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Title:  A First Look at the Literacy of America’s Adults in the 21st Century
Description: The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) measures the English literacy of America's adults (people age 16 and older living in households and prisons). NAAL builds on the previous national assessment of literacy completed in 1992. The 2003 assessment defines literacy as “using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” Results are reported in terms of scale score averages and literacy levels on three literacy scales: prose, document, and quantitative. The literacy levels were described as below basic, basic, intermediate, and proficient. Each level corresponded to a specific range of scale scores and was described in terms of the abilities associated with each level and the types of tasks that adults could complete at that level. An additional component comprising 5 percent of the adult population was the non-literate in English. The non-literate in English included the 2 percent who could not be tested because they could not communicate in English or Spanish, and the 3 percent who took an alternative assessment because they were unable to complete a minimum number of simple literacy screening questions. Results showed that the average quantitative literacy scores of adults increased 8 points between 1992 and 2003, though average prose and document literacy did not differ significantly from 1992. Among Blacks, average prose literacy scores increased by 6 points and average document literacy scores rose by 8 points between 1992 and 2003 (figure 1). The average prose scores of Asians/Pacific Islanders increased as well, rising 16 points between 1992 and 2003.The average prose literacy scores of Hispanics fell 18 points from 1992 to 2003, while average document literacy scores decreased by 14 points. Average prose and document literacy scores among Whites did not change significantly.
Online Availability:
Cover Date: December 2005
Web Release: December 15, 2005
Print Release: December 15, 2005
Publication #: NCES 2006470
General Ordering Information
Center/Program: NCES
Authors: Mark Kutner, Elizabeth Greenberg, and Justin Baer
Type of Product: Statistical Analysis Report
Survey/Program Areas: National Assessments of Adult Literacy (NAAL)
Questions: For questions about the content of this Statistical Analysis Report, please contact:
Sheida E. White.
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National Center for Education Statistics -
U.S. Department of Education