According to a meme recently shared to the Snopes newsroom, more than half of 16- to 74-year-olds in the United States read at the 6th grade level or below.
We investigated this statistic and the claim that the United States ranks 125th in literacy rates when compared to other countries around the world. Both statements are true to some extent, but we took a closer look at the data and how they were compiled to more fully understand the limitations associated with conducting such large-scale generalization studies.
Do more than half of Americans read at a sixth grade level or below?
This claim is true, according to a September 2020 review of the U.S. education system. Let’s find out.
Gallup’s analysis, published in March 2020, looked at data collected by the U.S. Department of Education in 2012, 2014, and 2017. The analysis found that her 130 million adults in the United States have low literacy. That is, more than half of Americans (54%) said that, according to his 2022 article published by APM Research Lab, the amount of reading from age 16 to her 74 is equivalent to her 6th grade level.
Gallup’s estimates for 2020 were part of an economic analysis that used literacy rates to determine potential missed economic benefits. It is based on data from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Abilities (PIAAC) and the International Assessment of Adult Skills called the US Department of Education. This analysis combined individual her PIAAC data from 2012 to 2017 to create and publish estimated literacy levels for all counties in the United States.
“U.S. Department of Education combined assessment data from three sample waves (2012, 2014, and 2017) using data from 12,330 respondents in 185 counties. modeled the literacy score—collecting a large amount of data about each respondent and their county to predict the literacy rate for that respondent,” read the report.
As stated by the U.S. Department of Education research team, PIAAC county and state estimates are “predictions of how adults in a state or county would have behaved if they had undergone a PIAAC evaluation.” However, each county is different, so if a representative sample were taken, some counties could perform better or worse on her PIACC exam. What’s more, it’s quite possible that the 54% figure has changed for better or worse in the two years since he was published.
Is the U.S. 125th in literacy?
I would also like to briefly address the second part of your claim that the United States ranks 125th in the world for literacy. While this statistic is technically true, there are some important caveats to be aware of regarding the collection and analysis of global data sets.
“Literate” is defined by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics as “the proportion of the population of a given age group who can read and write”. The United States ranks him 125th in literacy, according to his August 2019 report in a journal article published by the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education (IMSE)..
According to data published by the World Atlas, a geographic data and statistics website, the United States ranks 125th in literacy at 86%, just behind Oman and just ahead of the Syrian Arab Republic. In contrast, the top countries included Andorra, Luxembourg, Norway and Liechtenstein, with nearly 100% literacy.
However, there are limitations associated with how such data is collected that may skew the results. For example, data collection methodologies vary from country to country, and there are no procedures for standardizing information.
“Some countries apply literacy definitions and standards that differ from international standards, equate those without formal education with illiteracy, or change definitions from one census to another. We are,” writes UNESCO.
“Assessment of literacy may rely on self-reporting, which can lead to inaccuracies. It’s a limited thing about variability.”
For example, some countries may require a brief survey response, but only those who can receive and read the survey communication will be able to properly respond, resulting in what is called non-response bias. . People in poverty who do not have access to online surveys or have no means of receiving mail surveys may not be reflected in the data. Besides, illiterate people can’t answer without someone’s help.
The collection of global data, as outlined in the scientific online publication Our World in Data, suffers from the fact that self-reports are subjective and that only one individual may report literacy on behalf of the entire household. There is, and the data can be problematic — school measurements are not uniform around the world, and in some cases, the definition of what “literacy” means depends on who you ask
This is not to say that the US education system does not have its own challenges, including literacy. This is a reminder to always read data with a critical eye.
“How Is Literacy Measured?” Our World in Data, https://ourworldindata.org/how-is-literacy-measured. Accessed August 2, 2022.
“Illiteracy is costing America — here’s why.” USA TODAY, https://www.usatoday.com/story/sponsor-story/lexia-learning2022/2022/03/02/illiteracy-costing- america-heres-why/6848450001/. Accessed August 2, 2022.
“List of Countries by Literacy Rate”. World Atlas, 12 August 2020, https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-highest-literacy-rates-in-the-world.html.
Literacy. 22 June 2020, http://uis.unesco.org/en/glossary-term/literacy-rate.
Non-response Bias – An Overview | Science Direct Topic. 2022 Accessed on August 2, 2008.
OECD. OECD Skills Outlook 2013: Initial results of a survey of adult skills. OECD, 2013. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264204256-en.
PIAAC. https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/state-county-estimates.asp#4. Accessed 2 August 2022.
“Reading the Numbers: 130 Million American Adults Have Low Literacy.” APM Research Labs, https://www.apmresearchlab.org/10x-adult-literacy. Accessed August 2, 2022.