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More degrees, less comprehension

Fri., Dec. 16, 2005

More Americans are getting college degrees than they were about a decade ago, but skills in reading and analyzing data among the well educated have dropped significantly, according to a national report on adult literacy released Thursday.

When adults with higher education degrees were asked to compare the viewpoints in two newspaper editorials, for example, less than half could do it successfully.

“I think these results are really unexpected,” said Mark Schneider, the U.S. Commissioner of Education Statistics. “I think it is a wake-up call to the research and university community.”

The National Assessment of Adult Literacy interviewed 19,000 people 16 years of age and older in their homes, in much the same way the census is conducted. They were asked to read prose, do math and find facts in documents.

The study was designed to assess not whether people can read a novel, but whether they are competent in the skills they need to be productive citizens.

Among the most significant findings is that among adults who have taken graduate courses or have graduate degrees, only 41 percent scored as proficient, compared with 51 percent a decade ago.


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