2-1-2021) and another thought the teachers should “teach more lessons” (65738, 1-28-2021). A third did not like being “all alone while doing everything” (12820, 1-21-2021). All three of these respondents also rated their overall satisfaction with adult education lower than the median average of 4.67. Two rated it a 4, and one rated it a 2. Other coded responses in regard to trust in the educational process were positive. Four respondents mentioned self- paced work as a positive. Three respondents mentioned small classes as a positive. The second section of the Student Satisfaction Survey aligned with feedback related to the process of instruction, and those results were overwhelmingly positive. The Likert spectrum was 1 – Very unlikely and 5 – Very likely. All mean scores in this area were closer to 5 than 4, with median and mode scores of 5, placing all of the measured instructional factors at a high level of student satisfaction. Table 4.3 provides the descriptive statistical data related to student perceptions of their satisfaction with the instructional process.

Table 4.3: Student Satisfaction Survey Data Regarding Instruction: Mean, Median, Mode, Variance, and Standard Deviation

 

Seven of the top 10 most chosen “Why Adult Education?” survey items related to student self-directedness. In addition, from the qualitative data, of the 288 coded responses from interview responses and open-ended survey-questions, 13% related to student self-directedness. In interview and open-ended student satisfaction survey responses, students celebrated taking advantage of opportunities to do such things as attend class, learn English, earn a GED, graduate, and work towards their next goal. One student in a student satisfaction interview shared what advice she would give to a prospective student, “A lot of your success is on you. You’ll find there’s a lot of self- sufficiency involved. You either do this or you don’t” (97257, 1-25-2021).

The student satisfaction survey, after a median average of 59 hours of participation, asked students, “As you think back to things you hoped to gain by engaging with Adult Education, how well do you feel like the program has helped you in those areas?” The Likert spectrum of choices was 1 – It has not been at all helpful and 5 – It has been very helpful. Student responses to this question yielded a 4.7 on a 1-5 scale. The median and mode were 5.0. Table 4.4 captures the data related to these student responses.

Table 4.4: Student Responses to Student Satisfaction Survey Item Regarding Fulfillment of Student-hopes

 

Overall, students came to adult education with the internal motivation to succeed academically. Through participation with adult education, students seemed to identify how important trust factors and growing self-directedness were in their actually being successful.

Question 2: How does implementation of the Honoring Adult Behaviors and Influencing Thinking Skills (HABITS) initiatives, inclusive of Habits of Mind curriculum and Integrated Educational Training, impact student satisfaction with Frances County Adult Education?

In general, student data indicated a high degree of satisfaction with FCAE. The final section of the Student Satisfaction Survey instrument asked students three Likert- scale questions related to overall student satisfaction. All three questions yielded above 4.6 on a 1–5 scale. The median and mode for all items were 5. Based off statistical data, student overall satisfaction level reflected student perception data of specific elements of the adult education experience. Table 4.5 provides the descriptive statistical data concerning these questions.

Likert-scale items on the Student Satisfaction Survey, also underwent comparison analysis based on gender, age, ethnicity, program status, and income status, yet no group- based descriptions emerged regarding these data besides the ones offered related to mean, median, mode, and variance analyses (See Appendices O & P). Quantitatively, student responses to student satisfaction questions on the Student Satisfaction Survey and pre- and post-training surveys all yielded means higher than 4.4 on a 5.0 scale. Median and mode for the same survey items were 5 and 5 across all instruments.

Table 4.5: Student Satisfaction Survey Data Regarding Overall Satisfaction: Mean, Median, Mode, Variance, and Standard Deviation

 

Qualitatively, the 29 axial codes related to overall student satisfaction were all neutral to positive in nature. The most neutral words were okay (11909, 02-08-2021) and fine (13045, 01-20-2021). Good appeared five times, and participants used great eight times by students. Some additional synonyms were “going well” (46357, 12-16-2020) “I love it” (12680, 01-25-2021) “It’s been a blast” (76486, 11-11-2020) “I just overall really enjoy this program” (11908, 01-20-2021) “I give it a 10 out of 10” (74585, 02-02-2021). When the Student Satisfaction Survey asked, “What are some things that have contributed to your level of satisfaction?” 57 of the 72 respondents volunteered additional information. Of those 57 additional comments, 21 referenced something positive in regard to the staff. Although none of the additional comments mentioned the HABITS initiative by name, one student specifically mentioned two workforce training certificates (84592, 02-04-2021).

