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The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy ? Results
Dr. Peggy G. Carr Hello, and welcome to today?s StatChat on the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy findings and two initial reports. I hope you have had time to examine the results. NAAL provides the first indication of the nation?s progress in adult literacy since 1992. I am interested in hearing what you want to talk about, so let?s get right to your questions?
Bob Wexler from Columbia, SC asked:
Bottom line with no qualifiers, did literacy improve or decline in the 10 year testing period. If not, then someone needs to rethink about new ways of approaching the literacy problem, like quit spending so much money on dozens of different organizations doing the same thing. It is time the "good old boy" network be dissolved. You need to get away from the people at NAEP DC and such that are double dipping and have more than 30 years in the field. They are doing something wrong when major national organizations are scheduling annual conferences and regional conferences at the same time like what happened in November in Denver, Pittsburgh and Charleston SC. No coordination and dozens of organizations wanting a piece of the pie.

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
Bob-- The bottom line is that quantitative literacy improved, but prose and document literary remained stable. However, there were declines among some student groups of the population.

Ted from Round lake, IL asked:
Will there be available, a dvd, of the NAAL Webcast as my computer kept cutting out?

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
The transcript and webcast will be available as an archived item around 3 PM today:

M Cecil Smith from DeKalb, IL asked:
I'm curious about when the NAAL data set will be released so that literacy researchers can conduct secondary analyses of the data? Has a release date been determined?

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
Cecil, a public use data set that includes demographic variables, many employment variables, and some literacy practice variables is already available on the NAAL website. Before we release variables, we need to make sure that there are no risks of identifying any individual participants in the study. So, expect an update to the current public release file soon.

Terry from Orlando FL asked:
Were any of the assessments done at adult education centers or at public schools where the adults had children attending?

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
No, assessments were conducted in households and prisons.

Matthew from Phoenix, AZ asked:
Was curious...have any states received inquiries from local reporters regarding the release of the NAALs findings? If so, what kinds of questions have been asked? Thanks.

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
Participating states are releasing their results today in their jurisdictions. You should contact each state to get the answer to your question (MD, NY, KY, MO, MA).

Don from Harting asked:
When will the health literacy statistics be released? And how do we find out the results for Maryland and New York?

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
Don, The health literacy results will be reported in the next NAAL report, which is scheduled to be released this spring. The results for Maryland and New York are already available on the website.

Michelle from Columbus, Ohio asked:
I couldn't seem to find numbers in each of the age categories of the data. How many 16-18 year olds, for example, were interviewed? This year, you surveyed 19,000 from six states, yes? In 1992, how many did you survey and were they from 11 states? how many in ohio specifically? Is there any explaination why quantitative literacy has increased while prose has remained unchanged? What was your most alarming finding? The best? What are your plans for improvement? Do you have any target numbers?

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
Michelle, Both the 1992 survey and the 2003 assessment are based on a representative sample of the United States. In the sample, every state has a probability of being selected. In addition to the national sample, 11 states also purchased individual state samples in 1992, and six states purchased individual state samples in 2003. In terms of explaining changes in literacy, a data set containing a wealth of variables was released on the website ( today--the perfect opportunity for secondary analysis of the data. As for plans for improvement, you should turn to the numerous officials in the program community (within and outside the U.S. Department of Education) to get your answer.

John from Washington, D.C. asked:
I was struck by the extent of change in performance on all three types of literacy by gender between 1992 to 2003. This would seem to reflect a significant national trend -- declining average proficiency levels for men and increasing levels for women. Or am I making more of this than these numbers really indicate?

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
Yes, in our view the decline in the performance of men in both prose and document literacy is consistent with other patterns we have seen in national survey data. In future NAAL reports, we will examine background variables (e.g. reading habits) of men and women, which may shed some light on the issue.

Michelle from Columbus, Ohio asked:
It seems that the numbers in the lower educational functioning levels are increasing while the numbers in the higher educational levels are decreasing in all categories. Would this mean that the illiteracy problem in our country is actually increasing, rather than not changing as the press release said?

