Adult Functional Reading Study of 1973 This study used household interviews to find out the literacy practices of adults. It used a second household sample to assess literacy skills.

Over all 170 items used in the study, over 70 percent of the respondents scored 70 percent correct or better. As a trend, adults with more education performed better on the test than those with less.

As with Buswell's study, both literacy skills and literacy practices correlated closely with education. Book and magazine reading correlated more closely with years of education than did newspaper reading. Altogether, the adults reported that they spent about 90 minutes a day in reading materials such as forms, labels, signs, bills, and mail. (Sticht and Armstrong, pp. 63-66).

Adult Performance Level Study of 1971 This study began as a project funded by the U. S. Office of Education. It introduced "competency-based" education, directing adult education to focus on achieving measurable outcomes. By 1977, two-thirds of the states had set up some form of "competency-based" adult basic education.

The test included over 40 common and practical tasks, such as filling out a check, reading the want ads, addressing an envelope, comparing advertised products, filling out items on a 1040 tax form, reading a tax table, and filling out a Social Security application. Results showed the high correlation between performance on all tasks and literacy (Sticht and Armstrong, pp. 67-98).

What a Reading Grade Level Means

The reading grade level of a text depends on the use of the text. If the text is used for independent, unassisted, or recreational use, the reading grade level will be higher than a text destined for classroom use and optimum learning gain. In other words, the same text will be easier for those with more advanced reading skills (with a higher grade level) and harder for those with less (and with a lower grade level). See the "Problem of Optimal Difficulty" below.

The grade of completed education is no indication of one's reading level. Average high-school graduates read at the 9th-grade level, which means a large number reads below that level. Those who pursue special domains of knowledge may develop higher levels of reading skill in those specialties than they have for general reading. Thus, college graduates, who prefer to read general materials at the 10th-grade level, may prefer more difficult texts within their own specialty. Students who are poor readers of general classroom material are often able to master difficult treatments of subjects that appeal to them.

Young Adult Literacy Survey of 1985 This study of young adults (17-25) and the adult study that followed in 1992 both measured the literacy the same way in three areas:

  • Prose literacy - meaning of selected texts
  • Document literacy - finding information on a form such as a bus schedule.
  • Quantitive literacy - mathematical and spatial tasks.

Both studies used a literacy scoring range of 1 to 500 and the five levels of skill defined by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (1985). John Carroll (1987) estimated the corresponding reading-grade levels as shown in Table 1.