Inclusion of Habits of Mind Curriculum

Thinking habits were internal resources that adult learners brought with them to participation in Frances County Adult Education. In orientation processes, with no prior background in Habits of Mind, students navigated the vocabulary and meanings of the Habits, responding to the Habits of Mind Self-Assessment Survey without questions. The Habits of Mind Self-Assessment Survey used Likert scale items, scored on a 1–5 scale of 1 – Not yet but I’m learning to 5 – I usually behave this way. A diverse representation of ages, ethnicity, program participation, and socio-economic status characterized the 142 students who responded to this survey at the time of orientation. These data were analyzed for mean, median, mode, and standard deviation. Mean scores were 3.96 or higher on a scale of 1–5. The highest mean scores were associated with Taking Responsible Risks and Remaining Open to Continuous Learning. The lowest mean scores were associated with Managing Impulsivity and Persisting. Table 4.6 identifies survey results, identifying statistical variances.

Examining mean, median, mode, variance, and standard deviation data for the 16 different Habits of Mind revealed the data were very similar. The range of the means for all the Habits of Mind responses was less than 0.423, or less than an 8.5% difference. The medians were all between 4 and 5 inclusively. Every discreet Habit of Mind question had a mode of 5. When asked to self-assess their level of application of Habits of Mind to academic and life challenges, the means for these two questions were in the lowest 17% of ranked mean-averages. At 4, the medians were also equivalent to the lowest for this data set. The modes, which were 4, were most telling. These were the only two questions of 18 where the mode was not 5.

The Habits of Mind Self-Assessment Survey also underwent comparison analysis between groups based on gender, age, ethnicity, program status, and income status. Bar charts specific to question and demographic group, along with a key for use in interpreting these data appear in Appendix Q. Sum Squared Error (SSE), which measures statistical differences between group-responses, was calculated per question between the different variables to look for themes (see Appendix R). These statistical analyses added little in the way of insight to the meaning of the data. All SSE’s were less than 1.5. The largest variables existed between population groups with 2–5 people. Allowing for individual differences in people for a variety of reasons, no group-based descriptions could be identified regarding these data besides the ones offered related to mean, median, mode, and variance analyses.

Table 4.6: Habits of Mind Self-Assessment Survey Data: Mean, Median, Mode, Variance, and Standard Deviation

 

In terms of a direct answer to the impact that Habits of Mind curriculum might have had on student satisfaction, one interview question directly asked students to assess the degree that Habits of Mind affected student satisfaction. When asked this question in interviews, students did not seem to recognize the phrase Habits of Mind. Students gave responses like, “I forget what that was,” (74585, 02-02-2021), “What is that?” (83430, 1- 28-2021), and “I’m not sure” (63441, 02-03-2021). No other student assessment items directly related to this part of the research question.

Though they had no apparent relationship to student satisfaction, thinking habits supported students. Data indicated that student use of thinking habits was significant. Of the 288 open codes from qualitative analysis, 39% matched Habits of Mind descriptors, and 11 of the 16 Habits of Mind appeared in 114 axial codes, with persisting and managing impulsivity referenced most. Interviewees were explicitly asked about Habits of Mind, but 73 of the 114 Habits of Mind references came from open-ended questions from the Student Satisfaction Survey, mostly in response to the following two questions: “What advice might you give to new students?” and “What do you wish someone had told you about adult education before you began your participation?”

When interviewees were asked a more general question about use of thinking habits, they seemed to be able to make more of a connection. One student talked about how important it was to listen and take notes (85328, 02-09-2021). Another student described their process for problem-solving, “Whenever I’m thinking on the work, I think about it, and then I try to solve the problem, and if I can’t get it, I’ll try it a second time, and after that, I’ll ask the teacher for help” (97669, 02-11-2021). Another interviewee acknowledged an interviewer paraphrase of “You wanted to be mentally active for yourself” (65738, 01-28-2021).

Two interviewees, when asked, indicated they did little thinking at school. One replied, “When you’re just doing APEX, you don’t really learn much. Just do the work and not really learning” (11909, 02-08-2021). Another student, when asked about use of thinking habits commented, “I really don’t have many. I really don’t have any, actually. I just come and do the work. That’s about it” (12621, 02-11-2021). In other interview questions, however, both students made comments that spoke to their use of a number of thinking habits like persisting when one student talked about “struggling” and shared that she tells herself, “Just keep going, and don’t lose yourself, and don’t give up” (12621, 02- 11-2021). The second student also commented on persisting, sharing some words of self- encouragement she used, “Keep on working and keep going. Yeah, I’m going to keep doing that” (11909, 02-08-2021).

Students valued some thinking habits more than others. Of the 11 different Habits of Mind they referenced, Persisting and Managing Impulsivity accounted for 53 of the 114 total Habits of Mind codes. Most of these references came from student responses to interview questions and one open-ended item on the Student Satisfaction Survey: “What advice might you give to new students?” Students responded with advice like “Don’t give up,” “Work hard,” “Put your mind to it.” Significantly, the two Habits of Mind with the lowest mean scores on the Self-Assessment Survey were the two Habits of Mind coded most overall.

