In “Literacy of College Graduates Is on Decline: Survey’s Finding of a Drop in Reading Proficiency Is Inexplicable, Experts Say” (Washington Post, Sunday, December 25, 2005), Lois Romano writes:
Literacy experts and educators say they are stunned by the results of a recent adult literacy assessment, which shows that the reading proficiency of college graduates has declined in the past decade, with no obvious explanation.
“It’s appalling — it’s really astounding,” said Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association and a librarian at California State University at Fresno. “Only 31 percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it. That’s not saying much for the remainder.”
…”What’s disturbing is that the assessment is not designed to test your understanding of Proust, but to test your ability to read labels,” [aid Mark S. Schneider, commissioner of education statistics.].
The test measures how well adults comprehend basic instructions and tasks through reading — such as computing costs per ounce of food items, comparing viewpoints on two editorials and reading prescription labels. Only 41 percent of graduate students tested in 2003 could be classified as “proficient” in prose — reading and understanding information in short texts — down 10 percentage points since 1992. Of college graduates, only 31 percent were classified as proficient — compared with 40 percent in 1992. Schneider said the results do not separate recent graduates from those who have been out of school several years or more.
Dolores Perin, a reading expert at Columbia University Teachers College, said that her work has indicated that the issue may start at the high school level. “There is a tremendous literacy problem among high school graduates that is not talked about,” said Perin, who has been sitting in on high school classes as part of a teaching project. “It’s a little bit depressing. The colleges are left holding the bag, trying to teach students who have challenges.”
On average, adult literacy is virtually unchanged since 1992, with 30 million people struggling with basic reading tasks. While adults made some progress in quantitative literacy, such as the ability to calculate taxes, the study showed that from 1992 to 2003 adults made no improvement in their ability read newspapers or books, or comprehend basic forms.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company