[AAACE-NLA] What literacy problem? reply
Peter.MacMonagle at cpcc.edu
Tue Apr 10 11:57:35 EDT 2007
To the Group,
If it is true that there is a direct correlation between participation in civic life and literacy levels, then you have your answer as to why the administration and congress are not inclined to fund literacy program at the level we need to to have an impact.
It is not just current obvious efforts at voter suppression that are in play here. The poor and usually disenfranchised (and minorities on the voter roles in Florida for instance) have a greater tendency to vote for Democrats when they do get to vote. Keeping literacy levels low in lower SES groups keeps these people too busy scrambling to stay alive and indoors to think about who is running their government.
I think the real issue here is the effort to keep only the middle class and higher voting as they are percieved as having a financial stake in how the government runs and supports programs that benefit them. Those with no property and in low wage jobs are perceived as not being stakeholders and hence are discounted and kept off the voter registration lists. We have an historical penchant for poll taxes, proof of literacy, etc. especially in the South where racial issues still lie very close to the surface in the discourse of politics.
Wm. Peter MacMonagle, M.Ed.
Central Piedmont Community College
Community Development/Workplace Basic Skills
West Campus 2219
Teach People; not things.
From: aaace-nla-bounces at lists.literacytent.org on behalf of tsticht at znet.com
Sent: Mon 4/9/2007 7:25 PM
To: aaace-nla at lists.literacytent.org
Subject: [AAACE-NLA] What literacy problem?
April 9, 2007
Who Believes America has an Adult Literacy Problem?
International Consultant in Adult Education
"The NAAL, the first assessment of adult English reading and writing ability
in the U.S. since 1992, estimated that 30 million people over age 16 are
barely able to read and write."
Robert Wedgeworth, president and CEO of ProLiteracy Worldwide
This statement by the head of the largest organization of adult basic
education and literacy in the world occurs in the midst of a longer message
calling for increased funding for the Adult Education and Literacy System
(AELS) of the U. S. so it can serve more than the 3 million or so adults
that it presently serves. Yet in the past, when similar pleas have been
made for increases in adult literacy funding, in the wake of surveys
showing 30 to 40 million adults with low literacy skills, the President and
the Congress have responded with either no or very little increases in adult
literacy education resources.
Why is this so? Is it possible that neither government officials or any one
else for that matter, actually believes what the National Assessment of
Adult Literacy (NAAL) or its predecessor, the National Adult Literacy
Survey (NALS) reports about the literacy skills of America's adults?
The latest report on adult literacy in the United States, entitled Literacy
in Everyday Life (LEL) (Kutner et. al, 2007), once again reports the
litany of social problems that have been shown to be correlated with low
cognitive skills, including low literacy, for almost a century. Adults with
lower literacy skills tend to be in the lower socioeconomic classes, to be
in minority ethnic groups, to not be native English language speakers, they
are more likely to be unemployed or to hold low wage jobs, are less likely
to vote or participate in other civic and community activities, are less
likely to read to their children a lot, and more likely to be on welfare or
other forms of public assistance (see Sticht & Armstrong, 1994 for an
historical review of adult literacy assessments from 1917 to the present).
The LEL report presents data from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult
Literacy (NAAL) which measured literacy using three literacy scales: Prose,
Document, and Quantitative and reported results in four major categories of
skills: Below Basic (the lowest level), Basic, Intermediate and Proficient.
Another category, those non-proficient in English or Spanish could not take
the test, and made up about 2 percent (4 million) adults. Some 14 percent
of adults were in the Below Basic category for Prose literacy and 12
percent for the Document literacy scale. The Quantitative scale had about
22 percent in the Below Basic category.
