Missouri readers so-so in assessment survey of adult literacy skills

The state’s African-Americans outscored the national average.
Sunday, December 25, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:12 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

An estimated one in 20 U.S. adults is not literate in English, meaning he or she lacks the basic skills to perform everyday tasks, a recent federal survey showed.

Missourians who took a state version of the survey, however, scored above the national average.

The 2003 Missouri State Assessment of Adult Literacy looked at 1,247 Missourians older than 16. The survey, released Dec. 15, is an arm of the National Assessment of Adult Literacy run by the U.S. Department of Education. It defines literacy as “using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.”

The assessment measured three aspects of literacy— prose, document and quantitative — using a survey that had a perfect score of 500 points. Most of the average scores for Missouri were in the middle to high 200s which means, Missourians sampled were categorized as basic to intermediate with their literacy skills.

The survey found that African-Americans in Missouri are significantly better at understanding what they read than the national average for African Americans, with a difference of between 23 and 30 points.

The survey also found:

  • White Missourians scored on average about the same as the nation overall, within three points plus or minus of the national average.
  • Missourians who have a high school diploma scored on average 10 to 11 points higher on literacy tests than the national average.
  • The literacy rate for Missouri women was, on average, 8 to 10 points higher than the national average.
  • Missouri had fewer adults who fell below the basic literacy level than the national average, with a difference of 8 to 10 points.

Ron Jewell, director of education and literacy for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said he found the recent results on Missouri adult literacy encouraging.

“We want every Missouri resident to be able to read and write so they have the chance to be successful in life,” Jewell said.

The state will release a second study in late spring that will break down the adult literacy rates per county in Missouri.

“I am looking forward to the county results,” Jewell said. “They will give us additional help and will be an important piece of the puzzle to help curb the amount of illiterate adults in Missouri.”

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