What do low literacy and limited English proficiency mean?
In 1988, Congress directed the U.S. Department of Education to undertake an assessment of the literacy skills of American adults, those 16 years old and older. Three years later, in 1991, Congress passed the National Literacy Act that defined literacy as “an individual’s ability to read, write, and speak in English, and compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job and in society, to achieve one’s goals, and develop one’s knowledge and potential.”
Using this definition of literacy, the U.S. Department of Education published the results of its National Adult Literacy Survey in 1993. This monumental survey remains the most comprehensive, statistically reliable source on literacy in the United States. Rather than classifying individuals as either “literate” or “illiterate,” this survey created three literacy scales: prose literacy, document literacy, and quantitative literacy. These scales profile the types of materials and demands individuals encounter in their daily lives; for example, interpreting instructions from a warranty, reading maps, balancing a checkbook, or figuring out a tip. By measuring literacy proficiency for each literacy scale, five levels of literacy were defined with Level 1 reflecting the lowest skills and Level 5 reflecting the highest skills.
Additional Literacy Resources: