This Friday will mark the end of an era in children’s literature and entertainment, as the final Harry Potter movie hits theaters across the United States. And whether or not you believe Harry and his magical motley crew revolutionized children’s reading habits, the 450 million copies sold in 65 different languages worldwide can’t be taken lightly.
With a nod towards Harry’s final farewell, The Learning Curve will be looking at literacy this week. Unfortunately, the statistics in the United States are sobering. In May, for example, the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund released a report claiming many of Detroit’s workers lacked the basic skills necessary to get an entry-level job. Part of their evidence: nearly half of the city’s adults are functionally illiterate, according to the National Institute for Literacy.
Below are some of the national numbers on literacy:
International Student Rankings
On the 2009 PISA test in reading literacy, American 15-year-olds ranked 14th out of 34 industrialized nations.
America’s Report Card
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is given to fourth, eighth and twelfth graders every two years. It was most recently administered this spring, but reading results are not yet available. In 2009, however, the percentages of high school seniors who scored at or above proficient were:
In other words, more than half of Asian/Pacific Islander and white students and more than three-quarters of black and Hispanic students were not proficient in reading. The average reading score for those twelfth-graders was two points higher than the score in 2005, but four points lower than the score in 1992, when the first reading test was given.
National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL)
In 2003, the government tested 19,000 adults on their literacy skills in three areas – the ability to gather information from an article, understand a document, and do arithmetic using information from a document. (See sample questions from the test here.) In the first category - prose literacy - the percentage of adults lacking basic literacy was 14.5 percent. Translation: 14.5 percent of the respondents couldn’t read or understand any written English or could only find easily identifiable information in short chunks of text.
Broken down by race, the percentages of adults lacking basic literacy were:
It’s important to note that these literacy tests are all slightly different, so the scores from the various tests cannot be compared perfectly. But there’s clearly room for improvement when it comes to American reading and comprehension.
With that in mind, this week we’ll get some literary advice from teachers, hear from a student who volunteers her time teaching literacy skills to preschoolers, and learn a little about the psychology of reading.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.