About the EFF Initiative

Background and History

Equipped for the Future (EFF) began as a National Institute for Literacy effort to improve the quality and results of the adult literacy, basic skills, and lifelong learning systems in the U.S. Like other education improvement initiatives focused on accountability issues, EFF is a standards-based reform initiative. Research indicates that standards are a powerful tool to improve results because they make explicit what the goals of instruction should be and therefore provide a way to align curriculum, instruction, assessment and accountability.

When we began Equipped for the Future in 1995, the General Accounting Office had just published an indictment of the federal adult education program. The GAO report, Adult Education: Measuring Program Results has been Challenging, described the difficulties in evaluating the results of a program without clearly defined objectives, appropriate student assessments, and accurate data. The underlying problem GAO pointed to was "the lack of a coherent vision of the skills and knowledge adults need to be considered literate."

NIFL introduced standards-based system reform to adult education as a way to address these persistent problems straight on. A set of standards that defined what adults needed to know and be able to do would provide clear objectives that programs could use to guide instruction and assessment, and that programs, states and the federal government could use to determine whether programs were effective, and in fact making a difference for adult learners.

Our starting point for a coherent vision of the skills and knowledge adults need to be considered literate was the National Adult Literacy and Lifelong Learning Goal. One of the duties Congress assigned to NIFL in the National Literacy Act of 1991 was to measure the nation's progress toward attainment of this goal. The research that led to Equipped for the Future began as an effort to define a Content Framework and Standards for this goal: to define and build broad consensus on the knowledge and skills adults needed to "be literate and possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy, exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and help their children succeed in school."



  • In 1994-95, NIFL began by surveying adult learners and other customers of the adult literacy system to determine what skills and knowledge were critical to meeting the National Adult Literacy and Lifelong Learning Goal. Our first round of grant making related to this project supported nine organizations that worked to validate the EFF Content Framework as a starting point for standards in adult literacy.

  • In 1996-97, NIFL established the foundation for adult literacy standards by building broad consensus, across the nation, on what adults needed to do to meet their responsibilities as workers, citizens, and parents.

  • In 1998-99, sixteen Content Standards were defined that comprised the core knowledge and skills that support effective action in these three adult roles. The standards include a strong foundation of reading, writing, and math within four key categories of skills and knowledge: those that support effective communication, working with others, problem solving and decision-making, and learning-to-learn.

  • In 2000, NIFL published the EFF Content Standards: What Adults Need to Know and Be Able to Do in the 21st Century and launched a training and technical assistance initiative to help states use the standards. Work also began on defining an assessment framework for the standards. NIFL continues to support these two strands of EFF work.

  • From 2000-2004, the goal of the EFF Assessment Consortium was twofold:
    • To design a research-based framework for assessment of EFF Standards that will support assessment of what adults know and can do for a variety of purposes: instruction, credentialing, and reporting;
    • To assure that this approach to assessment produces tools that practitioners and states can use for accountability purposes. In the past year, the Consortium has been piloting a set of performance assessments for the standard Read with Understanding that can be used to report progress on the National Reporting System for the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), Title II; they are also working with several states to develop an EFF Work Readiness Credential that will meet performance requirements for WIA, Title I.

  • The goal of Equipped for the Future at the Center for Literacy Studies (ongoing) is to develop and disseminate training, materials, and technical assistance that support integration of EFF Standards and standards-based practices into instruction, assessment and program management. The Center's work with states and other partners is based on four primary research-based tools:
    • A program quality model developed as our logic model for evaluating the impact of EFF implementation, including what program practices and what student, teacher, and program outcomes we expect;
    • An eight-step teaching/learning process for using standards-based instruction and assessment that focuses teachers sharply on the specific skills and knowledge students need to develop;
    • A quality improvement model for adult education programs based on EFF;
    • A Preparing for Work course, developed by EFF, designed for implementation in organizations and agencies involved in preparing their clients and students for entry level work. Each of the instructional modules that comprise the Preparing for Work course has integrated the specific SCANS tasks (Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Basic Skills) and the EFF Content Standards, identified on the research-based EFF Work Readiness profile.

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Impact of EFF

Beginning in 2004, the EFF Center is offering many new services and professional development opportunities to the adult education field. You can find out more about those products and services at: http://eff.cls.utk.edu/products_services/default.htm.

The number of states and programs using EFF continues to grow. From 2000-2002, 4,553 teachers and administrators from 34 states have received training and technical assistance in using the standards to improve the quality of instruction and assessment. In 2002, EFF shifted its training strategy from offering one-time orientations to EFF to working primarily through states, providing training, technical assistance, and tools to help them implement EFF in target systems.

