Analysis of the data has been separated into three broad areas: Things that the participants themselves mentioned as being the most crucial in their continuation in the ABE program until goal completion, impacting factors generated from the second part of the interview questions, and common characteristics from the background information sheet which may or may not have any bearing on perseverence. These are categorized in each area as either internal or external variables. Things that could be affected by program decisions are noted in each area. Mention is also made of hindrances to goal attainment and possible things the program can impact to help reduce attrition.
The first area to be looked at encompasses things that the participants themselves listed as having the most impact on their continuation. These factors bear the most weight in this study. Six felt that it was their own determination. Two mentioned their tutor. Others variables are discussed below.
Some of the things the interviewees listed as having the greatest impact were inner (psychological) variables or external. Inner factors mentioned were: determination, the desire to learn, having a certain goal (B.A., citizenship, or college), realizing that they had the ability to accomplish their goals, improved self-esteem, and wanting children to be proud. External factors were the tutor and the influence of ones children.
The question arises as to which of these variables can be impacted by the program. Tutors can foster a sense of capability by showing their students that they can indeed do the work. This in turn helps to improve self-esteem which encourages continuation. How to affect determination is a question for future research.
The next area to be looked at includes factors that the majority of the participants agreed impacted their perseverence, but perhaps were not listed as "the most important thing." (from the second part of the interview questions) Internal variables were improved self-esteem (mentioned once again in this section), making progress, and the presence of support. External factors were flexible meeting times and convenient location of classes.
All five of these factors can possibly be impacted by the ABE program. Self-esteem can be enhanced by making progress and also through conversation. Tutors can help students make progress and realize that they are progressing. They can provide support through encouragement and help with academics. Flexible meeting times and convenient location of classes can also be addressed programmatically.
The third area to be considered looked at common characteristics from the background information sheet that may or may not have any bearing on perseverence. Psychological variables were: having a stated goal (the majority mentioned getting a G.E.D.), lack of a learning disability diagnosis, not feeling that they learned differently from others, and lack of inspiration by subject materials. External things were: being met by one tutor and being met at home. Spending less than a year to complete their goals, staying in the program until completion, and taking less than a year from goal declaration to completion were mentioned but difficult to categorize. Having no medical problems as a child, and not requiring medication as either a child or ABE student were additional common characteristics.
Some of these things can perhaps be impacted by the program if indeed they contribute to continuation. The number of tutors working with a student and the location of lessons can be program decisions. Length of study can perhaps be influenced through encouragement. Lack of inspiration by program materials shows an area for program improvement.
Barriers to education, although not critical factors for this group of completers, nonetheless deserve to be given attention. Hindrances mentioned were problems with academics (math) and lack of confidence in ability. Tutors can play an instrumental role in these areas by helping students to master the concepts they are studying, thereby instilling confidence in ability to accomplish their goals.
Psychological factors that kept a student going if he/she thought of quitting were: determination, wanting a degree, and improved comprehension. External things were the tutor and ones children. (The latter could probably qualify as both). The tutor, as mentioned above, can be important as a source of support and aid in understanding of content.
Ones own determination and their tutor were the overriding factors for perseverence in this group of ten ABE goal completers. The central question of how to influence determination remains.
Recommendations for Practice
The following recommendations for practice are generated from the research and student comments made during the interviewing process.
1) Assessment of students should be gradual, ongoing, and conducted when warranted. (Jha, 1991) discussed the effects of testing on early attrition). Particular sensitivity needs to be given to the students initial feelings of doubt in their ability to do the work. Extensive formal testing can reinforce lack of self-confidence. Assessment at appropriate intervals, however, can provide valuable feedback on progress for the students.
2) After initial assessment, students should be made aware of what areas theyll need to cover before reaching their goal (McKenzie,1986). This plan of study should be reviewed periodically with the student to let them know how much theyve progressed. (Perrin and Greenberg, 1994, discussed the importance of a student knowing how close he is to reaching his goal).
