Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines

Volume 23, Issue 1/2, Fall/Winter 2003/2004

Critical Thinking and Adult Literacy

Joe Norden, Jr., Gary J. Dean
Pages 31-38

Thinking Critically About the Assessment of Adult Students in Even Start Family Literacy Programs

During the past decade and a half, the field of family literacy has gone from its infancy on the educational periphery toward a position closer to the mainstream. Characteristic ofthe field’s growth is the nation’s largest endeavor in family literacy, the federal Even Start program, which began from scratch in the late 1980s and now claims more than 800 local programs in 50 states and Puerto Rico. Despite several national evaluations of Even Start, no comprehensive study in the family literacy literature specifically focuses on this quarter-billion dollar program’s attempts to measure the progress of its adult students. Accordingly, this study sought to discover the ways in which adult assessment is performed by Even Start programs. This essay emphasizes critical thinking with regards to assessment in Even Start programs Critical thought and reflection drive the exploration of several themes in the study’s data that carry itnplications for the families served by Even Start. These implications, gleaned from what Brookfield (1987) calls “reflective skepticism” and careful study of the data, bring the survey’s numbers to life and ultimately yield useful, potentially program-enhancing information. The article offers background on family literacy and Even Start programs and briefly illustrates the study’s methodology. Then follows a discourse that views the study’s findings through the lens of critical thought, drawing meaning from selected findings that contain repercussions for Even Start families. The piece concludes with recommendations for the improvement of Even Start programs through enhanced assessment and continued study.

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