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There are several things to consider when developing a successful I-BEST program.

Why I-BEST Was Developed

The SBCTC developed Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) to address the changing needs of employers and students. It tested traditional notions that students must first complete all levels of adult basic education before they can advance in workforce education training programs.

In Washington State, over half of the students come to community and technical colleges with the goal of getting to work. Research showed that students were not transitioning to higher levels of education.

“Only 13 percent of the students who started in ESL programs went on to earn at least some college credits. Less than one-third (30 percent) of adult basic education (ABE/GED) students made the transition to college-level courses. Only four to six percent of either group ended up getting 45 or more college credits or earning a certificate or degree within five years.”

Building Pathways to Success for Low-Skill Adult Students:
Lessons for Community College Policy and Practice
from a Longitudinal Student Tracking Study
(Prince, Jenkins: April 2005).

I-BEST moves students further and faster to certificate and degree completion. As a result, I-BEST was designed to directly transition into college-level programs and help students build skills that will move them forward.

The I-BEST Model

  • I-BEST programs must include college-level professional-technical credits that are required of all students in the selected program and are part of a career pathway.
  • All students must qualify for federally supported levels of basic skills education.
  • Students must be pre-tested using CASAS (the standardized test used statewide to assess ABE and ESL students).
  • An instructor from basic skills and an instructor from the professional-technical program must jointly instruct in the same classroom with at least a 50 percent overlap of the instructional time.
  • Faculty must develop integrated program outcomes, jointly plan curriculum, and jointly assess student learning and skill development.
  • I-BEST programs must appear on the demand list for the local area and meet a minimum set wage.

A Benefit to the Economy

Talent and skills determine the competitive edge in today’s economy, yet one out of every six people in Washington lacks the basic reading, writing and math skills to get living-wage jobs and meet the needs of employers. This segment of Washington’s population is growing quickly at the same time that most jobs now require college experience. By 2019, two-thirds of all new jobs in Washington State will require at least one year of college education.

In order to have a vibrant economy, Washington employers need access to skilled, credentialed workers and all residents need access to opportunities that allow them to earn a living wage.

In Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges, I-BEST pairs workforce training with ABE or ESL so students learn literacy and workplace skills at the same time. Adult literacy and vocational instructors work together to develop and deliver instruction. Colleges provide higher levels of support and student services to address the needs of non-traditional students. There are more than 170 approved programs, expanding each year since the 2006 launch of I-BEST. State Board staff provide colleges with technical assistance and information on best practices to ensure low-income students successfully complete integrated programs and find family wage careers.

Learning Outcomes and Assessments

Targeted integrated learning outcomes that include adult learning standards and relevant professional-technical skills standards are essential to the design of I-BEST. In order to design meaningful integrated learning outcomes and assessments, the requirements for employment at the conclusion of I-BEST and the next level of training must be considered. You will want to identify the academic entry levels, tests and/or certifications, and other skills or experience required of students to access the next higher level of the program to ensure that the students are fully prepared to go on. Integrated Outcomes are covered in detail on the Tools for Instructors page.

Integrated Teaching

Team teaching is an integral part of the I-BEST model. It includes joint course planning and at least an instructional overlap of at least 50 percent of the class time. Integrated teaching strategies are covered in detail on the Tools for Instructors page.

Campus Involvement

Creating a supportive structure to develop and implement a new program is critical from the start.

  • Begin with faculty who are optimistic about the potential of the model.
  • Ensure that campus leaders are actively supportive.
  • Include faculty, administrators, and staff in the planning process.
  • Develop clear relationships, roles, and responsibilities with all stakeholders including instruction (both workforce and adult basic education), student services, human resources, business services, registrar, and finance because the success of I-BEST programs affect many aspects of the college.
  • Develop clear and regular communication processes.
  • Ensure faculty are cross-educated about the culture, norms, and values of each other’s discipline.
  • Deal with barriers and conflicts right away as they come up.

Community Engagement

Developing programs needed by industry and providing a range of supports and services are essential to building strong programs. There are a number of partners to actively include when planning and implementing your program. Most are the same partners you work with when developing any workforce education program. Below are examples of partners you will want to include, but there may be others to consider.