Many states have worked with the Equipped for the Future at the Center for Literacy Studies to integrate EFF in at least one of their adult education and training systems: this list includes Alaska, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. A number of these states have adopted EFF as statewide learning results.

Special Projects help EFF develop new products to meet the needs of important constituencies

The EFF Reading Project has developed a training package in order to integrate evidence-based research on the teaching of reading into EFF's purposeful and contextual approach to instruction and assessment. This is a joint project of EFF, the Partnership for Reading, and the National Center for Family Literacy. Four states (Pennsylvania, Delaware, Missouri, and Virginia) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs are partnering with us in this effort, supporting local sites as part of the first training cohort.

The EFF National Retail Foundation project took a major leap forward. In 2002, EFF held training for staff of all 6 Retail Academies supported by the NRF in malls across the country. The focus of the training was how to use EFF Standards as the foundation for more technical training in retail or customer services aligned with the Sales and Service Voluntary Partnership Customer Service standards. The response from the centers and their customers has been extremely positive. From this Project, a curriculum package was created: Preparing for Careers in Sales and Service. This curriculum was later modified for ESOL learners and successfully piloted in 6 programs in Texas.

Other Curriculum Projects
The EFF Center has plans for future industry-specific curriculum projects. A Preparing for Careers in Health Care curriculum was developed with support of the Tennessee Department of Human Services. Another course, Preparing for Work, is a skills-based course designed for implementation in organizations and agencies involved in preparing their clients and students for entry level work.

The National Urban League has partnered with NIFL to design a quality improvement model for all NUL education programs based on EFF.

Integrating EFF with other Curricula: At the request of the producer/publisher, we have created crosswalks between the EFF Framework and three major multimedia curricula: TV-411 (Adult Literacy Media Alliance) and Crossroads Café and On Common Ground (INTELECOM). New Readers Press and Steck-Vaughan have also recently approached us about integrating EFF into new publications.

EFF is being recognized as a model adult standards effort by international organizations as well as by individual countries that want to build on our success: The work of EFF was featured in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's initiative on Defining and Selecting Competencies that Define a Successful Life. Chile, Japan, and Singapore are three countries that have recently sought our advice and assistance in defining and building competence for work. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, Institute for Education, also is interested in replicating the EFF competency definition process in African nations concerned about improving their literacy rates.

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Key Issues for the Future

Standards-based improvement in adult education:
The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education, has identified standards-based reform as their approach in reauthorization of Title II of the Workforce Investment Act to improving the quality and results of the federal adult education program. How do we use what we have learned over the past three years of EFF implementation to help prepare states for the transition to a standards-based system?

The EFF Team has the following tools and training in the works that will be useful to states and programs trying to meet new federal requirements:

  • In August 2003, we held our first national EFF training institute. This training focused on standards based instruction and assessment, with strands on working with specific standards: Read with Understanding, Use Math to Solve Problems, Listen Actively, and Speak so Others Can Understand.
  • The EFF Center plans to hold future institutes geared toward meeting customer-identified needs in the adult literacy field.
  • The EFF Reading Project has revised the training design and materials based on feedback from the pilot sites and the Abt Evaluation. This training package is available from the EFF Center.
  • As part of the development of the EFF Assessment System we have been training teachers in our partner states in using standards to focus both instruction and assessment more sharply on the knowledge, strategies, and skills students need in order to learn and to carry out real world tasks. Several states have talked to us about building a set of Assessment 101 workshops out of this training that would introduce practitioners to evidence-based assessment practices.
  • We have developed a prototype of the EFF Assessment System based on the Standard Read with Understanding. This prototype, together with specifications for other EFF Standards, will enable NIFL to build relations with test developers in order to assure that there will be a range of assessments aligned with EFF standards.

Preparing adults for the 21st Century workplace:
We are also concerned about ways to address the growing gap between the skills job seekers have and the skills needed in 21st century workplaces. At the urging of the EFF National Policy Group, NIFL joined with the National Skill Standards Board and a small group of states (Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Washington) to develop a work readiness credential that defines, measures, and certifies mastery of the knowledge and skills required for success in the 21st Century Workplace. Employers in the 4 states worked with us to develop the work readiness profile. Assessments for this Credential were developed and piloted as part of this project.

EFF developed several courses geared toward preparing adults for the world of work: Preparing for Work, Preparing for Careers in Sales and Service, and Preparing for Careers in Health Care.

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