Washington Literacy Center

Logic models make for increased clarity and accountability at Washington Literacy Center. If you’ve traveled to a country where people speak another language, you may have some insight into the pain of illiteracy. When you can’t read road signs, shop for groceries, or navigate public transportation, it can be a challenge to accomplish simple, everyday tasks. To face this obstacle in your own country is even more debilitating. Self-doubt and fear grow so large that they crowd out your other abilities and feelings.

One DC organization is helping DC residents overcome the roadblock of illiteracy. For more than 50 years, the Washington Literacy Center (WLC) has been teaching adults to read so they can more successfully work, raise families, and function in our society. For decades the staff has seen and heard firsthand stories of transformation that result from learning to read.

At the same time, the staff struggled to provide hard-core data to illustrate what they were accomplishing with their clients. Under the leadership of Executive Director Terry Algire, WLC went through some changes, including its name and curriculum, and heartwarming stories were no longer good enough to prove the organization’s value.  Algire wanted data and quantifiable gains.

With a mini-grant from the MARPAT Foundation, WLC hired Onward to work with staff to

• Clarify its audience, approach, and activities
• Align this with outputs and outcomes using a logic model
• Draft an accountability/learning framework that identified demographic data and performance indicators.

“WLC is an organization that is driven. They want to learn and improve for their clients,” said Onward’s Maureen Holla. “The logic model we developed together brought clarity for the team at WLC–clarity that could be communicated easily to staff, clients, and supporters. The logic model launched a system-wide effort toward greater accountability and identified the right indicators to track.”

To better understand the environment that WLC was operating in, Onward needed to dig in and do more than meet with staff and review historic documents. “Creating the logic model was a real challenge and Maureen was phenomenal,” Algire explained. “She sat down with us and sat in on classes until she understood adult literacy.” After seeing the program in action, Onward was able to help the organization ask and answer some critical questions including:

• Who is our target audience?
• What data points show impact with our target audience?
• What tools and metrics can we use to collect the data?
• How will we learn from the data collected?

Algire could use WLC’s new accountability framework at the end of the year to examine student data and see what was working and where to make strategic programmatic changes.

After the first year, Algire was able to document real gains in the educational functional level of its students. Some students advanced more than one or even two levels. Before, WLC had not been able to document specific improvements by its students.
WLC’s transformation was meaningful to students as well as to staff. “For our students, the amazing thing was their response,” Algire said. “Students who had been in our program before we transitioned to this [new instructional model] were most vocal, saying, ‘it finally works, it finally makes sense, I really feel like I’m learning.’”
“We cannot thank Onward enough,” Algire said. “Working with them has made such a difference. The logic model keeps everyone focused and keeps mission creep from happening. You constantly go back to your framework to make sure you’re staying on task, which makes a huge impact on how you use resources and how effectively you’re able to help the people that you’re serving.”

You can learn more about the important work at the Washington Literacy Center (WLC) at: http://washingtonliteracycenter.org and if you donate via United Way, please consider a donation to the WLC –designation number 8427.