National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL)
RESULTS AND TALKING
ASSESSMENT OF NEED
- The focus of the DOE
release is on the Below Basic category of literacy, which
reflects the literacy level of 30 million or 14 percent of the
- The needs of those
individuals at the basic level, encompassing 63 million adults, or 29
percent of the population, are essentially overlooked in DOE’s release.
- The Below Basic
level includes adults who are unable to read and understand any written
information in English to those having great difficult with reading.
They have few basic skills and are able to do no more than the simplest
and most concrete literacy skills such as signing a form or totaling a
bank deposit entry.
- Adults at the
basic level have limited skills. They can read, but not read well.
They can deal only with materials that is simple and clearly laid out –
material in which the tasks involved are not too complex, such as
underlining a sentence explaining action stated in a short article.
This population is still in need of services must be addressed in
funding decisions for adult education.
- Although it appears
the ability of adults to read and understand sentences and paragraphs or
to understand documents, such as job applications (has not changed in
the decade since the last survey), the adult education community is
serving a different population of participants. These are not the same
- Mean learning gains
increase threefold as students approach 120 or more hours of
instruction; therefore, it can take several years for many individuals
to achieve the goals they identified when entering the program,
including an ability to communicate in the English language, a high
school diploma or a GED. In the meantime, thousands of adults are
waiting in line to receive services.
- So while millions of
adults have achieved their goals over the past decade and have learned
to read, obtained their GED or high school diploma, obtained a job, or a
promotion, the number of adults in need of services has not changed.
Others have taken their place, particularly out of school youth and new
- Estimates of the
target population are based on a lower threshold of performance and may
give a false sense of progress. The Response Probability (RP) standard
of 67%. This is a moderate level of performance at which someone is
judged to be proficient or competent and contrasts with the RP standard
(high level of consistency) of 80% used for the 1993 NALS. In order for
comparisons to be made between the 1993 and 2003 literacy findings, AIR/NCES
has reconfigured the 1993 data to an RP 67% standard. This lowering of
the bar for literacy reduces the number of individuals in the two lowest
levels of literacy.
- We cannot afford to
leave any adults behind. We need each and every individual to work to
their full potential. We cannot lose workers because of their lack of
skills or because of technological advances in their chosen field which
require additional education.
- Individuals with
lower literacy levels are disproportionately represented in the
unemployed. 51 percent of adults at the Below Basic prose
literacy level were not in the labor force in 2003; while 35 percent
were employed full time. 38 percent of adults with basic prose
literacy were not in the labor force and 6 percent were unemployed.
- In 2003, average
prose and document literacy was highest among adults employed full time
or part time, indicating a correlation between education and employment.
- Businesses need a
well-trained workforce; our economy depends on a skilled, educated
workforce. We cannot afford to send jobs overseas because of deficits
in essential workplace skills.
HELPING NEW IMMIGRANTS
AND INDIVIDUALS LACKING ENGLISH LANGUAGE SKILLS
- The language of
America’s adults changed between 1992 and 2003. The percentage of
adults who spoke English before starting school decreased while the
percentage who spoke Spanish or Spanish and another non-English language
before starting school increased. (Fewer adults who spoke English only
or English and a non-Spanish language before starting school had
Below Basic prose document and quantitative literacy in 2003 than
- More than 40 percent
of new entrants into adult education are seeking English as a Second
Language services. Some of these individuals are fluent in their native
language; others are not, so they come to the program with varying
- New immigrants
strive to assimilate and succeed in the United States. They come to
this country seeking opportunity.
- Lack of access to
adult education and English-language instruction can limit their ability
to succeed. The field stands ready to meet their needs but a lack of
funds limits opportunities for all those seeking services to be
represented 12 percent of the NAAL population but 39 percent of the
adults with Below Basic prose literacy.
- The percentage of
Hispanics with Below Basic prose literacy increased 9 points
between 1992 and 2003; the percentage with Below Basic document
literacy increased 8 percentage points. Hispanics with Below Basic
quantitative literacy was 50 percent in both 1992 and 2003.
- Scores for adults
who spoke Spanish or Spanish and another non-English language before
starting school dropped 17 points from 1992-2003 for prose and document
literacy but did not change significantly for quantitative literacy.
- Adult education has
the ability to provide GED students with the same skills as those who
complete high school. For many individuals without a high school
diploma, adult education is the best alternative to achieve the skills
they need to obtain a job or further their education.
- The educational
attainment of America’s adults increased between 1992 and 2003, with the
percentage of adults with less than a high school degree or GED/Equivalency
decreasing by six percentage points.
- Prose literacy
decreased for all levels of educational attainment between 1992-2003
with the exception of adults who were still in high school or completed
- Literacy was lowest
across all three scales for adults who did not complete high school.
These adults made up the largest group with Below Basic prose, document
and quantitative literacy. For example, over 60 percent of adults
without a high school diploma had Below Basic quantitative literacy.
- Average prose,
document and quantitative literacy for adults who completed a GED was
not significantly different from that of adults who stopped their
education after graduating high school.
PERFORMANCE BY AGE
- While the average
literacy of adults age 65 and older increased between 1992 and 2003,
adults in this age group had the lowest average literacy in 2003 and
accounted for the largest percentage of adults with Below Basic
prose, document and quantitative literacy (23 percent Below Basic in
prose; 27 percent in document, and 34 percent quantitative).
- Average literacy for
adults in the 16-18 and 19-24 age groups was not significantly different
between 1992 and 2003 across the literacy scales.
SNAPSHOT OF BELOW
- Adults without a
high school diploma or GED represent 15 percent of the total NAAL
population but 55 percent of the adults in the lowest prose literacy
- Fifty-two percent of
adults in the total NAAL population completed at least some education
beyond high school, compared to 14 percent of adults with Below Basic
- 14 percent of
American adults had Below Basic prose literacy in 2003.
- Hispanics, who
represented 12 percent of the NAAL population, accounted for 39 percent
of adults with Below Basic prose literacy;
- 20 percent of adults
with Below Basic were Black.
- Adults age 65 and
older represented 15 percent of the NAAL population, but 26 percent of
adults in the lowest prose literacy level.
- While 35 percent of
adults with Below Basic prose literacy spoke Spanish or Spanish
and another non-English language before starting school, these
individuals account for 8 percent of the population.
- Forty-six percent of
adults with Below Basic prose literacy had one or more
disabilities compared to 30 percent of adults in the NAAL population.
The percentage of adults with multiple disabilities in the Below
Basic prose level was significantly higher than the percentage of
adults with multiple disabilities in the NAAL population (9 percent)
Contact us: Dr. Lennox
McLendon, Executive Director; 444 North Capitol Street, NW; Suite 422;
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: 202-624-5250; Fax: 202-624-1497; Email: