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U.S. Adults Make Few Gains in Reading Skills Since 1992

I’m Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Education Report.

About one in twenty adults in the United States cannot read English. A new federal study shows that adults made little progress in their reading skills between nineteen ninety-two and two thousand three.

The National Assessment of Adult Literacy is the most important test of how well adult Americans can read. Researchers tested nineteen thousand people over the age of sixteen. The study represents an adult population of two hundred twenty-two million.

Those who took part were tested on how well they could read and understand information used in everyday life.

The study found that eleven million adults, or five percent, cannot read English. They could not answer even the easiest written questions. Four million of them most likely cannot speak English either.

The study shows that more than forty percent of adults can perform only simple reading activities. For many, even that can be difficult.

Fifty-six percent of adults can perform moderate or complex activities. Moderate can mean finding information in a book. Of that number, thirteen percent can perform complex tasks like comparing two different newspaper commentaries.

Researchers say part of the problem is that many young Americans do not read as much for pleasure anymore. Also, there are greater numbers of non-English speaking immigrants.

Reading skills can directly affect the ability to earn a living. The best readers were found to earn up to twenty-eight thousand dollars a year more than those who lacked simple reading skills.

Yet, compared to the last study in nineteen ninety-two, adult reading skills were about the same or lower across every level of education. This was true even among people who have completed college.

By race and ethnic group, blacks and Asians had the biggest increases in English reading skills. But levels decreased among Hispanics. Experts say, however, that while many Hispanics are unable to read in English, they may read well in Spanish.

Overall, American adults improved the most in answering questions that involved numbers. Even so, the test found that the average adult cannot do much more than perform simple, everyday math.

The Department of Education says the literacy findings show the need for reforms especially at the high school level.

This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Brianna Blake. And it can be found on the Web at I’m Steve Ember.