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National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL)

What is NAAL?

The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy is a nationally representative assessment of English literacy among American adults age 16 and older. Sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), NAAL is the nation's most comprehensive measure of adult literacy since the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS).

In 2003, over 19,000 adults participated in the national and state-level assessments, representing the entire population of U.S. adults who are age 16 and older, most in their homes and some in prisons from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Approximately 1,200 inmates of federal and state prisons were assessed in order to provide separate estimates of literacy for the incarcerated population.

By comparing results from 1992 and 2003, NAAL provides the first indicator in a decade of the nation's progress in adult literacy. NAAL also provides information on adults' literacy performance and related background characteristics to researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and the general public.

NAAL Components

NAAL includes a number of components that capture the breadth of adult literacy in the United States:

  • Background Questionnaire—helps identify the relationships between adult literacy and select demographic and background characteristics;
  • Prison Component—assesses the literacy skills of adults in federal and state prisons;
  • State Assessment of Adult Literacy (SAAL)—gives statewide estimates of literacy for states participating in the state-level assessment;
  • Health Literacy Component—introduces the first-ever national assessment of adults' ability to use their literacy skills in understanding health-related materials and forms;
  • Fluency Addition to NAAL (FAN)—measures basic reading skills by assessing adults' ability to decode, recognize words, and read with fluency; and
  • Adult Literacy Supplemental Assessment (ALSA)—provides information on the ability of the least-literate adults to identify letters and numbers and to comprehend simple prose and documents.

highlight icon of a check markNAAL News

June 2, 2010:
View 38 new sample items from the 2003 assessment that have been released.

View 38 new sample items from the 2003 assessment that have been released.

April 5, 2010:
View 38 new sample items from the 2003 assessment that have been released.



August 11, 2009:
Technical Report and Data File Userís Manual For the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy

Technical Report and Data File Userís Manual For the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy

May 6, 2009:
Newly released: "Basic Reading Skills and the Literacy of America's Least Literate Adults"

Newly released: "Basic Reading Skills and the Literacy of America's Least Literate Adults"

January 8, 2009:
NAAL releases the State and County Estimates of Low Literacy website.

NAAL releases the State and County Estimates of Low Literacy website.

January 8, 2009:
Newly released: "Indirect County and State Estimates of the Percentage of Adults at the Lowest Literacy Level for 1992 and 2003"

Newly released: "Indirect County and State Estimates of the Percentage of Adults at the Lowest Literacy Level for 1992 and 2003"

NAAL News Archive

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