Monday, February 9, 2009
Literacy Falls for Graduates From College, Testing Finds
By SAM DILLON Published: December 16, 2005 The average American college graduate's literacy in English declined significantly over the past decade, according to results of a nationwide test released yesterday. The National Assessment of Adult Literacy, given in 2003 by the Department of Education, is the nation's most important test of how well adult Americans can read. The test also found steep declines in the English literacy of Hispanics in the United States, and significant increases among blacks and Asians. When the test was last administered, in 1992, 40 percent of the nation's college graduates scored at the proficient level, meaning that they were able to read lengthy, complex English texts and draw complicated inferences. But on the 2003 test, only 31 percent of the graduates demonstrated those high-level skills. There were 26.4 million college graduates. The college graduates who in 2003 failed to demonstrate proficiency included 53 percent who scored at the intermediate level and 14 percent who scored at the basic level, meaning they could read and understand short, commonplace prose texts. Three percent of college graduates who took the test in 2003, representing some 800,000 Americans, demonstrated "below basic" literacy, meaning that they could not perform more than the simplest skills, like locating easily identifiable information in short prose. Grover J. Whitehurst, director of an institute within the Department of Education that helped to oversee the test, said he believed that the literacy of college graduates had dropped because a rising number of young Americans in recent years had spent their free time watching television and surfing the Internet. "We're seeing substantial declines in reading for pleasure, and it's showing up in our literacy levels," he said. Among blacks and Asians, English literacy increased from 1992 to 2003. About 29 percent of blacks scored at either the intermediate or proficient levels in 1992, but in 2003, those rose to 33 percent. The percentage of blacks demonstrating "below basic" literacy declined to 24 percent from 30 percent. Asians scoring at either the intermediate or proficient levels rose to 54 percent from 45 percent in 1992. The same period saw big declines in Hispanics' English reading skills. In 1992, 35 percent of Hispanics demonstrated "below basic" English literacy, but by 2003 that segment had swelled to 44 percent. And at the higher-performing end of the literacy scale, the proportion of Hispanics demonstrating intermediate or proficient English skills dropped to 27 percent from 33 percent in 1992. "These are big shifts," said Mark Schneider, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, the arm of the Department of Education that gave the test. "The Hispanic population in 2003 is radically different than in 1992, and many of the factors that have changed for Spanish-language immigrants make learning English more difficult," Mr. Schneider said. "They are arriving later, staying in the U.S. for a shorter period, and fewer are speaking English at home." The 2003 test was administered to 19,000 people 16 and older, in homes, college housing and in prisons. A test conducted in homes across New York State in conjunction with the 2003 national test found that New Yorkers were less literate in English than their national counterparts. Eleven percent of New Yorkers performed at the proficient level in reading prose texts, compared with 13 percent nationally. And 19 percent of New Yorkers scored "below basic," while only 14 percent performed that poorly across the nation.