Surveys reveal little improvement in Oklahoma’s literacy rates since 2012

By: - August 29, 2023 3:30 am

Books line the shelves of the Ralph Ellison Library in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma scored slightly worse than the national average of 21% of adults with low literacy skills in new national research. (Photo by Janelle Stecklein/Oklahoma Voice)

About 1 in 5 Oklahoma adults struggle to read and comprehend written English, newly released research shows

Over 500,000 Oklahoma adults could be either functionally illiterate in English or would struggle to paraphrase, make low-level inferences, or compare and contrast written information, according to the findings of a national survey, called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies.

Oklahoma scored slightly worse than the national average of 21% of adults with low literacy skills. 

Lacking reading skills has “huge” and life-long ramifications for adults, said Donita Shaw, professor of literacy education at Oklahoma State University.

It impacts a person’s ability to participate in society, politics and family life, said Shaw, who wasn’t involved in the PIAAC survey. 

The methods to teach reading are similar no matter the learner’s age, but adults might have less time or energy for schooling. 

“There’s many adults who want it, but many adults are working sometimes two or three jobs,” Shaw said. “Making (literacy programs) possible in a variety of settings that work for them in their busy lives I think is important to recognize, and then finding what they want or need to work on so it really meets their goals.”

Adult literacy rates in Oklahoma and the U.S. have been consistent since 2012, the research showed. The survey measured literacy rates of working-age adults in 2012, 2014 and 2017. Results from the three surveys were released this month.

The counties in Oklahoma with the highest average literacy scores were Cleveland, Canadian and Grant.

Texas, Tillman and Choctaw counties scored the lowest on average.

The findings revealed 79% of American adults have proficient English literacy skills, while 21% — about 43 million people — do not.

Sixty-six percent of Americans with low literacy skills were born in the country. The remainder — 34% — were born abroad.

Of American adults with low literacy levels, 35% were white, and 34% were Hispanic, the largest percentages of any racial or ethnic group.

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Nuria Martinez-Keel
Nuria Martinez-Keel

Nuria Martinez-Keel covers education for Oklahoma Voice. She worked in newspapers for six years, more than four of which she spent at The Oklahoman covering education and courts. Nuria is an Oklahoma State University graduate.