Federal government releases COVID-19 guidance for adult education programs

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, March 30, 2020

The US Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) last Friday issued Program Memorandum OCTAE 20-3, titled Adult Education and Family Literacy Act and COVID-19 – Frequently Asked Questions.

The memorandum was sent to state directors of adult education and is intended to inform both states and local adult education providers in the field. There are more than 2,200 such providers funded under the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, also known as Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). These providers serve roughly 1.5 million American adults each year via adult basic education, high school equivalency, and English language classes.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many adult education programs have moved classes online, temporarily closed physical offices, rapidly prepared their staff and learners to use new digital tools, and dramatically shifted their ways of doing business. The new guidance will equip state and local adult education leaders to continue their work with much-needed assurances from federal partners.

New guidance provides flexibility, clarity for adult educators

The new memorandum answers a number of questions submitted by adult educators to OCTAE in recent weeks. Topics covered include WIOA performance reporting, performance negotiations, states’ upcoming competitions to award local provider contracts, distance learning requirements, testing protocols, and policies regarding costs covered.

In summary, the guidance assures states that:

  • The US Departments of Education and Labor will not make any determinations of performance success or failure based on data from the current Program Year 2019 (ending June 30, 2020).
  • WIOA performance negotiations between OCTAE and the states are expected to continue as scheduled, though the Department will be flexible in scheduling meetings with states given that many state officials have pressing responsibilities as part of COVID-19 response efforts.
  • States that had previously issued Requests for Proposals anticipating that they would award new local provider contracts for the year beginning July 1, 2020 are permitted to adjust their planned process. In particular, they may instead 1) suspend their FY2020 competitions for a one-year period and simply extend their current providers’ grants, OR 2) adjust competition deadlines, delaying the awarding of new grants until a later date and extending current providers’ contracts in the meantime. In either case, states must do their best to ensure that any changes in their competition plans do not result in a gap in service delivery for adult learners.
  • States can demonstrate that adult education distance learning participants have achieved the required minimum 12 hours of “actual contact” in several ways. Specifically, the required contact hours can be accrued through telephone, video, teleconference, or online communication, where participant and program staff can interact and through which participant identity is verifiable. (This will help providers to ensure that adult learners in programs that have newly converted to a distance learning format can be counted for performance reporting purposes.)
  • States now have increased flexibility in conducting pre/post tests for adult education participants. These tests are used by providers to demonstrate learning gains and meet WIOA performance requirements. Typically, these tests must be conducted in person. The new guidance affirms that states may choose to develop procedures to implement virtual test proctoring, with appropriate test security measures.

The guidance also provided detailed information about how states can record distance learning activities for adult learners via the National Reporting System, and provided information on how states might want to use the Measurable Skill Gain measure to demonstrate performance outcomes.

Learn more about each of these elements in the full memorandum.