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Literacy: Profiles of America's Young Adults - Final Report

Kirsch, Irwin S.; Jungeblut, Ann
Publication Year:
Report Number:
NAEP Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Young Adults, Writing Skills, Speech Communication, Reading Skills, Functional Literacy, Adult Literacy, Literacy


This report offers the findings of a 1985 study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to assess the literacy skills of young adults in the United States, ages 21-25. Using three literacy scales — prose, document, and quantitative — NAEP developed a wide variety of tasks that simulate the diversity of literacy activities that people encounter at work, at home, at school, and in their communities, including reading and interpreting prose in newspaper articles, magazines, and books; identifying and using information located in documents such as forms, tables, charts, and indexes; and applying numerical operations to information contained in printed material such as a menu, a checkbook, or an ad. NAEP convened panels of expert who helped set the framework for this assessment. Their deliberations led to the definition of literacy adopted: "using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one's goals, and to develop one's knowledge and potential." To conduct this assessment, NAEP drew a nationally representative household sample of 21- to 25-year-olds living in 48 contiguous United States. Some 40,000 households were contacted to locate and assess approximately 3,600 young adults. The assessment was conducted by some 500 interviewers, and each interview lasted about 90 minutes. The study found that the while the overwhelming majority of young adults adequately perform tasks at the lower levels on each of the three scales, sizable numbers appear unable to do well on tasks of moderate complexity. Only a relatively small percentage of this group is estimated to perform at levels typified by the more complex and challenging tasks.

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