Bradley County's Improvement Story
The mission of Bradley County (TN) Adult Education is to provide an academic environment that stimulates and motivates adults, equipping them to function successfully in a rapidly changing world. This academic opportunity will enable them to: advance their educational level; enhance career development; increase self-esteem; build personal security; and expand their contributions to family, job, and community. According to the 2000 census, there are about 16,000 people in Bradley County without a high school diploma. The State projects that we should be serving about 1,000 of these potential students each year. During 2004 Bradley County Adult Education programs served 584 students who attended the required 12 hours of education to be counted in the National Reporting System. There were over 200 students who did not complete the intake and testing process of the program. With this need, it was very important that Bradley County AE see the shortfall of the program. With the aid of the EFF, we started our process to reassess our program and make changes.
With the EFF/UPS Program Improvement introduction training completed, we formed our Program Improvement Team including the AE staff, Bradley County Adult Education Advisory Coalition members, and former students. The Team met at a weekend retreat where we covered the first 4 steps of Phase 2 of the improvement program. There were several areas that were discussed that needed improvement.
Our former students, who had received their GED’s, saw that our program was lacking in the area of interviewing and testing. One stated that the test was very intimidating to her to the point that she almost did not come back after the test. Since we had many students who did not complete testing and orientation, this seemed to be an area that needed to be improved. It was decided that this was not only one problem, but two distinct problems we needed to address.
Another concern was that two additional programs in our county are serving the same population. Our program needed to be more active in informing the public of our services. The funding of the program was also discussed and it was determined that if the numbers and outcomes of the program were improved our funding would be increased. The need to work with students in their weakest subjects only instead of all subjects was discussed. Communication between office staff, (those responsible for intakes and testing) and the teachers was another area of concern.
After voicing all needed concerns, the Team began to work on the changes that could make the greatest impact. It was decided that the first impression our program made on the student was critical and needed to be top on the list. By rewriting the intake form to aid the interviewing of the student, we could make them have a better feeling about coming and setting goals that would be easy to reach. Before the changes, three sheets of questions were given to the student to be filled out. Completing the intakes one-on-one would hopefully create a “warm fuzzy feeling” with the student.
It was also discussed if we should continue our practice of letting the students come in whenever to enroll. The decision was made to have each new student make an appointment for the enrollment process. By setting a time for the student to be interviewed, we could control the flow of students and have the needed time to complete each intake and test.
The Team decided that on Monday or Tuesday, students would complete Step I consisting of the intake, interview and the locator testing. Locator testing was put into practice to help evaluate the student’s level of learning. This was the second concern that was voiced in the planning meeting. The locator would evaluate the level of reading, math, and language skills the student needed. It was learned that a student could be at different levels on each of the subjects.
Step II was the TABE test, an official State test required to establish the entry level of a student. After testing was completed, the staff person would do a profile on the questions missed and go over them with the student. This profile would then be sent to the teacher so she could work only on the areas of a subject that the student needed. The office staff set Wednesday and Thursday for test days. Students did not feel they were being rushed. If a student scored 8.0 or higher on the TABE, they were scheduled to take the Official GED Practice Test. If their overall score was a 500 average and no subject was under 450, they were issued a notarized transcript and encouraged to take the GED test on the next available test date.
The last concern was that of being more visual to the community. The brochure that was being used was designed by the office staff and lacked an “Eye Catching” appeal. The Team decided that there were many opportunities available for the program to improve our image. Because of the competition of other programs this was an important concern.
In the time that we had to complete needed projects, the three listed above were chosen to work on because these would hopefully impact our program the most. Since there were a number of students who did not complete enrollment last year, the program was losing countable students that would improve our State report. Evaluating the students on the correct learning levels would improve their attendance and ability to show grade level gains faster. Doing a better job of publicizing our program would better our chances of meeting the State-set goals for enrollment.
The EFF standards that the program used were communication skills between the student and staff during the intake process. During the testing the decision-making skills were used by the student along with the reading with understanding. By working with the student in the profiling of the missed questions, lifelong learning skills of taking responsibility for learning, and reflection and evaluation were used. In setting goals with the student, plans for the future were formed. (Not listed but in the classroom, students are urged to use all of the 16 EFF standards.)
The personal interviews with students made us more aware of their needs. We were best able to help them by targeting the needs and thus we improved the retention rate of the students.
The testing at a student’s learning level made both the students and teachers aware of the areas where the students needed the most help. Using the profile of the needs, students are making grade gains quicker and testing is being done on more of a schedule. The number of students ready to receive the GED has increased.
The advertising done on cable TV helped the program to improve the attendance of students wanting a GED. In the year of 2004, 65 students received GED’s. This year 139 students received GED’s and the program will receive additional funds of $5,700 that will be used to establish a new program at the justice center. The program has been involved in many community events such as: The Festival of Cultures 2005, National Night Out, and PTO meetings. Several articles have been written about the program this year and Bradley County is on the Rapid Respond Team of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development for plant closings.
There were many improvements made in the program operations this past 6 months that we are very proud of. But since no program is ever perfect, there are other changes that will be made by the beginning of 2006. Each objective has changes planned.
- To continue to improve client relations, we should have more communication with them about their appointments and class schedules. We have to remember that it has been a long time since many of them have been in school. We need to always have a positive attitude toward the student and never negative input.
- To increase the grade level gains and to continue to improve the State required percentages, students need to be called when they miss a day of classes. Since we are re-testing every 30 days, it will be necessary for students not to miss any class time. The National Reporting System reports give us the information and the supervisor must check these weekly.
- To make the most of our funds, we must use all opportunities to have free advertising. We have to be visible at every event that affords us an invitation. All our advertising needs to be very professional and made available to all agencies that might have clients we may be able to help. We also need to develop a power point presentation to take to any agency, factory, or school to inform the public of our services. We are in the process of increasing our program to provide classes, with the help of volunteers, for the inmates of our local justice center. Improving their employability skills would be very beneficial to the community. Our workplace program is trying to establish an ESOL class.
Improvement continues to be a work in progress. Each time an objective has been reached, it is necessary to re-assess the needs and revise what needs to be done. We will continue to work toward improving not only the objectives decided on in this project, but other areas that need improvement as well.