Sources on Literacy

National Assessment of Adult Literacy

Other Sources Covering Literacy

Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention  - an explanation of how reading works and what causes failure to learn to read

Stanislas Dehaene


Viking Press

URL: – an interesting site but his book is much more useful and practical for teachers


Viking Press identifies Dehaene in this way: He “was trained as a mathematician and psychologist before becoming one of the word’s most active researchers on the cognitive neuroscience of language and number processing in the human brain.


For quotations from his book, click here.


Culture of Evidence

Culture of Evidence: Postsecondary Assessment and Learning Outcomes, Educational Testing Service, 2007.

Homepage for ETS:

Main page for the report itself: - The report and related ones are downloadable for free.


The report includes information from NAAL and related authors, including the source of this powerful statement: “only 31 percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it.”



“How Schools Fail Democracy”- a long-term view of the problems

How Schools Fail Democracy” by E.D. Hirsch Jr.

September 28, 2009

Chronicle of Higher Education



The Chronicle identifies Hirsch as “founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation and an emeritus professor at the University of Virginia. His most recent book, The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools, was just published by Yale University Press.”


The article explores many issues with democracy, It also traces the problem with literacy to the 1970s: “the language abilities of our 17-year-olds have remained stuck at the steeply declined levels of the 1970s, while the language gap between white students on one side and black and Hispanic students on the other remains distressingly and immovably large.”


“The Appalling Decline of Literacy Among College Graduates” – a summary of changes in literacy

William O’Neill provides data from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy report in his commentary “The Appalling Decline of Literacy Among College Graduates.” The data is placed in a table here. He explains: “Apart from the oldest graduates having died the addition of ten, or at most eleven, graduating classes to the pool of college graduates, meant that the members of these classes had to have scored very badly indeed to drag down the averages of the entire population by so much. Further, the graduates tested in 1992 were themselves not particularly literate for the declining performance of college students probably dates from somewhere around 1980. Had there been an NAAL in 1970, at a guess, a solid majority of graduates would have been proficient in both prose and document literacy.”





College graduates -“Prose literacy denotes the ability to search, comprehend, and use information in continuous texts.”



drop “by a quarter”

College graduates - “Document literacy means the ability to do these same things employing noncontinuous texts in various formats.”



drop by “almost a third”

College graduates - “Quantitative literacy involves having the knowledge and skills to work with numbers and figures….



“very little”

High school graduates – “Prose literacy”




High school graduates – “Document literacy”





The Appalling Decline of Literacy Among College Graduates” by William O’Neill

October 26, 2009

History News Network



History News Network identifies O’Neill as “the author of A Bubble in Time: America During the Interwar Years, 1989-2001 (Ivan R. Dee, 2009).”



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