Adult Learning & Education

Adult earners come from all walks of life, and every learner brings with them a unique set of experiences with reading and education.  As a result, it is important to consider each learner's specific strengths, weaknesses, and circumstances in order to help their literacy skills develop.  Many educational and research programs are unable to address this issue, and often teach adults with the same strategies and materials that are used with groups kids in school.

Our research seeks to understand what adult learners bring to the table and how we can develop strategies that address the individual needs of each learner.  We do this by collecting data on reading skills in a variety of contexts and developing educational technologies that are adaptive and engaging to each new learner.  To learn more, click the button to the left to visit our Adult Education hub site, or keep reading below to learn about some specific tools that we've developed.

AutoTutor - ARC

AutoTutor - Adult Reading Comprehension (ARC) is an intelligent tutoring system designed to help adults become better, more active readers in a modern literacy environment.

To develop and assess AutoTutor-ARC, the Institute of Educational Sciences has funded a collaboration of researchers from the University of Memphis, Georgia State University, and Educational Testing Service. This project, titled “Developing a Technology-based, Reading Comprehension Instruction System for Adult Literacy Students Postsecondary and Adult Education”, was created to make AutoTutor-ARC as effective as possible for as many people as possible.

AutoTutor-ARC utilizes conversational agents, lessons with practice questions, and embedded assessments to monitor student learning. AutoTutor-ARC also offers instructors a learning management system and teacher dashboard for planning and tracking students’ progress throughout the lessons.  The project will evaluate the use of the web-based system as a teacher-led supplement to classroom instruction and as a distance learning platform for adult use outside of the classroom.

You can use AutoTutor-ARC with your students today!  It's free, easy, and signing up is a breeze.  Click the button to the left to visit our site.


The Sabatini Assessment of Reading Ability (SARA) is a multicomponent literacy assessment which target the fundamental elements of reading. This includes word recognition, vocabulary, morphology, reading efficiency, and overall reading comprehension.

Although many adults in the United States are not yet proficient readers, assessments for adult reading literacy education are few. For this reason, the Institute of Educational Sciences awarded Dr. Sabatini and his team funds for the project titled “Developing and Validating Web-administered, Reading for Understanding Assessments for Adult Education.” This project aims to create measures of adults’ learning for use in screening, profiling of strengths and weaknesses, and monitoring progress and growth. Intended for in-class or remote administration, the assessments are web-based with automated scoring. The measures can be used to tailor learning for an individual, to inform instruction, to plan educational program strategy or monitor effectiveness. 

Digital Skills module

Being literate in today's world means more than just reading books.  In fact, most reading is now done digitally - on computers, tablets, and phones.  While this opens up a whole new world of accessible text, it also presents a set of new challenges, especially to people who are unfamiliar with digital technology.

Modern literacy is digital literacy.  In order to help people develop their reading and comprehension skills, we're building digital skills module that complement our other assessments and instruction to ensure that everyone is capable and confidence reading both online and off.

Argumentative discussion

This IES project awarded to and led by ETS (PI: Yi Song), is also in collaboration with the University of Delaware (co-PI: Ralph Ferretti) and University of Memphis (co-PI John Sabatini).  

This exploratory project addresses the need to develop students’ argumentative writing skills. To do this, the project is conducting a series of iterative design studies that target hypothesized malleable factors in written (and oral) argumentative discourse. Specifically, we're exploring new capabilities for using online, collaborative environments to identify the factors that impact the development of middle grades students' argumentative writing skills. The results of this program of research will serve as a foundation for developing an instructional program to improve student writing.

NAEP Trend Gap Analysis

This subaward funded by the Manhattan Strategy Group based on contract with the NAEP National Assessment Governing Board is an effort led by Dr. John Sabatini and done jointly with The Center for Research in Education Policy (CREP) and co-PI Dr. Todd Zobotsky  to analyze NAEP data.

Reading scores have declined since 2015, a trend that has become entwined with refreshed debates over the science of reading instruction and learning. The NAEP contextual data can be used to explore how teachers and school administrators implement reading/math curricula. Describing which classroom and school factors related to higher or lower reading scores could help point to locations and approaches that work more effectively in improving students’ reading performance.

Specifically, this exploratory research study is designed to understand the divergent trend lines in the NAEP reading and mathematics data (low-performers slipping and high-performers remaining steady or improving). This research thread could spotlight places where the pattern(s) emerge to a greater or lesser degree and could find common characteristics of such places through the NAEP contextual data.


To address these questions, researchers need access to NAEP data by using the online NAEP Data Explorer tool or through a restricted-data use license

The 2018 & 2024 NAEP Oral Reading Fluency Study

Dr. Sabatini is part of a team developing, administering, analyzing, and reporting on the NAEP Special Studies of Oral Reading.  In 2018, the NAEP ORF was administered on tablets and scored using automated scoring algorithms.  The team is now working on as they a 2024 replication of the study. 

As described in the Introduction of the 2020 report (White et al., 2020)"

"The 2018 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) study was conducted to examine the oral reading performance of fourth-grade public school students. The study was administered to a nationally representative sample of 1,800 students between January and March of 2018. It measured students’ oral reading fluency in terms of speed, accuracy, and expression.

"The NAEP ORF study was administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) first in 1992 and later in 2002. In several ways, the rationale and aims of the previous studies are reflected in the current study. As described by Daane et al. (2005), the study was “designed to examine several important components of literacy development that are integrated in proficient reading—reading accuracy, reading rate, and reading fluency—and to compare these to overall reading comprehension as measured in the main NAEP ReadingAssessment.” (p. 2)."

