Numeracy Matters


Myrna Manly
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Consultant to the Adult Numeracy Instruction (ANI) project sponsored by the federal Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE)
Publication Year
Resource Type
Instructional Material
Number of Pages
Product Type

In the article, “Numeracy Matters,” Myrna Manly reviews research on adult numeracy contained in two important studies: the Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey (ALL) and the Adult Education Program Study (AEPS). Both studies conclude that often the numeracy skills of adults are not sufficient to function successfully in today’s society. 

The article provides many real-life examples to prove the importance of higher level numeracy skills for adults in their family, worker and citizen roles. The social and economic impact of adults with insufficient numeracy skills on our society is especially concerning.
The author briefly discusses how adult education can respond to the results of these studies. Numeracy instruction must focus on problem solving and skills meaningful for adults. ABE teachers will find the chart with the “Description of Tasks” useful as a guide to assess the level of their instruction.

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What the experts say

Myrna Manly is a recognized and respected expert in the field of numeracy assessment and instruction. In this article, she describes the low levels of numeracy skills in the United States population, based upon information from the descriptive studies that have been implemented nationally, the Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey (ALL) and the Adult Education Program Study (AEPS).

This resource is of value to the field of adult education because Manly effectively links numeracy skill development to both the individual student’s economic success and to “…the nation’s potential for economic growth.” Thus, she highlights the importance of effective numeracy instruction in adult basic skills development programs.

This resource is also of value to the field of adult education as a means for advocacy for numeracy. It brings to light need for better teaching in mathematics. No longer is it just okay for educators to teach for the purpose of understanding an algorithm passed down from instructor to learner; educators must teach for a deeper understanding of concepts, development of individual algorithms, and a greater numerical intelligence. The goal of mathematics educators must be to help all learners use mathematics to enhance their own lives and prime them for a future of persistent change.

The most significant feature of this article are the statistically information given based on the study done by the Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey (ALL) and the Adult Education Program Study (AEPS). Their findings create a sense of urgency for all math educators. Furthermore, this article should create awareness in all learners about how their numeracy can significantly impact their life. It is well written and a layperson would find the information eye-opening.

Manly uses the data from these two surveys (ALL and AEPS) and from two additional reports from the UK to show that “…proficiency in prose or document literacy was not a good predictor of proficiency in numeracy.” This is an important finding for the instructor whose adult education program may be currently using an assessment (formal or informal) that assumes a correlation between a student’s literacy and numeracy levels.

A useful feature of this resource is the table containing definitions of the five levels of numeracy assessed by the two surveys (ALL and AEPS). Each level description contains a list of tasks a person should be able to complete at that level of numeracy, accompanied by a concrete example of those tasks. This is useful to the classroom instructor and/or program administrator who may not be familiar with the definition of numeracy and with its assessment vehicles.

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