- This devastating information does not
come as too much of a surprise. Poor Mr. Gorman, maybe we should all send
him a dozen roses and a case of champagne so that he can celebrate the
deliberate dumbing down of Americans through trashy literature, whole language
and now direct instruction (combined!)
- Survey's Finding of a Drop
Proficiency Is Inexplicable, Experts Say
- By Lois Romano
- Washington Post Staff Writer
- December 25, 2005 - A12
- 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."
- While more Americans are graduating from
college, and more than ever are applying for admission, far fewer are leaving
higher education with the skills needed to comprehend routine data, such
as reading a table about the relationship between blood pressure and physical
activity, according to the federal study conducted by the National Center
for Education Statistics.
- Experts could not definitively explain
- "The declining impact of education
on our adult population was the biggest surprise for us, and we just don't
have a good explanation," said Mark S. Schneider, commissioner of
education statistics. "It may be that institutions have not yet figured
out how to teach a whole generation of students who learned to read on
the computer and who watch more TV. It's a different kind of literacy."
- "What's disturbing is that the assessment
is not designed to test your understanding of Proust, but to test your
ability to read labels," he added.
- 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.
- The results were based on a sample of
more than 19,000 people 16 or older, who were interviewed in their homes.
They were asked to read prose, do math and find facts in documents. The
scores for "intermediate" reading abilities went up for college
students, causing educators to question whether most college instruction
is offered at the intermediate level because students face reading challenges.
- Gorman said that he has been shocked
by how few entering freshmen understand how to use a basic library system,
or enjoy reading for pleasure. "There is a failure in the core values
of education," he said. "They're told to go to college in order
to get a better job -- and that's okay. But the real task is to produce
- Other experts noted that the slip in
scores could be attributed to most state schools not being particularly
selective, accepting most high school graduates to bolster enrollment.
In addition, Schneider said schools may not be taking into account a more
diverse population, and the language and cultural barriers that come with
- That would account for the dramatic drop
in average prose literacy for Hispanics, which slipped by 18 percentage
points, he said. "The Hispanic scores were somewhat understandable
based on the changing demographics," Schneider said. "Diversity
may lead to more difficulties in education."
- 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.
- One bright spot is that blacks are making
significant gains in reading and math and are reaching higher levels of
education. For instance, the report showed that the average rate of prose
literacy, or reading, among blacks rose six percentage points since 1992.
Prose and document reading scores for whites remained the same.
- ©2005 The Washington Post Company