  • Work with employers and labor representatives to ensure the program you are developing meets their needs and the students will earn the knowledge, skills, and abilities to get them hired.
  • Include the local workforce investment board, one-stop career centers, and economic development council in planning. They can provide you with information about occupational demand so you don’t prepare more students than the labor market can absorb. Also, they often have access to resources to help support students through their program.
  • Partner with cultural and social service organizations. Their clients are often your students. They often have access to specific resources for students. They also may have case management capability that will be helpful to your students.

Education and Career Pathways

I-BEST is built on an education and career pathway model. You should think of both paths when developing a program.

The education pathway begins with adult basic education / English as a second language (ABE/ESL) and continues to the highest education level in the occupation area. The education pathway is linked to the career pathway for the occupation.

The career pathway is made up of the positions and wages available for each step along the way. If students are not able to realistically get to the next educational or career step, it is not a pathway.

Education Pathway

Consider how to make each step of the path additive to the next step of the path. Design the education pathway so students do not have to take anything over again. Include college-level credits at each step of the pathway to build toward a certificate and degree. Each step of the education pathway should prepare students to readily engage in the next step of the path.

Career Pathway

Work with employers to make sure each step along the way is achievable based on the instruction you are providing. Create a diagram that displays both the education and career pathways, so students and employers can clearly see them.

Possible Career Pathways

Labor Market Demand

When identifying evidence of local and regional labor market demand in an industry, colleges can consider a variety of resources including traditional labor market, industry, trade association, and other transactional data. It is important that programs provide students with skills that are in demand in the labor force. Colleges are expected to provide evidence of the gap between the number of program graduates/completers versus the number of job openings locally and regionally. You can find this number by taking the number of projected openings and subtracting the number of program graduates from all programs offered in a particular region (also include the number of projected students to be served by the program).

Student Success

Strategies that are effective with traditionally underserved and academically challenged populations are covered on the Tools for Supporting Students page.


Strategies to promote transition into and success within the next step of the pathway are essential to the goal of helping students get credentials and degrees faster. Career and educational goals should be set at the beginning of the program and plans developed with the students so they know what steps to take along the pathway.

Establish a team that includes members from workforce education, adult basic education, student services (including registration, financial aid, advising, etc.), and college administration. Successful teams should hold regular meetings to look at the pathways from adult basic education to college-level programs to ensure the pathways are fully developed and to continuously improve student support systems. Any barriers to transition should be looked at carefully. For example, if students need to take a college placement test to get into the next program level, preparation for the test should be included within the I-BEST program.

Centers of Excellence

Centers of Excellence are flagship institutions that build and sustain Washington’s competitive advantage through statewide leadership. Each Center focuses on a targeted industry that drives the state’s economy and is built upon a reputation for fast, flexible, quality education and training programs. A targeted industry is identified as one that is strategic to the economic growth of a region or state. A targeted industry is identified as one strategic to the economic growth of a region or state. Links to specific I-BEST programs and their related sectors are available on the Centers of Excellence Web page. The Centers of Excellence have also posted I-BEST program summaries, curriculum, and associated resources.


There are several useful data elements to track for an I-BEST program. The following is a sample list, but you may think of other items that you would like to track in addition to these:

  • Student characteristics including gender, age, race, parental status, TANF participation, full or part time, etc.
  • Completions include all students who earned workforce certificates (credentials) as well as others who attained (non-credential) skills levels recognized by the institution as a completion point. An exit point is a stopping out point for training directly tied to employment.
  • College-level credits
  • total credits attempted.
  • total credits earned.
  • total college-level credits attempted.
  • total college-level credits earned.
  • Adult basic education levels and skills gains.
  • Numbers who earned a high school diploma or a GED.
  • I-BEST student grade point averages.

You may also want to consider comparison groups to look at to mark the I-BEST students’ progress against. For example, you may want to look at things like the percentages of I-BEST students as compared to traditional adult basic education students and how well each group increased their reading, listening, and math skills as the results of the two types of instruction. You may also want to compare against students taking the traditional version of the vocational program. Things to look at include how each group does in terms of grades, certificates earned, and progress to the next program level.

Page Manager: stoscano@sbctc.edu
Page Reviewed/Updated: April 04, 2014, 9:33 AM

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