3) Teach them at least one new thing each time they are met (Oklahoma State Department of Educations 1989 Handbook for Adult Basic Education).
4) Combat lack of self-confidence through achievement (Dubois, 1989, mentions the importance of success in goal completion, as do the participants in this study). If assignments arent complete, do some work with them to let them know that they can understand the material and are capable of doing it.
5) Try to enhance their self-esteem through conversation (Meyers, 1988, and Hathaway and Rhodes, 1979, talked about improved self-esteem as a factor in persistence. Interviewees mentioned conversations with their tutor and a Reach-Up worker as having been instrumental in helping them believe in themselves). Let them know that they matter as people. Help them to believe that they are capable. Discuss different learning styles if that will help improve self-esteem.
6) Identify barriers to educational achievement and discuss ways to circumvent them. (The 1992 California State Department of Education statistics said that 28% of students reported a barrier to education).
7) Allow students flexibility in time and location of lessons. Let them be met at home if transportation, child care, or self-esteem issues would present barriers. (McKillop, 1991 discussed the importance of flexible scheduling. Jha, 1991, cited Mezirow et al., 1975, Moss and Richardson, 1967, and Cramer, 1982, as having talked about class scheduling. The Pennsylvania State Department of Education, 1986, reiterated the need for flexible scheduling and convenient location of classes to aid in retention of student).
8) Encourage students to meet their goals as soon as they can. (This particular study showed that most participants completed their goals in less than a year). If they talk about dropping out, try to find out why. Is there anything the program can do to help?
9) Allow one tutor primarily to work with each student. (Hathaway and Rhodes, 1979, said that individualized instruction offered the best chance of success. Smaller class sizes are more successful according to Boshier, 1973, and Wheaton, 1976, as cited in Jha, 1991).
10) If in a learning center setting, institute a mentor program whereby one tutor is responsible for monitoring each students progress and consulting with him/her periodically. This eliminates communication problems among staff and redundancy of work with the student. Also, trust is established. The student will know that he has at least one person supporting his efforts to reach his goal. Network with other agencies to provide support for the student. (Dubois, 1989, listed lack of support as one of the major barriers to education. Jha, 1991, cited Arruz and Daniel, 1987, Jackson et al., 1987, and Wheaton, 1976 as stressing the need for individual counseling. She also cited Reder, 1985, as having mentioned the importance of one-to-one interaction. Supportive counseling was discussed by Mikulecky and DAdamo-Weinstein, 1991, as well).
11) Ask the student how he feels about the materials he is using and change them if necessary. (Garrison, 1985, talked about course relevancy and participants in this study mentioned lack of particular interest in subjects). Try to make the content more inspiring. Find out what the student is interested in and find appropriate materials if possible. Couple a subject that the student really enjoys (such as writing) with one that he finds more frustrating.
12) Use GED pre-tests to show a student that he is ready to take the actual GED tests.(Interviewees found this helpful).
13) Consider having new students watch a video, listen to tapes, or read excerpts from goal completers in the ABE program as a means of support. If they realize that others had the same doubts upon entering, but persevered, it may encourage them also. (Jha, 1991, and Harmen, 1983, suggested an orientation for new students ).
Implications for Further Research
Results from this study show that the participants felt that their own determination and their tutor were the primary factors in persevering until they reached their goals. Other factors such as improved self-esteem and making progress were also influential. Common characteristics, like time spent working on their goal, may or may not have had any bearing on continuation. Variables investigated in this study and the data gathered open up questions for further research.
All the participants had a stated goal upon entry into the program. Vocational goals beyond a GED were not well defined. For this particular group, absence of a particular vocational goal did not seem to hamper continuation until completion. The importance of a vocational goal beyond the stated educational goal could be explored in further research.