But does being in the lowest level of literacy, the Below Basic level,
indicate that these adults can "barely read and write?" According to the
LEL report, being placed in the Below Basic level "indicates no more than
the most simple and concrete literacy skills. ... Adults at the Below Basic
level range from being nonliterate in English to having the abilities
olocating easily identifiable information in short, commonplace prose texts
olocating easily identifiable information and following written instructions
simple documents (e.g., charts or forms) [Document scale]
olocating numbers and using them to perform simple quantitative operations
(primarily addition) when the mathematical information is very concrete and
familiar." [Quantitative scale]
The foregoing indicate that adults in the Below Basic level of literacy may,
in fact, be able to read and write with some real degree of skill above the
ability to "barely read and write." One suggestion that adults in the
Below Basic literacy level have some degree of functional literacy was the
finding that only around a third (34-35 percent) of adults with Below Basic
Prose and Document skills thought their reading skills limited their job
opportunities "a lot." Another third (33-35 percent) thought that their
reading skills limited them "some" or "a little" and a final third (32-33
percent) of these adults reported that their reading skills limited their
job opportunities "not at all." So two-thirds of adults categorized as
possessing Below Basic literacy skills did not seem to perceive themselves
as very limited in their job opportunities due to their poor reading
Why don't these adults in the Below Basic category of Prose and Document
literacy, the lowest level, perceive themselves as limited in their job
opportunities? There is no information explicitly given in the LEL report
about this. However, there are some data in the report that may be relevant
to addressing this issue.
The LEL report states that the correlations among Prose, Document, and
Quantitative scales were between +.86 and +.89 out of a perfect correlation
of +1.00. This indicates that all three scales placed people in roughly the
same rank orders. This means that those who scored poorly on the Prose
scale were likely to be low on both the Document and Quantitative scales,
those in the middle range of the Prose scale would be in the middle of the
ranges of the Document and Quantitative scales, and those with the higher
Prose scores would also tend to have the higher Document and Quantitative
This suggests that in estimating people's literacy skills we should consider
the sum of the Prose, Document, and Quantitative skills for any given
person. Presumably all adults have some of each sort of literacy. But when
the skills are discussed, they are discussed as separate in terms of a
particular scale. But persons at the Below Basic level on Prose literacy
presumably also have Below Basic skills on both Document and Quantitative
scales, too. But without adding up skills across the three scales it is not
certain how to characterize these people in terms of what they can actually
do in the real world of literacy. They would seem to have some ability in
all three domains, but exactly how these add together to form an overall
estimate of what the Below Basic adults can do with their Prose, Document,
and Quantitative literacy combined is not clear.
It may be that the combined literacy skills across the three NAAL scales
render people more capable at getting, keeping, and progressing in a job
than a discussion of just one scale would suggest. In turn, this might
influence people's judgments about how little or how much their literacy
skills limit their job opportunities.
For policymakers in federal or state governments, low unemployment rates,
below 5 percent, may render the results of the NAAL and the claim that 30
million or so adults are functionally illiterate less than critical. In
this case, the policymakers seem to be of the same mind as the adults in
the Below Basic literacy level themselves. In both groups, adult literacy
may seem to be somewhat of a problem, but not one serious enough to require
a major increase in funds for adult literacy education.
Who believes America has an adult literacy problem? If most of the adults
with Below Basic literacy skills themselves do not think they have much of
a literacy problem, why should their governmental representatives or anyone
else think so?
in Everyday Life: Results From the 2003 National Assessment of Adult
Literacy (NCES 2007-480). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC:
National Center for Education Statistics.
Sticht, T. G. (2001). The International Adult Literacy Survey: How Well Does
It Represent the Literacy of Adults?. The Canadian Journal for the Study of
Adult Education, 15, 19-36.
Sticht, T. & Armstrong, W. (1994, February). Adult Literacy in the United
States: A Compendium of Quantitative Data and Interpretative Comments.
Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.
Wedgeworth, R. (2007, April). ProLiteracy Worldwide's President Reacts to
the NAAL Comprehensive Report. Downloaded April 9, 2007 at
Thomas G. Sticht
International Consultant in Adult Education
2062 Valley View Blvd.
El Cajon, CA 92019-2059
Tel/fax: (619) 444-9133
Email: tsticht at aznet.net
AAACE-NLA mailing list: AAACE-NLA at lists.literacytent.org
LiteracyTent: web hosting, news, community and goodies for literacy
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: not available
Size: 11057 bytes
Desc: not available
More information about the AAACE-NLA