Sonntag, 9. März 2014

Functional Literacy and Daily Self-Maintenance

"Citizens of literate societies take for granted that they are routinely called upon to read instructions, fill out forms, determine best buys, decipher bus schedules, and otherwise read and write to cope with the myriad details of everyday life. But such tasks are difficult for many people. The problem is seldom that they cannot read or write the words, but usually that they are unable to carry out the mental operations the task calls for—to compare two items, grasp an abstract concept, provide comprehensible and accurate information about themselves, follow a set of instructions, and so on. This is what it means to have poor “functional literacy.”
Functional literacy has been a major public policy concern, as illustrated by the U.S. Department of Education’s various efforts to gauge its level in different segments of the American population. Tests of functional literacy essentially mimic individually-administered intelligence tests, except that all their items come from everyday life, such as calculating a tip (see extended discussion in Gottfredson, 1997b). As on intelligence tests, differences in item difficulty rest on the items’ cognitive complexity (their abstractness, amount of distracting irrelevant information, and degree of inference required), not on their readability per se or the level of education test takers have completed. Literacy researchers have concluded, with some surprise, that functional literacy represents a general capacity to learn, reason, and solve problems—a veritable description of g.
The National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS; Kirsch, Jungeblut, Jenkins, & Kolstad, 1993) groups literacy scores into five levels. Individuals scoring in Level 1 have an 80% chance of successfully performing tasks similar in difficulty to locating an expiration date on a driver’s license and totaling a bank deposit slip. They are not routinely able to perform Level 2 taskssuch as determining the price difference between two show tickets or filling in background information on an application for a social security card. Level 3 difficulty includes writing a brief letter explaining an error in a credit card bill and using a flight schedule to plan travel. Level 4 tasks include restating an argument made in a lengthy news article and calculating the money needed to raise a child based on information in a news article. Only at Level 5 are individuals routinely able to perform mental tasks as complex as summarizing two ways that lawyers challenge prospective jurors (based on a passage discussing such practices) and, with a calculator, determining the total cost of carpet to cover a room.
Although these tasks might seem to represent only the inconsequential minutiae of everyday life, they sample the large universe of mostly untutored tasks that modern life demands of adults. Consistently failing them is not just a daily inconvenience, but a compounding problem. Likening functional literacy to money—it always helps to have more—, literacy researchers point out that rates of socioeconomic distress and pathology (unemployment, adult poverty, etc.) rise steadily at successively lower levels of functional literacy (as is the pattern for IQ too; Gottfredson, 2002a). Weaker learning, reasoning, and problem solving ability translates into poorer life chances. The cumulative disadvantage can be large, because individuals at literacy Levels 1 or 2 “are not likely to be able to perform the range of complex literacy tasks that the National Education Goals Panel considers important for competing successfully in a global economy and exercising fully the rights and responsibilities of citizenship” (Baldwin et al., 1995, p. 16). Such disadvantage is common, too, because 40% of the adult white population and 80% of the adult black population cannot routinely perform above Level 2. Fully 14% and 40%, respectively, cannot routinely perform even above Level 1 (Kirsch et al., 1993, pp. 119-121). To claim that lower-ability citizens will only be victimized by the public knowing that differences in intelligence are real, stubborn, and important is to ignore the practical hurdles they face."


Suppressing intelligence research: Hurting those we intend to help

Linda S. Gottfredson (2005)


->The adults who performed in Levels 1 and 2 did not necessarily perceive themselves as being "at risk." 66 to 75 percent of the adults in the lowest level and 93 to 97 percent in the second lowest level described themselves as being able to read or write English "well" or "very well."

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