National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL)
11 MILLION ADULTS ILLITERATE, STUDY SHOWS
Dec 15, 6:10 PM (ET)
By BEN FELLER
WASHINGTON (AP) - An estimated in one in 20 U.S. adults is not literate
in English, which means 11 million people lack the skills to perform
everyday tasks, a federal study shows.
From 1992 to 2003, the nation's adults made no progress in their ability
to read a newspaper, a book or any other prose arranged in sentences and
paragraphs. They also showed no improvement in comprehending documents
such as bus schedules and prescription labels.
The adult population did make gains in handling quantitative tasks, such
as calculating numbers found on tax forms or bank statements. But even
in that area of literacy, the typical adult showed only basic skills,
enough to perform simple daily activities.
Perhaps most sobering: Adult literacy dropped or was flat across every
level of education, from people with graduate degrees to those who
dropped out of high school.
Inside the numbers, black adults made gains on each type of task tested
in the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, run by the Education
Department. Hispanics, though, showed sharp declines in their ability to
handle prose and documents. White adults made no significant changes
except when it came to computing numbers, where they got better.
The results are based on a sample of more than 19,000 adults, age 16 or
older, in homes, college housing or prisons. It is representative of a
population of 222 million adults.
The 11 million adults who are not literate in English include people who
may be fluent in another language, such as Spanish, but are unable to
comprehend text in English.
On The Net: National Assessment of Adult Literacy:
U.S. Adult Literacy
Rate Reported Unchanged
Adult literacy has remained virtually
unchanged since 1992, with 30 million people struggling with basic reading
tasks, a federal study said.
Adults made some progress in quantitative literacy, such as the ability to
calculate taxes, but the study showed that from 1992 to 2003 adults made no
improvements in their ability to read newspapers or books, or comprehend
The prose and documents literacy scores for blacks increased, but similar
scores for Hispanics dropped as much as 18 percent. Prose and document
scores for whites remained the same. The National Center for Education
Statistics study was based on a sample of more than 19,000 adults 16 or
"The real concern is the group between 16 and 35 who are in the job market
but don't have the basic skills to be retrained to keep up with the global
economy," said Susan McLean, executive director of Literacy Partners, a New
York City-based nonprofit organization.