More on adult literacy in the USA
RonButters at AOL.COM
RonButters at AOL.COM
Sat Apr 19 20:58:47 UTC 2008
Note the following, seemingly most reliable, statistics, which indicate that
22%--not 50%!--of Americans in 2003 were marginally illiterate ("possess no
more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills"). This appears to be
little different from the 1880s (see my previous posting) and may even be an
improvement, since total illiteracy and possessing "the most simple and concrete
literacy skills" are not be the same thing. Note also that Canada and Bermuda
both outperformed the US, despite using virtually the same spelling system,
while the US actually outperformed Italy (yet the spelling system of Italian is
arguably more phonetic than that of English). And, again, literacy is, by other
reports, quite high in Japan, even though the primary writing system of
Japanese is not a spelling system at all; ditto Chinese.
The logical conclusion would seem to be that spelling systems are at best of
minor importance with respect to literacy. At any rate, arguments asserting
the efficacy of a particular methodology based on supposedly changing literacy
rates in the USA are meretricious, not only because just what "illiteracy"
means is open to variation in interpretation (e.g., the CIA's surprising assertion
that only 1% of American adults are illiterate, meaning perhaps that 1% of
American adults cannot sign their own names bjut must make an X?), but also
because the data themselves point to no clear direction.
The following information comes from The Condition of Education, U.S.
Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2007) (NCES
2007ñ064)--summary at http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=69:
What are the literacy levels of adults, and how does the United States
compare to other countries?
National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL)
Adults age 16 or older were assessed in three types of literacy (prose,
document, and quantitative) in 1992 and 2003. Literacy is defined as "using printed
and written information to function in society, to achieve one's goals, and
to develop one's knowledge and potential." The average prose and document
literacy scores of U.S. adults were not measurably different in 2003 from 1992, but
the average quantitative literacy score increased 8 points between these
One measure of literacy is the percentage of adults who perform at four
achievement levels: Below Basic, Basic, Intermediate, and Proficient. In each type
of literacy, 13 percent of adults were at or above Proficient (indicating they
possess the skills necessary to perform complex and challenging literacy
activities) in 2003. Twenty-two percent of adults were Below Basic (indicating
they possess no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills) in
quantitative literacy, compared with 14 percent in prose literacy and 12 percent in
Differences in average literacy scores were apparent by sex and
race/ethnicity. Women scored higher than men on prose and document literacy in 2003, unlike
in 1992. Men outperformed women on quantitative literacy in both years. Male
scores declined in prose and document literacy from 1992 to 2003, while female
scores increased in document and quantitative literacy. In 1992 and 2003,
White and Asian/Pacific Islander adults had higher average scores than their
Black and Hispanic peers in the three types of literacy assessed. Black
performance increased in each type of literacy from 1992 to 2003, while Hispanic average
scores declined in prose and document literacy.
Additional differences in average literacy were apparent by education and
age. Educational attainment is positively related to all three types of literacy:
those with any education after high school outperformed their peers with less
education in 1992 and 2003. Between these years, average prose literacy
decreased for most levels of educational attainment, and average document literacy
decreased for those with some college, associate's degrees, and college
graduates. From 1992 to 2003, the average prose, document, and quantitative literacy
scores of adults ages 50-64 and 65 or older increased.
... U.S. adults outperformed adults in Italy in 2003, but were outperformed
by adults in Norway, Bermuda, Canada, and Switzerland. Adults in Bermuda,
Norway, and Canada had higher literacy scores than U.S. adults at both the high and
low ends of the score distribution.
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