Basic Reading Skills and the Literacy of the America's Least Literate Adults: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) Supplemental Studies, May 26 - 29, 2009
The 2003 NAAL assessed the English literacy skills of a nationally
representative sample of 18,500 U.S. adults (age 16 and older) residing
in private households. NAAL is the first national assessment of adult
literacy since the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS). The NAAL
project comprised three assessment components: the main literacy
assessment, the Fluency Addition to NAAL (FAN), and the Adult Literacy
Supplemental Assessment (ALSA). Results from the main literacy
assessment are reported as averages and as the percentage of adults in
each of four literacy levels: Below Basic, Basic, Intermediate, and Proficient. This report focuses on results from the FAN and the ALSA.
The Adult Literacy Supplemental Assessment (ALSA) was administered
to adults unable to successfully answer a screening set of 7 easy
questions. Instead of completing the main literacy assessment, these
adults completed the ALSA, which gathered information about their
letter reading, word reading, word identification, and basic
The Fluency Addition to NAAL (FAN) measured the accuracy as well as
the fluency with which adults decode, and read words and passages. The
FAN was administered to all adults who participated in the NAAL project
following the completion of the main literacy assessment or the
Sheida White, Project Officer
National Center for Education Statistics
Dr. White directs the National Assessment of Adult Literacy and the
National Assessment of Educational Progress Writing Item Development at
the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education
Statistics. She recently led the development of a national health
literacy assessment and of a statistical methodology to estimate the
percentage of U.S. adults lacking basic literacy skills for all states
and counties. She works to make literacy data more useful for the
public and has published more than 40 books, articles, and other
publications in the fields of literacy and assessment. She holds a
Ph.D. in sociolinguistics from Georgetown University.
John Sabatini, Senior Research Scientist
Educational Testing Service
Dr. Sabatini is a Senior Research Scientist in the Research &
Development Division at Educational Testing Service in Princeton, NJ.
He has conducted research, curriculum development, and evaluation in
areas of reading acquisition and disabilities, assessment, cognitive
psychology, and educational technology, with a primary focus on adults
and adolescents. Currently, he is the principal investigator of an IES
funded grant to develop comprehension assessments for struggling
adolescent and adult readers and a NICHD/Dept of Education/National
Institute for Literacy grant, Relative Effectiveness of Reading
Programs for Adults. He provides technical and research advice to
national and international surveys including the National Assessments
of Adult Literacy (NAAL), Programme for the International Assessment of
Adult Competencies (PIACC), Progress in International Reading Literacy
Study (PISA), and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS). Dr.
Sabatini received his doctorate at the University of Delaware in
cognition and instruction with a focus on literacy.
The full report is available as a PDF file at:
For our discussion, please read the Executive Summary of the report on pages iii through vi.
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