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
Michelle, What you are pointing out is one of the most confusing things, and needs results. With so many scores decreasing among adults at every level of education, why isn't average literacy decreasing? The answer is that even though scores are decreasing at many levels of education, we have more adults with high levels of education, and adults with high levels of education out perform adults with low levels of education. So, these two things--declining performance at most levels of education and more adults with higher levels of education--cancel each other out.

Ron from Jefferson City, Missouri asked:
Peggy, At the press conference this morning Mark presented a chart entitled "Who is Below Basic in Prose Literacy" (slide 11). One of the columns had information about the "Risk Ratio". Could you please explain what the "Risk Ratio" is? Thanks!

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
Ron, The risk ratio was computed by dividing the percentage of a group in the Below Basic level (the first column on the slide) by the percentage of that group represented in the population (the second column on the slide). For example, 55 percent of adults in level one, did not graduate from high school (the first column) while 15 percent of all adults did not graduate from high school (in the second column). We divided 55 percent by 15 percent to get a risk ratio of 3.7. This risk ratio can be interpreted as showing that adults who did not graduate from high school were 3.7 times more likely to be placed in the Below Basic level than you'd predict from their prevalence in the general population.

Don from Jefferson City, Missouri asked:
In this mornings webcast a reference was made to occupations and literacy levels. Will we have literacy level data by occupation and if so when will that be available?

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
Yes, an analysis of literacy level by occupation will be presented in the next NAAL report released by NCES in spring 2006.

Olga Ebert from Knoxville, TN asked:
Dr. Carr - Do you know where there will be RFP's coming out for additional analyses of NAAL data that non-profit agencies and universities could apply for?

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
NCES funds grants to do secondary analyses of NCES data through an American Education Research Association (AERA) program. Check the NCES website for more information:

Bill from Hermitage, MO asked:
Do you have the information on how to contact my individual state for their statistics?

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
Bill, The results for MO are available at the following website:

Andrew from Olney MD asked:
When will the next adult literacy survey be conducted? And will more than six states be included? thanks.

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
Andrew-- Our current plan is to conduct literacy surveys every decade, with the next full survey planned for 2013. In our current survey, the entire nation was represented, not just the six states you mention. In the 2003 survey, each of the six states paid extra to obtain their estimates. The funding for state estimates in the next survey has not yet been decided. We do plan another, smaller survey in 2008. In this study we plan to measure one of the three literacy scales, along with developing new measures of computer literacy, vocabulary, and functional writing.

Bill Arnold from Hermitage, Missouri asked:
I work with people in a very rural area and there is not a whole lot of emphasis on anything but survival. I know that being more "literate" would greatly increase the lives of these people. My question is: Cutting through the "prose", "quantitative" and other fancy words, is the US better able to handle the changes in technology and just basic life skills such as applying for a job or handling their bank account?

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
Applying for a job and handling bank accounts are types of document literacy. There has been no underlying significant change in adults' document literacy overall during the past 11 years. However, for some groups, like Whites or Blacks, document literacy has improved significantly.

Andrew from Olney MD asked:
Will there be state profiles available on the NAAL website for those states you listed in your answer to Matthew from Phoenix AZ? thanks.

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
Andrew, Only six states purchased additional state samples to allow for state-specific results. They are MA, MD, MO, KY, NY, OK. Currently, results for 5 of those 6 states are available on the following website:

Richard Moore from Huntington Beach asked:
Did you look at the role school libraries play in literacy and the fact that California's low level of staffing school libraries has led to the worst reading scores in the nation?

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
Sorry, NAAL did not collect such information on school libraries. But, we did collect information on public libraries. Consult the public use data set on the website ( to explore the answer to your question. But, remember there are no state-level data for California.

Pat Huston from Columbus, Ohio asked:
Was the population "pull" from all states? If not, which states had no residents who were part of the survey?

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
NAAL drew a nationally representative sample in which adults in all 50 states and in the District of Columbia had some probability of being sampled.

Mariann from Chicago, IL asked:
I see that calculators were allowed in 2003 but not 1992. Do you think that accounts for the rise in quantitative literacy? What other differences in the assessment or administration were there between 1992 and 2003?

