Frequently Asked Questions

LINCS is a national dissemination and professional development system, providing information on literacy research, practice, and resources.

What is literacy?
The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 defines literacy as "an individual's ability to read, write, speak in English, compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family of the individual and in society." This is a broader view of literacy than just an individual's ability to read, the more traditional concept of literacy. As information and technology have increasingly shaped our society, the skills we need to function successfully have gone beyond reading, and literacy has come to include the skills listed in the current definition.

How is adult literacy measured?
When literacy was simply a synonym for reading skill, it was typically measured in grade-level equivalents. In other words, an adult's literacy skill was described as equivalent to reading at a grade in the kindergarten-12th grade system.

The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) is a nationally representative and continuing assessment of English language literacy skills of American adults age 16 and older. The U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the Institute of Education Sciences has conducted assessments of U.S. adult literacy since 1985.

The 2003 NAAL provided the first assessment of the nation's progress in adult literacy since 1992. In addition to describing the status and progress of literacy in the nation and in each of the six participating states (Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, and Oklahoma), the 2003 NAAL provided information about background factors associated with literacy, the skill levels of the least-literate adults, and the application of literacy skills to health-related materials. It described the status of adult literacy in the United States; reported on national trends; and identified relationships between literacy and selected characteristics of adults. Click here for an overview of the NAAL

For more information on the NAAL, go to

How do I find a nearby literacy program?
To find a literacy program in your neighborhood, go to the National Literacy Directory. You can also check with a neighborhood library, community college, or city or county human services office, or contact your state's Director of Adult Education to find out about federally-funded programs. Contact ProLiteracy Worldwide to see if there are one-on-one volunteer tutoring programs in your area. 

How do I start an adult literacy program?
First, find out if there are already local literacy programs that could meet the need or grow to meet the need (see above). There are thousands of literacy programs throughout the country, and it's very likely there's one nearby.

If there isn't an existing program, begin planning a program by looking for partners in the community. Partners with experience in providing education or other human services, business expertise, and links to the community can help ensure that a new program provides high quality services and can sustain itself financially.

Where can I find tutoring materials?
The organization you're affiliated with should provide you with or help you find appropriate materials. Your state office of adult education may be helpful.

The Ohio Literacy Resource Center also has published two lists of books reviewed by adult literacy professionals and recommended for use in adult literacy programs. Many of the books are for new adult readers. A book of poetry for new adult readers may be purchased by contacting the International Reading Association at 800 Barksdale Rd., P.O. Box 8139, Newark, DE 19714-8139.

Where can my organization donate books?
Contact a local public library and ask for recommendations.

Where can I get a poster about literacy?
The American Library Association (ALA) sells a variety of posters about reading for approximately $15 each through their Online Store.

Where can I volunteer to work with adult learners?
To volunteer to work one-on-one with an adult learner, contact ProLiteracy Worldwide, a local public library, or visit the National Literacy Directory. Many public libraries run volunteer adult literacy programs. Most adult learning centers offer group classes in which volunteers sometimes act as teachers' aides. Search the Internet, or check the metro or community sections of newspapers for notices of volunteer opportunities.

If you're interested in working with children, contact Everybody Wins, or the closest public school. Many elementary schools and some middle and high schools run their own tutoring programs.

What are learning disabilities and what is their relationship to literacy?
Learning disabilities (LD) include a wide variety of disorders that are thought to be neurological in origin and that affect one or more of the basic processes involved in understanding or using spoken or written language. Adults who have difficulties with listening, thinking, speaking, reading, or writing are likely to experience problems that significantly affect their academic achievement and their lives in general. Estimates of LD in the general population range from 3 to 13 percent. Among adults with low literacy levels, the estimates are much higher - between 30 and 80 percent.

Is there a National Literacy Day?
The U.S. Congress designated July 2, 2000 as National Literacy Day. States, cities and counties also occasionally pass laws declaring a literacy month or week in their own jurisdictions. However, there is no permanently-established National Literacy Day.

What is International Literacy Day?
In 1965, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated September 8 as International Literacy Day. Each year, the UNESCO Secretary-General issues a statement, and four prizes are awarded. Local organizations often plan their own celebrations.

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