(NCES 98-053) Ordering information
Because of these high stakes, governments have a growing interest in understanding the level and distribution of literacy within their adult populations, and in learning what can be done to improve literacy. Accordingly, in recent years, many governments have tried for the first time to measure adult literacy directly. Pioneering studies (Kirsch and Jungeblut 1986; Kirsch and Mosenthal 1990; Statistics Canada 1991; Kirsch, Jungeblut, and Campbell 1992; Kirsch, Jungeblut, Jenkins, and Kolstad 1993) published in North America in the early 1990s revealed that significant percentages of adults lacked the literacy skills they were likely to need in everyday life. In 1992, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) concluded that low literacy levels were a serious threat to economic performance and social cohesion (OECD 1992). Yet a lack of comparable international data prevented a broader inquiry into literacy problems and consequent policy lessons across industrialized countries.
The International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) was undertaken by nine governments and three intergovernmental organizations in a collaborative effort to fill this need for information. In this survey, large samples of adults (ranging from 1,500 to 8,000 per country) in Europe and North America were given the same broad test of their literacy skills during the autumn of 1994. The results provide the most detailed portrait ever created on the condition of adult literacy and its relationship with an array of background and demographic characteristics. The studys findings were summarized in a report published in December 1995, entitled Literacy, Economy and Society: Results of the first International Adult Literacy Survey.
For more information about the content of this report, contact Marilyn Binkley at Marilyn.Binkley@ed.gov.