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For the second time in three years, Missourians enrolled in adult education classes performed among the best in the country.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced Monday that the state ranked No. 1 in academic gains among adult education students from July 2016-June 2017. This marks the second time in three years the state's adult education students ranked No. 1 in terms of academic gains, according to DESE.

Throughout the state, 28 adult education programs offer classes to adults outside of traditional high schools. Of the about 18,000 students in the program, 11,000 take classes in basic adult education classes, 1,300 take classes in adult secondary education classes and 6,000 take English as a second language classes. Students can take classes online or at one of about 250 class sites statewide.

The U.S. Department of Education gives the department approximately $9 million and the state gives $5 million to fund the program. Elaine Bryan, director of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's Office of Adult Education, said some states disburse money to programs based only on how much time students spend in classrooms.

Missouri programs get 90 percent of their funding automatically. The state withholds the last 10 percent of funding and disburses it based on performance.

"I think it's what makes Missouri unique," Bryan said. "Even though it's only 10 percent, it's amazing what that 10 percent does."

Bryan said the state rewards programs that have an interactive curriculum that place a high emphasis on student achievement.

Adult education classes in Missouri prepare students to take the HiSET high school equivalency test. Most students enrolled in adult education classes throughout the state are 19-44 years old, according to data provided by DESE. Some can be as old as 88, Bryan said.

Throughout the state, efforts are being made to reach out to residents without high school educations. The department notes on its website that, in 2000, 22 percent of Missourians older than 16 did not have a high school diploma or equivalent degree.

Jefferson City Public Schools offers adult education classes at varying times of the day. In January, MERS Goodwill announced plans to open four Goodwill Excel Centers in Missouri. Located in St. Louis, Polar Bluff, Columbia and Springfield, the schools will offer people older than 21 the chance to earn high school diplomas free of charge.

The adult high school Excel Centers provide a curriculum and diploma identical to those of traditional high schools. State Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, said at the time that Excel Centers were an important asset for the state.

The department also announced in 2016 that the state's adult education students performed the best from July 2014-June 2015.

"We're really proud," Bryan said. "Being No. 1 means we're doing great things for our students."

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