Participation in ABE seemed to have impacted efficacy in applying thinking habits. Table 4.7 captures the comparison data of students’ responses to similar questions posed pre- and post-participation in adult education. Within the total number of students who responded to both the Habits of Mind Self-Assessment Survey and the Student Satisfaction Survey was a shared subset of 36 participants. Within this sub-group, in the Habits of Mind Self-Assessment Survey, the question, “To what degree do you feel you use these Habits when you are tackling academic challenges?” yielded a mean of 3.91, with a median and mode of 4. After some hours of participation in adult basic education, data from students responding to similar questions on the Student-Satisfaction Survey were more positive: the mean increased to 4.2, and the median and mode increased to 5.0.

Table 4.7: Comparison of Same-Student Responses to Questions Regarding Application of Habits of Mind

 

A similar pattern with the following question: “To what degree do you feel you use these Habits when you are tackling life-challenges?” Initially, at the time of orientation, student responses yielded a mean of 4.1 and a median, and mode of 4. After some participation in the adult basic education program, student responses to a similar question indicated a growth in student application of thinking skills: the mean increased to 4.4, with a median and mode of 5. There were several findings relative to the HABITS implementation of 16 Habits of Mind curriculum. While the 16 Habits of Mind
curriculum implementation had no apparent impact on student satisfaction, the 16 Habits of Mind were relevant to adult education students meeting academic and life challenges. Also, 16 Habits of Mind curriculum aligned with student hopes and fostered value-added opportunity for adult basic student growth and development. Lastly, students perceived that they had grown in their application of 16 Habits of Mind.

Participation in Integrated Educational Training

The second intervention related to the HABITS initiative was the provision of corporate workforce training opportunities. Because of WIOA legislation, a foundational requirement for adult basic education programs is that they provide workforce-related trainings and report accountability data for student employment data 6 and 12 months after leaving the adult basic education program. Based on the qualitative and quantitative data from this study, some students valued provision of workforce-related opportunities more than others. In the “Why Adult Education?” survey, 159 students selected 727 responses, only 18 of which specifically related to employability skills or job acquisition. Options related to workforce accounted for three of the five least common selections. Improving employability skills resonated with students more than specific goal-language related to the possibilities of getting or improving jobs.

Some interview responses gave insight to the quantitative data from the “Why Adult Education?” survey that indicated workforce-related goals were not of highest priority for students. Some interviewed students were not eligible nor interested in work as a part of their adult basic education experience. An ESL student shared in an interview, “Now I can study because I don’t have paper for work… I need… am waiting for my son through the paper for me and my husband, maybe two years. I think in this time, I learn more English and I am prepared for study” (70007, 2-04-2021). Another student shared, “At this point, I’m not looking for a job because I’m 78 years old. I have my social security retirement. It’s fine for me, but make me feel a lot better coming here, be a student, be part of this” (17321, 1-28-2021). Other students sought out and participated in workforce trainings.

The Student Satisfaction Survey asked, “Have you earned a workforce training certificate as a part of your adult education experience?” and 36% of the respondents chose “yes.” Students also indicated how their participation in workforce training affected their degree of satisfaction with the adult education experience, using a Likert scale of options from 1 – It had a very negative effect, to 5 – It has a very positive effect. Students also indicated their level of satisfaction with the actual workforce preparation choosing options from 1 – Very unsatisfied to 5 – Very satisfied. Table 4.8 includes the data associated with these questions.

Table 4.8: Student Satisfaction Survey Data Regarding Workforce Training-Related Responses

 

* Optional question; respondents did not have to answer.

Among the 13 students completed pre- and post-Corporate Workforce Training surveys (see Appendices D & E), participant ranking of what they hoped to gain from participating in training varied. On the Corporate Workforce Pre-Training survey, all participants anticipated more than one positive benefit they hoped to receive from participation. Table 4.9 depicts the drop-down menu items they chose, ranked by frequency of choice. Even though students had an option to supply additional rationale for taking a workforce training, none of the respondents did. The most frequently chosen option was “Learn new skill,” selected by 10 of the 13 respondents.

Those who completed pre- and post-training surveys added insight regarding expectations related to employment training. Students expected workforce participation to improve their satisfaction with, and attendance in, ABE. In addition, these participants expected specific benefits from participating in workforce training. The highest ranked choices of possible benefits were to learn new skills, improve their chances for employment and learn about themselves. Because these trainings were voluntary, above and beyond class time, student participation indicates trainings were valuable.

Table 4.9: Corporate Workforce Training Hopes Prior to Training, in Rank Order

 

Comparing pre-survey results to post-survey results all students but one agreed that training met one or more of their expectations in at least one area, and a few students experienced positive benefits that they did not anticipate. An analysis comparing non- selected items on the pre-survey against selected items on the post-survey calculated the percentage for each pair and ranked these by occurrence. Three survey items that students did not anticipate being benefits of training prior to the training but perceived having occurred post-training were the following: chances for higher pay, chances to meet new people, and chances for employment. These data appear in Table 4.10.

