Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Policy

First Advisor

Michael P. Johnson

Second Advisor

Ann Withorn

Third Advisor

Lorna Rivera


For the last two decades, federal legislation and Massachusetts’ state ABE policies have linked adult learners’ educational outcomes to performance systems and accountability requirements. These outcomes, represented as ‘goals’, reflect an emphasis on return-on-investment strategies and outcome-based accountability measures. Greatest emphasis is placed on that subset of adult learners’ goals that are easily measured, attainable, and that are associated with public outcomes. This dissertation, in contrast, seeks to understand the goal setting process from the perspective of learners and local ABE stakeholders. Using a novel, mixed-method approach, this dissertation presents ABE learners’ goal setting as a decision problem in order to reveal and disentangle the conflicting preferences fueled by outcome-based accountability requirements.

The study consists of two thematically related components. A descriptive phase explores internal and external determinants that influence learner goal setting. Findings from this phase inform the exploratory stage of the study, in which I apply a decision analytic framework to identify ABE learners’ and teachers’ preferences and gain insights into stakeholder involvement.

This study contributes to both the scholarly literature and practice and policy related to adult basic education by assisting the debate on policies that promote mutual or multiple stakeholders’ accountability, involving discussions on how learners’ perspectives can drive performance at the local level. The study demonstrates that the ABE goal setting problem is amenable to decision analysis, and that findings derived from application of specific decision-analytic methods aid in identifying stakeholder preferences and gain insights into stakeholder involvement. Findings generated by this study provide a useful addition to the growing literature of decision modeling in education. Additionally, it has opened new avenues for comparative research in ABE across states to examine the relationship between implementation of local accountability policies and learners’ goal setting.