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January 2006

From the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

2003 Adult Literacy Assessment Results Released

On December 15, NCES released "A First Look at the Literacy of America's Adults in the 21st Century," reporting results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL). The first national report on adult literacy in more than a decade measured the English literacy of Americans age 16 and over living in households or prisons.

In the adult population as a whole, NAAL found an improvement since 1992 in quantitative literacy—the ability to perform tasks involving computation. There was no significant change over the decade in prose literacy—the ability to understand sentences and paragraphs such as those found in a newspaper—or in document literacy—the skills needed to understand documents such as food labels or maps. NAAL also assessed literacy by race, education background, age and gender, among other demographic factors. And NAAL identified about 11 million "nonliterate" adults, meaning interviewers could not communicate with them in English or Spanish or they could not answer a minimum number of questions.

Television stories about NAAL reached more than 31 million viewers. Findings from the NAAL report were covered on several national news outlets, including the NBC "Nightly News," ABC's "World News Tonight," "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News. The report also was covered by dozens of newspapers and other media outlets in cities across the country. Also released December 15 was a companion report, "Key Concepts and Features of the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy," describing the assessment's key features and major data types.