Table 4.10: Corporate Workforce Training: Post-training Added Value

 

The quality of workforce training seemed to impact the level of student satisfaction with the adult education program. The pre-training survey asked students to judge the degree to which they were currently satisfied with their adult basic education experience, and to anticipate the degree that participation in workforce training might affect their satisfaction with adult basic education. The post-training survey asked participants how satisfied they were with their adult basic education experience and how participation in the training affected their degree of satisfaction. All of these were Likert scale questions with a 1–5 scale, a score of 1 being unfavorable, and a score of 5 being most favorable. The pre-training survey yielded a mean of 4.8 for current satisfaction with adult education and 4.9 for anticipated impact of participation in corporate workforce training, indicating that anticipation was high. The post-training survey also yielded a mean of 4.8 for student level of satisfaction. The pre-/post-training survey sample was small, but how the training experience went seemed to affect participant degree of satisfaction with adult education. Participant degree of satisfaction of the adult education program on the post-training survey matched the degree to which students judged how satisfied they were with the training itself, the mean for both being 4.7. With a larger survey audience, in the Student Satisfaction Survey, students who had participated in workforce training responded to how that had affected their degree of satisfaction with adult education, yielding a mean of 4.4, which also corresponded to the level of satisfaction they had with workforce related training. This mean of 4.4 was lower than student ratings of their overall satisfaction of the program, which was a 4.7. In addition, participants reported their level of satisfaction with the training, yielding a mean score of 4.7, with a median and mode of 5, a variance of .73, and a standard deviation of
.85. One participant scored the training at a level of 2, and that participant’s additional responses to how the training experience affected their degree of participation in, and student satisfaction with, adult basic education were also low. This response created a noticeably high variance of 1.2+ in the data set for those questions. Table 4.11 depicts the descriptive statistical data from these responses.

Table 4.11: Student Satisfaction Ratings, Pre- and Post-Training: Mean, Median, Mode, and Standard Deviation

 

Qualitatively, seven participants out of 189 spoke specifically to the value of workforce training. One of those students commented,

Since I’ve been here, I’ve been through a class called forklifting. I got my forklifting license, so I think I did good. I did good. I got my CPR license. I’m doing my WIN; I’m about finished with that. So I see where I did some things a little bit different than I did before, and it’s not just cause I trying to prove anything. I’m trying to prove to myself that I’m capable, and that I do got a little bit of sense, and I’m able to do good. A little bit of sense on the side. Once I finish my WIN, there’s all kind of jobs that I can get (85328, 02-09-2021).

Another student testified,

I went and got the forklift certification at the local technical college. It was a great program. The teacher was awesome. The instruction was awesome. It was pretty easy. Well, I wouldn’t have got it if it wasn’t for adult education. Yeah, our counselor got me in the program to go through it. Yeah, got it in, got paid for; I didn’t have to pay a dollar for it. It was nice (74585, 02-02-2021).

Student quantitative data, combined with comments such as these give some indication that workforce training is a value-added component to the adult education experience. Two findings emerged from exploring the impact of providing corporate workforce training opportunities. First, some adult basic education students value workforce training opportunities more than others and such training thus contributes to student satisfaction for some students. Secondly, student-participant perception of the quality of the corporate workforce training seems to impact satisfaction in the adult education program.

Supplemental Analysis of Data

Grounded theory analysis illuminated qualitative data from Student Satisfaction open-ended survey items and scripted one-on-one interview responses. Participant open- ended survey responses from the Student Satisfaction Survey, as well as open-ended interview responses produced 288 open codes leading to 21 axial codes illustrating five categories (Trust, Thinking Habits, Self-Directedness, Student Satisfaction Overall Rating, and Workforce Related Opportunities) and two theoretical constructs (self- directedness and community context). Relational trust warranted subcategories: Personal Regard for Others, Integrity, Respect, and Competence. Of the 288 axial codes, 101 related to trust, 27 of those referencing Personal Regard for Others. Of the 288 axial codes, 114 aligned with Habits of Mind. The category of Habits of Mind contained 11 subcategories, each named after Habits of Mind participants referenced. Of those, Persisting and Managing Impulsivity accounted for almost half. The third most frequent reference was Remaining Open to Continuous Learning, and the fourth most frequent reference was Thinking Interdependently. Table 4.12 identifies the theoretical constructs and axial code listings with categories, subcategories, and their itemized number from the spreadsheet, which organized the open codes, axial codes, source of data, and date (see Appendix S). Referenced throughout this chapter, these data analyses formed a perspective for better understanding the patterns relative to student feedback.

