Research Proposal

Assessment Testing and Student Success
in Adult Basic Education Courses
Research Proposal Abstract
Cindy James

Approximately 35 % of Canadians age 15 and over, or 7.9 million people, have not completed high school (Statistics Canada, 1998). It is imperative to reduce significantly the pool of people without a high school diploma or its equivalent, considering the social and economic costs to individual Canadians and to Canadian society. The purpose of Adult Basic Education (ABE) is to provide the non-secondary graduates with the credentials required for entering employment or for further educational opportunities by enhancing the adult learner's reading, writing, mathematical and logical-thinking skills. However, of the millions of people eligible to attend ABE programs, only a small percentage actually participate and even fewer complete these programs (Merriam & Cunningham, 1989).

As providers of ABE programs, post-secondary educational institutes need to focus on increasing the participation and completion rates for these programs. To attract and retain the adult learner, post-secondary institutes must remove barriers and increase student success. One of the most difficult barriers to remove is students' lack of confidence. To increase students' confidence levels, post-secondary institutes must provide the students with the optimum conditions for succeeding in their post-secondary educational endeavors. Accurate placement, especially in ABE programs, is a crucial component to future success. To ensure correct placement, post secondary institutes need to provide careful diagnosis of educational needs of adult learners. There are a range of educational assessment tools available to determine educational requirements and appropriate placement, but one of the most commonly used by all educational institutes is achievement tests. This prompts the question: Can student success in ABE courses be predicted by achievement test scores?

As with all tests, students performance on achievement tests may be influenced by a variety of factors. One of the biggest threats to obtaining accurate information about students' performances is test anxiety (Winzer & Grigg, 1992; Woolfolk, 1990). Other factors influencing the adult learner's performance may be a lack of test-taking skills and unfamiliarity with the mechanics of standardized achievement testing. However, participating in coaching activities can improve performance, and even small amounts of coaching time can result in significant improvement (Messik, 1982). Thus, to reduce anxiety levels and hone test-taking skills, educational institutes may want to provide students with the opportunity to participate in achievement test-taking tutorials. In the context of metacognitive learning theory, the tutorial should provide the students with the necessary metacognitive skills to apply what they know to a new situation, namely participating in the achievement testing process (Gage and Berliner, 1984). Hence, a second question is generated: Will students performance on achievement tests improve by participating in a test-taking tutorial?

Purpose of Study
Based on two different perspectives, I designed this applied correlational research with an experimental component. First, as the coordinator of an assessment centre, I am concerned with using assessment tools properly for student placement and enhancing student performance on achievement tests. Second, as an mathematics instructor, I am interested in understanding the students' views of the test-taking experience. Consequently, the purpose of my research is to answer the following questions:

  1. Is there a relationship between student scores on math achievement tests and their final grades in mathematics ABE courses?
  2. Do adult students who receive a test-taking tutorial with direct supervisory assistance achieve higher scores on mathematics achievement tests than adult students with no tutorial experience?
  3. What test-taking skills do adult learners lack?
  4. How does participating in a tutorial benefit the adult learner?
  5. What are students' views of the assessment test-taking process?
  6. Do adult students who participate in a tutorial have different views of the test-taking process than adult students who do not participate in a tutorial?

This study will take place at the University College of the Cariboo (UCC), located in Kamloops, B.C. The University College offers a variety of university, college and technical programs including comprehensive Adult Basic Education programs. The ABE programs offer English, Entrepreneurship, Math, Social Science, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Computing and General Science courses to students who want to upgrade their education in order to apply for post-secondary programs and/or to obtain credit towards the ABE Provincial Diploma.

Data will be collected from four classes of math adult basic education courses during the 1998/99 academic year. Two of the classes, approximately fifty students, will participate in a test-taking tutorial, while the other two groups, approximately fifty students, will not. Scores from the math sections of the Canadian Achievement Tests - second edition, and final course grades will be collected from all four groups. The tutorial sessions with each group will be tape-recorded and transcribed by myself. All the students will submit written reflections on their test-taking experience. The objective of collecting these qualitative data is to determine the students' views of the test-taking experience and compare the views of the assisted students with the unassisted students.

Statistical analysis will determine if a correlation exists between the students' scores on the math sections of the achievement test and their final grades, and if the performance of the assisted groups are significantly different than the performance of the unassisted groups. Interpretive methodology will be used to arrive at the constructions of student views of the testing-taking process (Guba & Lincoln, 1989; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Since the students will participate actively in the development and revision of their views and my constructions of the test-taking process, this research also fits into the category of participatory action research (Elden & Levin, 1991; Grundy, 1987; Guba & Lincoln 1985).

To establish credibility, I will adhere to the credibility criteria associated with constructivist inquiry (Guba & Lincoln, 1989). These are defined under the headings of prolonged engagement, persistent observation, peer debriefing, negative case analysis, and member check. My contact with the students will not be substantial in terms of actual face-to-face interaction, but it will be continuous over the semester. Peer debriefing will play a significant role in my interpretation process as I will be "testing out the findings with someone who has no contractual interest in the situation"(Lincoln & Guba, 1989, p. 237). In fact, I will engage two disinterested peers that will edit my draft versions of the constructions and provide feedback on my assumptions. I will incorporate their comments and suggestions in new constructions. Negative case analysis will focus on students' views that differ from the majority. Finally, as a part of the member checks process, the students will be encouraged on several occasions to verify my constructions. They will be given ample opportunity "to correct errors of fact or errors of interpretation..(and) offer additional information" (Guba & Lincoln, 1989, p. 239).

Significance of Study
The results of this research should be beneficial to educational institutes in British Columbia and across Canada, especially those that are trying to establish a student placement system for ABE programs. Depending on the results, the achievement test may be adopted as an assessment tool for placing incoming students into the appropriate upgrading courses, and tutorials may be established for all students required to write achievement tests. In addition, this research may provide the foundation for further research into assessment tests as screening devices for other post-secondary programs.

Elden, M. & Levin, M. (1991). Participatory Action Research. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage
Gage, N. L. & Berliner, D. C. (1984). Educational Psychology (3rd edition). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin
Grundy, S. (1987). Curriculum: Product or Praxis? London, U.K. : Falmer Press
Guba, E., & Lincoln, Y. (1989). Fourth Generation Evaluation. Beverly Hills, CA:Sage
Lincoln, Y. & Guba, E. (1985). Naturalistic Inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA:Sage
Merriam, S. B. & Cunningham, P. M. (1989). Handbook of Adult and Continuing Education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Messik, S. (1982). Issues of effectiveness and equity in the coaching controversy: Implications for educational and testing practice. Educational Psychologist, 17, 67-91
Statistics Canada (1998). 1996 Census: Education, mobility, and migration, [URL:]
Winzer, M. & Grigg, N. (1992) Educational Psychology in the Canadian Classroom, Scarborough, ON: Prentice-Hall Canada, Inc.
Woolfolk, C. M. (1990). Educational Psychology (3rd edition) Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall