Moore, M., Myers, D., & Silva, T. (1998). Addressing literacy needs at work: Implementation and impact of workplace literacy programs. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
- The study’s objective was to examine the impact of workplace literacy programs on workers’ literacy and career and educational attainment.
- The authors randomly assigned workers in three sites to either the treatment group, which could participate in the workplace literacy program, or the control group, which was barred from participating in the program for a period of time. The authors estimated impacts of the program by comparing outcomes of the two groups, controlling for the probability of their participation.
- The study did not find any statistically significant effects of the workplace literacy programs on GED attainment, employment, average weekly earnings, or standardized literacy assessments.
- The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high for most outcomes because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we have confidence that any estimated effects would be attributable to the workplace literacy programs studied and not to other factors; however, the study found no statistically significant effects.
The Workplace Literacy Programs Studied
Features of the Intervention
The workplace literacy programs studied were funded by the National Workplace Literacy Program (NWLP), a federal demonstration grant program that awarded funds from 1988 to 1994 to organizations and employers running workplace literacy programs. These programs taught literacy and other basic skills to workers, with a focus on skills needed for work tasks. Often businesses and community partners worked together to develop and run the programs. This study focused on three NWLP sites funded in 1994 whose eligibility and program features varied.
- Site 1 offered about 66 hours of formal in-class instruction (English as a Second Language or basic skills courses) and provided child care, job and family counseling, and referral services to primarily female, Asian immigrants working in the garment industry. The program operated on weekends and was run by community organizations (no employers were involved).
- Site 2 offered employees of a metal processing company 40 hours of instruction in five core courses: (1) Foundation Skills, (2) Communication for the ’90s, (3) Team Survival Skills, (4) Applied Math, and (5) Learning to Learn. It also provided a learning lab to supplement skill development with computer-based instruction, a resource library, help from tutors, and access to the adult high school diploma and GED® test preparation programs the county adult education program offered. Classes took place at the plant during working hours. A community college and literacy organization were involved in the partnership.
- Site 3 provided 60 hours of instruction in classes implementing a competency-based curriculum designed for the program that included 42 competencies in two levels of English language skills. Participants were primarily Hispanic immigrants who worked in agriculture or food manufacturing. Classes took place at work sites immediately after the work day. The lead partner was a nonprofit employment and training organization.
Features of the Study
The authors evaluated the workplace literacy programs using a randomized controlled trial with data from a purposive sample of sites. These sites were selected because they used features thought to be crucial for successful programs. Sites were also selected based on willingness to adhere to random assignment, willingness to use a standardized literacy test, and ability to recruit sufficient participants. Lastly, sites were selected because they represented a range of partnership models.
The authors selected five sites overall and conducted the randomized controlled trial at the three sites with local partnerships. Workers who applied to the program were grouped by program staff based on their literacy scores and/or location. If workers had not previously participated in a program course, the authors randomly assigned them within groups to either the treatment group, which could participate in the workplace literacy program immediately, or the control group, which could participate after a delay of 16 to 28 weeks (the length of delay varied by site). In all, 409 eligible workers were randomly assigned to the treatment group (260) or control group (149). Impacts were estimated by examining the difference in outcome rates across the treatment and control groups for each of the sites.
- The study did not find any statistically significant effects on GED attainment, employment, average weekly earnings, or standardized literacy assessments.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
Two of the three sites experienced high attrition for the standard literacy assessment outcomes; therefore, these outcomes cannot receive a high causal evidence rating. However, because the authors included sufficient controls in their analyses of these outcomes, they receive a moderate causal evidence rating. This means that for these outcomes at these two sites, we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the workplace literacy programs, but other factors might also have contributed.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high for most outcomes because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that any estimated effects would be attributable to the workplace literacy programs studied and not to other factors; however, the study found no statistically significant effects. There was high attrition at two of the sites for the standard literacy assessments; therefore, these outcomes receive a moderate causal evidence rating.