College graduates' literacy declines, according to test
New York Times
Dec. 16, 2005

Sam Dillon

The average American college graduate's literacy in English declined significantly over the past decade, according to results of a nationwide test to be released today. 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 understand short prose texts.

Three percent of college graduates in 2003, representing some 800,000 Americans, demonstrated "below basic" literacy, meaning that they could not perform more than the simplest skills.

Grover J. Whitehurst, director of an institute within the Department of Education that helped to oversee the test, said a rising number of young Americans have 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 levels," he said. The study found that 11 million adults are not literate.

About 29 percent of Backs 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 from 30 percent to 24 percent.

Asians scoring at either the intermediate or proficient levels rose from 45 percent in 1992 to 54 percent.

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 from 33 percent in 1992 to 27 percent.