Table 4.12: Theoretical Constructs and Axial Code Listings

 

Summary

This dissertation in practice was designed to explore factors influencing student satisfaction. Specific to this research question was a desire to understand what students wanted upon entry to adult education and to understand the impact of an intervention called Honoring Adult Behaviors and Influencing Thinking Skills (HABITS). The HABITS intervention was designed to honor the theoretical constructs of student self- directedness within the context of the students’ sense of community. FCAE hoped that creating a systemic initiative at the cultural level that included specific offerings for students cognitively and vocationally would support student satisfaction as a whole. Analysis related to student reasons for participating in adult basic education revealed two findings:

  1. Students came to adult education with the internal motivation to succeed academically.
  2. Through participation with adult education, students seemed to identify how important trust-factors and growing self-directedness were in their actually being successful.

The analysis of the student satisfaction data related to the HABITS initiative revealed 5 findings:

  1. Implementation of the 16 Habits of Mind curriculum did not appear to impact student satisfaction, but the 16 Habits of Mind were relevant to adult education students in helping them meet academic and life challenges.
  2. The 16 Habits of Mind curriculum aligned with student hopes and fostered value-added opportunity for adult basic student growth and development.
  3. Students perceived that they experienced growth in their application of the 16 Habits of Mind.
  4. Some ABE students valued corporate workforce training opportunities more than others and such opportunities thus contributed to student satisfaction for some students.
  5. Student-participant perception of the quality of the corporate workforce training seemed to impact satisfaction in the adult education program.

Chapter 5 discusses implications of these findings and further connections between the findings and the theoretical framework of this dissertation in practice.

 

CHAPTER 5: SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Action research findings present information of benefit to varying audiences and for varying purposes. Primarily, the local setting benefits from knowing itself better and using the insights gained to inform its own perceptions of the present and its practices for the future (Efron, & Ravid, 2013; Herr & Anderson, 2015). In addition, published action research can offer a research design model and findings for other practitioners to consider in relation to their own system and practices (Efron, & Ravid, 2013; Herr & Anderson, 2015).

Overview of Study

Adult basic education students face a variety of life and academic challenges and may come to ABE with ambiguous feelings towards participation. This study, designed by the Director of Frances County Adult Education (FCAE), explored student satisfaction with the program. The study was structured to honor FCAE adult learners while also acquiring data that could serve two programmatic purposes:

  • Provide insights regarding current student perceptions.
  • Provide pertinent data when considering future initiatives.

Data analysis revealed that in general, ABE students came to adult education with a commitment to themselves and a mindset of wanting to do better. For these reasons, students valued the HABITS initiative. The 16 Habits of Mind curriculum offered a value-added component to the adult basic education experience, and high-quality corporate workforce training opportunities contributed to student satisfaction for some students. As a synthesis of the research, this chapter analyzes the findings through the filters of theory and literature discussed in Chapter 2. In addition, the chapter discusses recommendations of sharing, continuing, and refining the work of honoring adult basic education students. Implementation of these recommended practices include a focus on continuing action-research as a means of focusing on continuous improvement. Reflections on the research process and results affirmed some areas of the process and challenged others, leaving room for growth. Limitations of the study pertained to those outside the FCAE program, while recommendations for future research related to those within and also outside the FCAE program. The chapter concludes with a final summary.

Results

The study focused on exploring Frances County Adult Education (FCAE) student- perceptions of their level of satisfaction with the FCAE program. What follows is a discussion of findings, connecting them to the theoretical framework of this dissertation in practice.

Finding 1: Students came to adult education with the internal motivation to succeed academically.

Based on the data, adult basic education students came to adult education with a sense of internal motivation. The construct of honoring student self-directedness within community context was based on the positive presupposition that learners bring intelligent, internal resources to participation in adult basic education. This finding was consistent with that presupposition and findings from literature. Andragogical concepts echo the developmental nature of adult reasoning habits (Knowles, 2015; Lindeman, 1926). Constructivism promotes honoring students in their learning choices (Doolittle, n.d.; Piaget, 1952). Lindeman (2009) affirmed that adult education should promote student self-direction. In addition, research related to adult basic education student persistence encouraged programs to support students self-directedness (Comings, et al., 1999; Porter, et al., 2005). Drago-Severson (2014) indicated that adult basic education student-participants valued and engaged in goal-oriented behaviors.

Finding 2: Through participation with adult education, students seemed to identify how important trust-factors and growing self-directedness were in their actually being successful.

Vygotsky (1930) suggested that learning occurs as an interdependent relationship with the learning environment. Other literature indicates that stakeholders personally judge the degree to which organizations act with integrity and depending on their judgments, these same stakeholders choose the degree to which they will engage with, and depend on, the organization as a whole (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Costa & Garmston, 2016). Adult basic education students are going to make personal choices and judgments related to participation in school (Drago-Severson, 2014; Riddle, 2004). Offering students choices and honoring their voices in their own learning process builds trust (Costa, 2008; Costa & Kallick, 2004). Stakeholders who trust a system’s intentionality and integrity tend to participate with it more interdependently (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Costa & Garmston, 2016). Plus, a number of researchers have affirmed the value of relational trust in school-work (Barth, 1990; Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Tschannen-Moran, 2004). All of this literature supports this finding regarding the connectedness between student trust and student success.