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
Mariann, That's correct--we did let adults use calculators in 2003 if they wanted to. That's because we wanted to assess the literacy skills adults need in everyday life and many adults now use calculators in their everyday life. Calculators are so common that not allowing adults to use them would not give us a good picture of what adults could do. In 1992, NAAL participants were allowed to use calculators for some of the questions but not most of them. We plan to examine the quantitative results to see what difference calculator use made. However, these results are consistent with what we have seen in other national studies. There was one other difference in administration. In 2003, we had an option of asking some of the easy questions in English or Spanish instead of in English only. Everything people were given to read was in English only. The result is a more representative national sample in 2003.

Don from Harting asked:
The NAAL shows advances in literacy rates among African-Americans for prose, documents and quantitative. The increases are in the range of 6 to 8 points (approx.) At first blush this looks wonderful. But is that 6 or 8 out of 100 or 500 points, And if it's 6 or 8 out of 500, is that really much of a gain, percentage wise, and over such a long period (10 years)?

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
I have time to answer only a few more questions. Don, good question. We know that the gains are not random, and that the gains have translated into notable improvements as measured by the literacy standards. For exmpale, 30% of African-Americans were Below Basic in prose literacy in 1992, and this dropped to 24% in 2003. In quantitative literacy, the percentage Below Basic dropped from 57% to 47% for African-Americans. But you are right to reference the 10-year priod. One way to think about that is how much the African-American increase was in comparison to that of other racical/ethnic groups over the same time period--it was much larger.

Donna from Silver Spring, MD asked:
Hi - these are initial reports, right? What else will be coming out and when? Thanks.

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
Yes, these are initial reports. There will be two comprehensive reports covering additional background variables and estimates for basic reading skills. Basic reading skills will include decoding of unfamiliar words, recognizing familiar words, and oral reading fluency. Also, we will have a prison report and a technical report, among others.

Todd from Syracuse, NY asked:
Since the survey will be done every decade, has there been any discussion about tracking the change in literacy levels for a specific cohort through 3-4 decades?

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
The next survey will be done in 2013. Thus, it is possible to discuss the trend in literacy levels, for example, for a specific age cohort through three decades. For the current survey, we have data for 1992 and 2003; therefore, our discussion is limited to the change over two time periods.

Donna from Silver Spring, MD asked:
Of the people who are at the Below Basic Prose Literacy level, 39% were Hispanic. I'm not clear (sorry quick read!) - Do we know how many of those people spoke Spanish only? Or were the Spanish-only speakers included in the 'non-literate in English' category ...

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
Donna, that's correct. Of the people with Below Basic prose literacy, 39% were Hispanic. We plan to do more analyses of this group in future reports.

derek from new york, ny asked:
Do you have any thoughts on the declining English literacy rates among Hispanics? Is that simply a result of increased immigration?

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
You are correct in that today's population of Hispanic adults is less exposed to the English language than the 1992 Hispanic population--rather than being the "same" population with declining literacy. For example, among Hispanics there has been a change in the amount of exposure to English.

John from Washington, DC asked:
Are there results that you feel are particulary significant in the context of a national "No Child Left Behind" commitment? Immigration of adults has highly impacted the results for Hispanics. How about the trend with Blacks -- looks like meaningful progress, yet a long way to go. Any comment?

Dr. Peggy G. Carr 's response:
The performance of the 65 + age group improved substantially, along with the increased amount of schooling of this age group compared to their predecessors in 1992. If the improvement in the quality of schooling due to the No Child Left Behind Act has an impact on the youngest age group as large as the impact of the increase in the quantity of schooling for older adults, we expect to see improvements in the youngest age group in our next full-scale adult literacy survey in 2013-14. The trends for Blacks are better than those for the other racial/ethnic groups, and younger Blacks are doing particularly well compared to the same group 11 years ago. This is good news, and as the younger generations replace the older, less educated generation, we can expect further improvement.

Dr. Peggy G. Carr :
Thank you for all the excellent questions. Unfortunately, I could not get to all of them, but feel free to contact NAAL staff or myself for more information. I hope that you found this session helpful and the reports interesting. Please explore all of the available information on the NAAL website.

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