Adult Literacy and Basic Skills

As part of recruitment, assessment, and screening, Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training (JT) programs evaluate each applicant’s ability to find employment and become a successful environmental technician. “Adult literacy” is sometimes used as an umbrella term for adult basic education. The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 defines literacy as “an individual’s ability to read, write, speak in English, and compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family of the individual, and in society.” Curriculum may include reading, writing, listening, speaking, mathematics, and financial literacy.

In the Best Practices for Job Training Programs in Brownfields Redevelopment Initiatives report mentioned earlier, the pilot grantees identified the following best practices for basic skills and remedial education (#5 in the ten most critical components list). Although dated, these best practices still apply to JT programs today.

  1. Partner with organizations that provide basic skills education.
  2. Provide adult basic education skills including math, reading, and preparation for GED testing.
  3. Establish basic skills learning lab for math, reading, and GED preparation; and provide flexible hours for the students.
  4. Provide real-world learning experiences (i.e. applied learning).
  5. Incorporate life skills such as interviewing, job seeking, and job retention.
  6. Videotape participant during interview to evaluate and improve life skills.
  7. Incorporate work ethics.
  8. Establish competency levels for technical programs.
  9. Utilize portfolio assessment.
  10. Require students to demonstrate computer proficiency.

Some JT programs conduct basic skills training in-house, while others partner with organizations in the community that offer basic skills and adult literacy training. For information on adult education and literacy programs, check local libraries, banks, community colleges, city/county human services offices, or CareerOneStop Centers.

Individuals who have dropped out of high school can earn a high school diploma by attending adult education classes or through GED preparation. GED tests assess academic knowledge and skills typically developed in a high school education. Adults who have not completed high school use the GED credential to gain entry into the workplace and postsecondary education. GED Testing Service, a program of the American Council on Education, develops and distributes GED tests. The 2014 program is aligned with state and national college and career readiness standards.

Minimum educational requirements for JT training vary from program to program. Some require a high school diploma or enrollment in a GED program plus being at least 18 years of age. Many programs also require a drug test prior to admission. It is important to match training with minimum educational standards for entry into the program. Failure to do so results in setting students up for failure leading to low retention and placement rates.


In order to develop the appropriate course of study for each student, an assessment should be conducted. Adult Basic Education Assessment Tests are instruments used to measure a student’s grasp of basic verbal and mathematical principles.

While not required, assessment instruments are often administered by JT programs or their partners. There are several popular assessments that are used.

  • Tests of Adult Basic Education (TABE) is a commercially-produced, multiple choice test that assesses basic skills in reading, mathematics, and language for training and employment. TABE, published by Data Recognition Corporation/CTB, provides a solid foundation for effectively assessing the skills and knowledge of adult learners. TABE and TABE CLAS-E tests combine to provide a flexible system of diagnostic assessments and instructional materials to meet the diverse needs of the growing adult education market.
  • Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System (CASAS) is a nonprofit organization that focuses on assessment and curriculum development of basic skills for youth and adults.
  • Adult Basic Learning Examination (ABLE) is a standardized test of vocabulary, silent reading comprehension, spelling, language use, and mathematics.
  • WorkKeys is a skills assessment system that measures foundational and life skills.

Program Components