Finding 3: While implementation of the 16 Habits of Mind curriculum did not appear to impact student satisfaction, the 16 Habits of Mind were relevant to adult education students in helping them meet academic and life challenges.

Research has indicated that instruction in thinking dispositions should be a value- added component for students (Anderson, 2017; Costa & Kallick, 2008). Literature related to Habits of Mind has indicated that teaching habits can honor and promote self- directedness (Chang, et al., 2011; Houston, 2009; Vazquez, 2020). The sense that thinking habits were supportive was consistent with the idea that Costa and Kallick’s 16 thinking habits serve as internal dispositions that support thoughts and behaviors related to self-monitoring, self-managing, and self-modifying (Anderson, 2017; Houston, 2009; Vazquez, 2002). Other research indicated that Habits of Mind were helpful in meeting academic and life challenges (Hew & Cheung, 2011; Houston, 2009; McArthur, 2011; Vazquez, 2020). Looking at this finding through the lens of satisfaction theory, Habits of Mind instruction is most likely not an expected aspect of adult basic education and so unless it serves to excite students, it exists as a non-factor in relation to student satisfaction (Kano, 1984). Plus, a single measure from a small sample of participants asked about the connection between implementation of the 16 Habits of Mind curriculum and student satisfaction, possibly reducing reliability of any findings regarding impact on student satisfaction (Grigoroudis & Siskos, 2010).

Finding 4: The 16 Habits of Mind curriculum aligned with student hopes and fostered value-added opportunity for adult basic student growth and development.

The finding that thinking habits were supportive of student hopes, growth, and development was consistent with the idea that Costa and Kallick’ 16 thinking habits serve as internal dispositions that support self-monitoring, self-managing, and self-modifying (Anderson, 2017; Carner & Iadaviaia-Cox, 2012; Costa & Kallick, 2008). In other studies, teaching 16 Habits of Mind has been linked to supporting student growth (Houston, 2009; Marshall, 2004). Habits of Mind also offer flexibility. Studies have indicated that some students value thinking habits more than others (Hew & Cheung, 2011; Houston, 2004). Literature that indicated adult basic education learners can be characterized as fearing failure and having low self-concept (Bennett, 2016; Henschke, 2016) could account for the habits of persisting, managing impulsivity, and remaining open to continuous learning resonating more with some participants.

Finding 5: Students perceived that they experienced growth in their application of 16 Habits of Mind.

Adult basic education should help adults engage in self-reflection on their thinking habits (Knowles, et al., 2015; Lindeman, 1926). The finding that students developed efficacy in applying thinking habits through participation in FCAE is consistent with other HOM research (Houston, 2009; Marshall, 2004). This finding also offers a rationale for adult basic education programs honoring adult self-directedness in community context. Adult basic education programs can both facilitate adult-growth in use of thinking habits and can benefit from adults doing so.

Finding 6: Some adult basic education students valued corporate workforce training opportunities more than others and such opportunities thus contributed to student satisfaction for some students.

Workforce training opportunities serve as adult basic education programs’ proactive response to ABE students with low economic status and high employment- related needs (Adult workers, 2017). The value of workforce training opportunities also aligned with legislative mandates related to the 2014 passage of WIOA. Ideologically workforce training opportunities align with social efficacy theory (Schiro, 2013). Based on social efficacy theory, WIOA legislation would indicate that all learners should value workforce-related opportunities (About, 2018).

In contradiction to this theory, adult basic education students are a heterogeneous group of learners (Bennett, 2016; Knowles, 2015; Lindeman, 1926). Statistical make-up of learners confirms the diverse population of adult basic education learners (Digest, 2016). Constructivism emphasizes that learner-centered values can vary as well (Dewey, 1922; Schiro, 2013). The finding that some FCAE students valued provision of workforce training opportunities is consistent with this literature. This finding was also consistent with the construct of honoring student community context. Student-context related to their economic and family needs factors into their lives and their participation in adult basic education (Comings, et al., 1999; Drago-Severson, 2014). These combined factors explain the finding that some students valued provision of workforce-related opportunities more than others. Adult basic education student needs and perceptions vary and should be honored by the community at-large.

Finding 7: Student-participant perception of the quality of the corporate workforce training impacted satisfaction in the adult education program.

Students participating in workforce related trainings were informed of those trainings as a part of their FCAE participation and received assistance from FCAE when applying for the trainings. In some cases, the trainings occurred onsite. Because of the integrated nature of this process, students closely associated the workforce related trainings with FCAE. Based on three-factor satisfaction research, performance satisfaction aligns with the degree of performance quality (Metzler & Saurewein, 2002) As a result, student satisfaction with the quality of their workforce training understandably influenced the degree of satisfaction with FCAE. Student variance of perception affirms the importance of honoring student self-directedness in community contexts.

