Improved Literacy Skills Can Change Our Economic Future

Reading has been the sine qua non of culture and civilization for thousands of years. The spread of literacy from the upper echelons of society to the middle and lower classes is perhaps one of the most defining characteristics of modernism. According to the United Nations, the presence of illiteracy in the world today among less-developed nations has been connected to continuing cycles of poverty, poor health, and deprivation, and makes democracy in these nations difficult or nearly impossible to achieve 1. So, the fact that reading scores for American high school graduates are the lowest they’ve been in 40 years should cause worry.

Both the SAT and ACT scores in 2012 show poor reading levels. The SAT showed an average score that was one point lower than last year’s, and the lowest since 1972 2. Only 57% of grads who took the ACT met their benchmark for reading scores, which is much the same result as last year’s tests; in fact, the average composite score for the ACT hasn’t shown much change at all in either direction since 2008 3. The reason these particular tests are important in evaluating high school graduates is because they’re one of the most important evaluation tools a college uses to determine whether an applicant should be admitted. As such, the tests are widely recognized by colleges as trustworthy in determining whether or not a student is ready for college-level work.

Literacy changes lives, and means much more than the ability to sit down with a novel. Consider the travel, career, school, dietary, or entertainment limitations that would be set by illiteracy in your daily routine. If you couldn’t read the bus sign, compose an email, or understand the menu at lunch, your life would be very different, wouldn’t it?

The best way to overcome illiteracy is to prevent it in the first place. Summer reading, tutors, and early cognitive testing are just a few ways schools, communities, and families can address reading problems before students get overwhelmingly behind or drop out. Although preventative measures are ideal, realistically, there are already many teens and adults who are illiterate and who — without help — are determined to continue fueling the poverty cycle.

Check out the infographic by Project Read for a closer look at the costs and progression of illiteracy in American families. What could our country’s economic, education, and professional future look like if we had more advocates for childhood, teen, and adult literacy? What can you do to help an adult or child improve their literacy skills?


1″Literacy vital for beating poverty and disease and reinforcing stability.” 11 September 2011. United Nations News Centre. Accessed on 15 November 2012. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=39485&Cr=literacy&Cr1#.UKU3jeOe_Bo

2″SAT reading scores hit a four-decade low” by Lyndsey Layton and Emma Brown. 24 September 2012. The Washington Post. Accessed on 15 November 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/sat-reading-scores-hit-a-four-decade-low/2012/09/24/7ec9cb1e-0643-11e2-afff-d6c7f20a83bf_story.html

3″ACT Takers Make Small Gains in College Readiness, Report Says,” by Timothy Sandoval. 22 August 2012. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 15 November 2012. http://chronicle.com/article/ACT-Takers-Make-Small-Gains-in/133902/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

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