Saturday, December 17, 2005


No college graduate left behind

12/18 8:45 am
I based this post on a NY Times article, but I've decided to go back to the PDFs and Excel files. It turns out that the term 'literacy' as used in the study actually refers to three different scales, which the study refers to as "prose," "document" and "quantitative." As a result, I suspect that some of what I wrote below is not correct. So I'll update or correct this post later today.

If you think your local elementary school is failing to live up to its promise, just wait till you read the latest stats on college graduates.

In 2003 the Department of Education administered a test called the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. The news is pretty bleak. According to Sam Dillon of the NY Times,

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.

Did you get that? Less than a third of college graduates can "read lengthy, complex English texts and draw complicated inferences." I knew that to be true of a certain percentage of college graduates, as our President has amply demonstrated. But such a low number is simply astonishing.

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 read and understand short, commonplace prose texts.

Three percent of college graduates who took the test in 2003, representing some 800,000 Americans, demonstrated "below basic" literacy, meaning that they could not perform more than the simplest skills, like locating easily identifiable information in short prose.

Now remember that we are talking about college graduates, not the general population. No wonder we have Alfred E. Neuman for President and ignoramuses clamoring for the teaching of Idiotic Design.

Grover J. Whitehurst, director of an institute within the Department of Education that helped to oversee the test, said he believed that the literacy of college graduates had dropped because a rising number of young Americans in recent years had spent their free time watching television and surfing the Internet.

Well, maybe. But then what do you make of this?

The percentage of blacks demonstrating "below basic" literacy declined to 24 percent from 30 percent.

This says that 1 out of 4 black college graduates can't read much more than a STOP sign, but at least the group has improved. Have they not been watching television and surfing the internet?

One trend that can't be helping is the awarding of 4-year degrees by community colleges. It's another cost-saving measure that a number of states are adopting. The result will be a further watering down of the baccalaureate degree.

If so many college graduates are illiterate or semi-illiterate, what must it be like in the general population? The Times gives a hint—

A test conducted in homes across New York State in conjunction with the 2003 national test found that New Yorkers were less literate in English than their national counterparts. Eleven percent of New Yorkers performed at the proficient level in reading prose texts, compared with 13 percent nationally. And 19 percent of New Yorkers scored "below basic," while only 14 percent performed that poorly across the nation.

"Below basic" is the latest educational euphemism for "illiterate." About 1 in 7 of our fellow Americans can't read.

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