Conclusions

In general, participants affirmed the belief that adult basic education programs should operate from a value-added perspective rather than a deficit-correcting perspective. Adult basic education students come to participation in adult education hoping programs will provide resources and remove or lessen barriers. With this in mind, FCAE should continue to honor student self-directedness and community by doing the following:

  • Pursuing student satisfaction as a programmatic goal;
  • Engage in behaviors that foster trust in all its facets;
  • Teach from a value-added perspective, offering the teaching of thinking habits as a foundational practice; and
  • Offer quality workforce-related training opportunities.

Working with integrity around these practices can encourage adult basic education students in their voluntary program-participation.

Practice Recommendations

The goal of this study was to explore influencing factors and programmatic responses to adult basic education student satisfaction. The research-instruments and processes were intended to be evaluated and revised with the idea of recursive use, ensuring programmatic improvement over time. Figure 5.1, illustrates this recursive process in the visual construct of participants in relation to programmatic interventions and desired outcomes.

 

Figure 5.1: Visual Construct of Participants in Relation to Programmatic Interventions and Desired Outcomes

Based off findings from research data and the research process itself, the following recommendations emerged:

  1. Research findings should be shared with FCAE staff for the dual-purposes of affirming and motivating them.
  2. FCAE should continue to engage in recursive self-reflection of its work, using student feedback regarding student satisfaction as a predominant measure of success.
  3. FCAE should carefully engage with workforce training providers to ensure high-quality training for student-participants.
  4. FCAE should reflect on its beliefs and practices regarding the teaching of 16 Habits of Mind to improve systemically in ways that best impact students.
  5. Additional measurements of the influence of Habits of Mind on student satisfaction should be developed.
  6. FCAE should continue to develop means by which to honor student self- directedness.
  7. FCAE should continue to exhibit and promote trust-behaviors.
  8. This research should be shared on more of a state and national level.

All of these practices are within the capability and authority of the Director of FCAE to execute as a part of ongoing staff development and workforce partner-collaborations.

Implementation Plan

Implementation of the recommendations from this study will be initiated by the research-practitioner, who is also the Director of Frances County Adult Education (FCAE). Study findings have already been shared with staff in recent professional development meetings. Student surveys created for the purpose of this dissertation and practice remain ongoing as a part of orientations and student ongoing participation, and this will continue. Student-satisfaction survey instruments will also be revised by the research-practitioner to better discern the impact of Habits of Mind on student satisfaction. Collaborations with workforce training partners are also ongoing, and the continued use of student pre- and post-workforce training surveys will enable the program to monitor the quality of the training opportunities. In addition, as a means of better understanding the impact of workforce training participation on adult education student satisfaction, FCAE will add student interviews to post-training data collection. The Director will be responsible to follow-up with any workforce training partners who do not receive positive feedback. Beginning with the 2021-2022 school year, staff will reengage with additional Habits of Mind training to support staff and student resourcefulness. This ongoing training will be provided by the Director who is a certified Habits of Mind trainer. The ongoing collection of student data will be processed by the Director on an annual basis and results shared with staff to ensure that satisfaction measurements are keeping student expectations, needs and desires in the forefront and that the program considers student satisfaction in its focus on continuous improvement. Lastly, the Director does plan to submit articles related to these findings for publication to national journals.

Reflection on Action Research and Selected Methodology

Overall, the research process went well. I was pleased with the degree to which the satisfaction surveys and interview protocol seemed to support student metacognition. Most students volunteered additional comments when possible, and some student interviews went on for over 20 minutes because of all the thinking that the questions prompted within them. These busy, hard-working adults seemed honored that I was asking for their feedback. Plus, the survey instruments and interview questions themselves seemed to be meaningful to student-experiences and offered some reliability based on descriptive statistical analysis and cross-referencing student survey responses with interview responses.

It felt very validating that the HABITS initiative seemed to contribute to student satisfaction. My only area of disappointment was in the lack of data connecting 16 Habits of Mind with student satisfaction. Data collection instruments included only a single measure of this concept, which Grigoroudis and Siskos (2010) indicated would not provide reliable data. I was disappointed in myself as a researcher when I realized after- the-fact that my methodology didn’t offer a reliable means to measure this construct- relationship.

In my role as a social change agent, it was significant that workforce training participation was valued by those who participated. I was not surprised that this did not resonate with all students. The program will definitely benefit from having gained the insight that opportunity for Corporate Workforce Development training seems to influence satisfaction with FCAE, and that quality of training matters. Knowing that, we will be mindful of how we might influence the quality of the workforce trainings in which our students participate.

