What Does “Literacy” Mean Anyway?

Since the majority of my blog posts refer to “literacy” and “illiteracy,” I think it would be wise to explain what I mean when I use those terms.

The definition of literacy which I am referencing is found in the publication Digest of Education Statistics 2011 by the National Center for Education Statistics and can also be found on their website at: http://nces.ed.gov/naal/literacytypes.asp

There are various types of literacy such as health literacy, math literacy, and cultural literacy; however, according to the NCES study conducted in 2003 (which I reference frequently), literacy is broken into three components.

  • Prose literacy, which is defined as, “The knowledge and skills needed to perform prose tasks, (i.e., to search, comprehend, and use continuous texts). Examples include editorials, news stories, brochures, and instructional materials.”

  • Document literacy, which is defined as, “The knowledge and skills needed to perform document tasks, (i.e., to search, comprehend, and use non-continuous texts in various formats). Examples include job applications, payroll forms, transportation schedules, maps, tables, and drug or food labels.”

  • Quantitative literacy, which is defined as, “The knowledge and skills required to perform quantitative tasks, (i.e., to identify and perform computations, either alone or sequentially, using numbers embedded in printed materials). Examples include balancing a checkbook, figuring out a tip, completing an order form or determining the amount.”

Secondly, I will clarify by saying the 14% illiteracy statistic that I cited in an earlier post falls under the prose literacy definition with a “below basic” score. This means roughly (I say “roughly” because it is illogical to assume the study reached every adult in America) 14 out of every 100 adults in the United States fell below basic for prose literacy. To make this point a bit clearer, one in seven U.S. adults can read a “Restroom” sign in a restaurant but cannot read the options available in the menu. Let’s not forget that some of this 14% cannot read any English text.

I hope by providing this information it clears up any confusion as to what literacy is! My apologies for not posting this before; I ought to have done it before now. It certainly is a large topic but hopefully one you find interesting!

Until next time,


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Facts, Figures, and Not So Much Fun.

Did you know that according to PBS, roughly 19% of those living in Martinsville, Virginia are considered illiterate?

Also, in 2005 the READ Center (Reading and Education for Adult Development, located in Richmond, Virginia) gave the startling statistic that over 1 million adults in Virginia need adult education services.

Do you know any illiterate adults? Have you come in contact with any adults that you knew had trouble reading a simple text? I have, and it’s a sad situation.

These statistics are unacceptable.

I can honestly say that I do not believe adults who are illiterate are that way because they want to be. From people I’ve talked with and research I’ve done, it appears that by the time many of them are adults they regret not taking the time or effort to learn. It appears that often these older adults are pulled from school at a young age and worked in family businesses or farms. Now many of them have little, if any, education and can only read simple signs.

Do you think these adults are fully functional in society? If they are happy, functional individuals, should we even suggest they consider an adult education program? Or do you think an adult education program would enhance their lives?


Until my next assignment,


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Literacy? Ain’t nobody got time for that!

In a world filled with iPads, laptops, Android tablets and smartphones, iPhones and even iPods with text messaging apps for free, people are constantly communicating. Whether the choice of communication is Facebook or Twitter (or both!), the average American citizen is perpetually sending messages to their family, friends, and sometimes even complete strangers (primarily, I would say, in hopes of snagging a decent date).

But did you know that according to a study published in 2009, 14% of Americans are considered illiterate?

The purpose for this blog is to discuss my research about adult illiteracy rates in my area for a course I’m taking this semester at Longwood University. Through this I am to share my research with my fellow classmates, friends, and teacher and also to gain extra credit (let’s be honest, that should have been the first reason listed). Its purpose is also to have me participate in public discourse.

If I’m able to get 40 unique comments (meaning 40 different people posting) then I get extra credit for my class. Most of you understand how much extra credit is worth in college, so why not help a sista’ out?

My first post (this one, if you haven’t noticed) serves the purpose of informing you of the growing problem of adult illiteracy and to ask why you think that is.

So, any takers? Why, in such a high-tech age and well-established nation, are there still adults who cannot read at the appropriate level or at all?

Do you believe illiterate adults are ashamed of their lack of education and therefore do not seek help in obtaining the ability to read? Or do they simply not want to take the time to learn because they are already established in society? Is it a pride issue for some?

Any comments and thoughts on the matter would be both helpful and exciting to read!

Until my next burst of writing inspiration,


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