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Understanding the Basic Reading Skills of U.S. Adults: Reading Components in the PIAAC Literacy Survey


In conclusion, reading components provide a more refined profile of the foundational reading skills adults possess when attempting to complete literacy tasks. The generally competent performance of many U.S. adults who were at or below Level 1 is cause for some optimism, at least for native English-speaking U.S. adults. However, the relatively lower performance of adults at or below Level 1 in comparison to other English-speaking countries, especially nonnative speakers of English in the United States, remains a cause for significant national concern and a call to action. Further, the strong, consistent association between increases in accuracy with decreases in processing speed across the entire ability distribution would suggest that instructional or training programs should strongly encourage extended practice and engagement with text to enhance the ease, speed, and efficiency with which adults process written text, consistent with cognitive research on expert skill development.79 Further research employing reading component assessments can help uncover how best to identify and support this segment of the U.S. population.

We remain hopeful that substantial progress in enhancing the literacy abilities of adults with low skills in the United States can be achieved. But the evidence here and extant research suggest that it will require a comprehensive and sustained effort and investment on the part of the adult learners and the programs and policies designed to support them.


79 For example, Perfetti, Reading Ability; Perfetti, Universal Grammar; Rayner et al., Psychological Science.