Overall, the research results were very affirming of programmatic initiatives and culture. I was very glad that students seemed to trust our staff and our environment and processes. I was particularly pleased that data indicated that students seemed to grow in self-trust and in efficacy in applying 16 Habits of Mind. If I were to list the things I most would want FCAE students to say about their experience with the program, those two things, combined with graduate status would be at the top of my wish-list. The literature related to this research also reminded me how patriarchal WIOA legislation is in nature, and how I do not ever want that to be the attitude from which FCAE works. Thinking about WIOA legislation from a philosophical perspective allows me to manage the dissonance that can exist between its mandates and the culture that I want FCAE to have as a school. In conducting this research, I was definitely affirmed in my beliefs and practices as an educational leader.

Limitations

This study was limited to the Frances County Adult Education program. Convenience sampling created a limited participant size of 189 students, and the study took place over a limited time frame that spanned 4-months of the 2020-2021 school year. Garmston and Wellman (2016) identified dynamical principles of complex systems, one of which is, “More data do not lead to better predictions” (p. 9). This dissertation in practice was designed to provide limited, rich data to the local adult basic education program for the purpose of informing systemic reflection and decisions that might benefit current and future students. The participant size and length of study preclude generalization of results (Cresswell & Cresswell, 2018).

Recommendations for Future Research

While this dissertation in practice answered some questions, it also raised others. Some of the questions most relevant to FCAE were the following:

  1. What research might FCAE conduct to inform the effectiveness of how it has sustained the promising practices associated with the HABITS initiative?
  2. How might student satisfaction relate to student persistence and achievement?
  3. What might additional student voices have to contribute?

Some of the questions for future research for other adult basic education programs were the following:

  1. How reproducible might the HABITS initiative be for other programs?
  2. How might surveys and interview protocols created for this research be of benefit to other adult basic education programs?

These questions seem like ones to most prioritize within the scope of the research- practitioner’s influence.

Summary

WIOA was designed to legislate greater workforce accountability for adult basic education programs, yet local ABE programs must consider the nature of this external change-agent on their own educational communities and cultures. Because WIOA changes are theoretical and technical in nature, and because ABE students are a vulnerable population, local ABE programs should intelligently and intentionally consider their responses in ways that promote community and equity for students. This research was one practitioner’s approach to understanding this challenge and responding in a manner congruent with the values of supporting student self-directedness within the community contexts of the ABE learners.

This dissertation in practice was designed to explore student perceptions of what students hoped to gain from participation in adult basic education and how satisfied they perceived themselves to be with their adult basic education participation. Based off findings of this research, FCAE should do the following:

  • Pursue student satisfaction as a programmatic goal;
  • Engage in behaviors that foster trust in all its facets;
  • Teach from a value-added perspective, offering the teaching of thinking habits as a foundational practice; and
  • Offer quality workforce-related training opportunities.

All of these conclusions are of value to FCAE and are of some value for consideration by a larger community of adult basic education programs and stakeholders.

This dissertation in practice offers a larger audience of stakeholders in adult basic education a reflection of adult basic education from a perspective that is most honoring to the students, that of student satisfaction. Understanding student satisfaction is important to understand student behaviors and inform programmatic improvement. Developing reliable instruments to measure student satisfaction specific to adult basic education students is essential to this work. This dissertation in practice contributes to a larger body of research related to adult basic student education, a critical field in our country because of the nature of the students and the needs of our society.

For references and appendices please refer to the full dissertation in PDF form.

APPENDIX A: “WHY ADULT EDUCATION?” SURVEY
APPENDIX B: HABITS OF MIND SELF-ASSESSMENT SURVEY
APPENDIX C: ADULT EDUCATION STUDENT SATISFACTION SURVEY
APPENDIX D: CORPORATE WORKFORCE PRE-TRAINING SURVEY
APPENDIX E: CORPORATE WORKFORCE POST-TRAINING SURVEY
APPENDIX F: INTERVIEW PROTOCOL AND QUESTIONS
APPENDIX G: ADULT EDUCATION REGISTRATION FORM
APPENDIX H: MULTISTAGE SAMPLING PROCEDURE FOR CHOOSING INTERVIEW CANDIDATES
APPENDIX I: PURPOSEFUL SAMPLING
APPENDIX J: SITE APPROVALS BY DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENTS
APPENDIX K: INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARD APPROVAL
APPENDIX L: PARTICIPANT FLYER
APPENDIX M: INVITATION LETTER IN ENGLISH AND SPANISH
APPENDIX N: SOME RESEACHER THOUGHTS ON QUALITATIVE DATA
APPENDIX O: STUDENT SATISFACTION SURVEY DATA: PLOTS WITH KEY
APPENDIX P: STUDENT SATISFACTION SURVEY: DIFFERENCE RANKS BY SSE AND MSE
APPENDIX Q: HABITS OF MIND DATA: PLOTS WITH KEY
APPENDIX R: HABITS OF MIND: DIFFERENCE RANKS BY SSE AND MSE
APPENDIX S: OPEN AND AXIAL CODES