Also, the relationship between things that helped the student reach his/her goal and locus of control could be investigated. Five out of ten people mentioned their tutor as one of the things that kept them going, but only two out of ten considered it as having the most impact. Eight out of ten had support (seven mentioned family support and seven tutor support). The tutors role or importance as a source of support could be looked at from the context of how important support is to someone with an internal locus of control.
Indeed, the entire issue of locus of control warrants further study. The three questions attempting to cover this in the interview instead gave information on self-determination in approaching tasks. Future studies can fine tune interview questions to indeed ascertain whether one attributes his success or failures to internal variables such as ability and effort or external forces such as luck and task difficulty.. Also, it would be interesting to determine if locus of control changes over time or through involvement or achievement in the program. Whether or not locus of control is static or situation dependent is another issue.
Self-esteem could be explored in further depth. What impacts or promotes development of self-esteem in students? One could try to determine if there was any correlation between locus of control and self-esteem. The relationship between feeling they were making progress and developing more self-esteem could be looked at. Amount of self-esteem and whether or not students felt they learned differently is another fertile area for exploration. (Nine had low self-esteem when they entered the program. Six didnt feel they learned differently from anyone else. Did they blame themselves for prior lack of academic achievement? And how does this tie in with feelings of determination? Can determination be both an asset and a handicap?)
Other possible interactions could be looked at. This study showed no pattern between parents academic achievement level in school and their childrens. This may not be true for all samples of population. There also seemed to be no relationship between the time it took to complete ones goals and last grade completed in school. Students in this study had completed various years of formal education, yet all persevered until they reached their goals. The number of tutors one worked with and length of time spent on goals could be another area for future exploration. Also, whether or not unmarried completers had a support system is another area for investigation. All singles had a support system in this study. So many factors could influence goal completion that interactions need to be considered as well.
Lastly, since completers in this study attributed continuation to their own determination, the issue of determination needs to be studied. Are determination and desire to reach a goal the same thing? Words can be limiting and subject to interpretation. Is it possible to foster a sense of determination in students or is this an inherent quality unaffected by outside influence? What are the driving forces behind determination (unfinished business, future goals, etc.)
This study focused on students who had achieved their goals because they were determined to and most did it in under a year. What about those that come in and out of the program a number of times before they complete their goals? Perhaps that group needs to be studied separately. Do they lack determination? Is length of time spent in the program a predictor of goal completion? Can other variables be identified that perhaps would make them more determined or spur them on toward completion?
As stated at the beginning of this paper, 60% of all students entering an ABE program drop out before they reach their goals. Many spend quite a while working to achieve their goals. Watson, 1983, differentiates between retention and persistence. It is important that educators strive to encourage persistence until goals are reached and not just retain people in the program. Factors contributing to continuation need to be explored and promoted. Further research on those who drop out, particularly of a qualitative nature, would aid in understanding the problem of attrition and how to deal with it.
Limitations of Study
Data gathered from this study and results are valid only for this particular group of ten participants interviewed in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Insights can be applied to groups of similar students and hopefully some of the recommendations will aid in greater retention of ABE students.
What has been recorded are the students own words in response to the questions. But, words can be limiting. Also, the wording of the questions themselves perhaps could be interpreted differently by participants based on their own experiences. Interpretation of their answers occurred through the eyes and ears of one researcher.
A more general observation of the interviewing process is that the researchers former students seemed to give more substance to the interviews. Perhaps this was due to having already established a relationship of trust with the researcher.
The researcher is greatly indebted to all the participants for their willing contribution to this study. They spoke from their hearts and souls and gave others a rare glimpse of their feelings as they pursued their goals. Not often do tutors have the opportunity to talk to former students once theyve achieved their goals. Initial feelings about themselves upon entering the program were particularly revealing. People reading the words of those involved in this research should have the greatest respect for their accomplishments and the barriers they needed to overcome in order to succeed. Hopefully reaching their goals in the ABE program will be only the first of many successes.