For more information, see: 

White, S., Sabatini, J., Park, B. J., Chen, J., Bernstein, J., & Li, M. (2021). The 2018 NAEP Oral Reading Fluency Study. NCES 2021-025. National Center for Education Statistics.

White, T. G., Sabatini, J. P., & White, S. (2021). What Does “Below Basic” Mean on NAEP Reading? Educational Researcher, 0013189X211044144.

Sabatini, J., O’Reilly, T., & Wang, Z. (2018). Relating reading comprehension to oral reading performance in the NAEP fourth-grade special study of oral reading. Reading Research Quarterly.


"The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) is an international assessment and research project designed to measure reading achievement at the fourth-grade level, as well as school and teacher practices related to instruction. Fourth-grade students complete a reading assessment and questionnaire that addresses students’ attitudes toward reading and their reading habits. In addition, questionnaires are given to students’ teachers and school principals to gather information about students’ school experiences in developing reading literacy. Since 2001, PIRLS has been administered every 5 years, with the United States participating in all past assessments. PIRLS is sponsored by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) and conducted in the United States by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

In this project, Dr. Sabatini and his lab are working with the PIRLS team at Boston College to update the PIRLS Reading Literacy Framework and advising on new digital task development.  In the forthcoming 2026 framework will have integrated what was previously referred to as ePIRLS 2021, in acknowledgment that in the 21st century, understanding children’s reading achievement requires us to learn how they read and comprehend in both traditional print and digital literacy environments.


Dr. Sabatini is an advisor for the The Adult Skills Assessment Program (ASAP), a project led by the University of Massachusetts- Amherst (PI: Steven Sireci),  funded by the IES as part of the Adult Research Network (see CREATE Network below). 

As described on their website (, ASAP  "represents a revolution in adult education, educational assessment, and the integration of learning and assessment. In this project, our research team composed of national leaders in the assessment and validation of academic outcomes, technology, and adult literacy, will develop digital, personalized assessments that leverage technology to increase access, effectiveness, and meaningful opportunities to learn for adult learners.

"The ASAP will result in digitally distributable online banks of assessment tasks in literacy, numeracy, and the intersection of these two domains; to serve the assessment needs of adult learners, adult educators, career counselors, and employers.  No longer will these stakeholders be limited by test “forms,” or by requiring learners to come into educational or workplace settings to spend hours taking assessments."

CREATE Adult Research Network

The AutoTutor for Adult Reading Comprehension project is part of the CREATE Adult Skills Network, funded by the IES and led by a Consortium including AIR, Abt Associates, the EdTech Center of World Education, and JFF.  As stated on the CREATE website ("

"The CREATE Adult Skills Network (the Network) is developing a research base about effective ways to use technology in adult learning. It develops, adopts, and evaluates interventions that use technology to build adult learners’ skills and improve their academic outcomes. The Network’s activities and resources guide practitioners, educators, researchers, and policy and funding stakeholders in their work using technology to support adult skills programming."

The project supports the six member projects to collaborate with each other , to build shared knowledge, and to disseminate that knowledge to stakeholders.


Dr. Sabatini is collaborating with MindTrust Inc. on an IES SBIR funded project, EdScape XR.

EdScape XR is an accessible virtual ‘escape room’ platform designed to advance middle and highschool STEM learning by engaging students in an interactive, multi-modal collaborative problem-solving learning environment. It addresses a well-documented issue in our education system - a lack of sustained interest in STEM subjects as typically taught in the classroom.

Rooms are designed to augment traditional modes of instruction by reinforcing conceptual understanding and enhancing students’ long-term retention of the material. Our assessment dashboard will help teachers realize which NGSS topics may need additional coverage based on student performance within those rooms and puzzles. The platform can be used for formal, informal, in-class, remote, or hybrid learning.

Intended educational outcomes include increased engagement, interest, and comfort with STEM subjects; problem-solving skills; and foundational subject knowledge.

In Phase I, we built a single room around the NGSS requirements for Photosynthesis and are currently piloting it in middle schools. It is complete with multiplayer support, a thematic room & storyline, collaborative AI, analytics, multiple difficulty levels, customizable avatars, and cross platform support. 


Dr. Sabatini serves as an technical advisor to a project funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement to REACT DC ( in collaboration with Workbay, Inc. ( to develop and expand the Platform.

The Platform is an interactive career development platform that links recruitment, skill building and career navigation into one system delivered via Web and mobile iOS and Android applications. provides tailored and integrated solutions for every economic stakeholder to achieve their goals: 

Educators: curate and assign skills-based training and career development for their students and connect with local business’ demands to create community-relevant lesson plans. 

Employers: provide pre-hire training, implement skills-based hiring practices, promote company mission and pathways, attract, train, and retain local talent. 

Students/Job Seekers: define their career pathway, find and keep careers that provide purpose, prosperity, and growth in the new economy. 

Super Administrators: predict, respond-to, and support the needs of the local economy, at every level. Close workforce gaps with real data and analytics and administer targeted and effective tools for their constituents. 

REACT DC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides social services support and holistic resettlement assistance for Afghan entrants in northern Virginia to help them become self-sufficient. The women’s program offers community, education, and employment assistance to Afghan women who face additional barriers. The Refugee Career Pathways Program grant will fund career pathway and integration activities for 292 Afghan entrant long-term beneficiaries  and approximately 529 unique monthly beneficiaries.  It supports more entrants by providing gratis access to the REACTworks career pathway software platform to resettlement agencies, workforce development organizations, and volunteer community sponsors.