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Las Vegas Review-Journal

EDITORIAL: Declining literacy skills

Another analysis highlights a massive problem

Month after month, U.S. taxpayers are sideswiped by studies that confirm our country is in the midst of a profound literacy crisis.

To mark the new year, Nevada’s university system reported that more than 40 percent of state high school graduates needed remedial courses upon entering public colleges. Those classes, which reviewed material that should have been mastered in high school, cost the state about $3 million per year.

In late January, The National Survey of America’s College Students found only 40 percent of the nation’s college seniors are able to distinguish fact from commentary in a newspaper editorial, understand documents such as maps and instruction manuals, or calculate a server’s tip after a meal out. Only 13 percent of the country’s adult population was deemed proficient in those basic skills.

Now comes a report from ACT, the nonprofit college entrance exam giant, that shows only half of the 1.2 million high school seniors who took its test in 2005 are prepared for the reading requirements of a first-year college course. The half who didn’t meet ACT’s benchmark were unable to understand relatively complicated texts with several layers of meaning.

This growing lack of literacy crosses all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines. Across the country, our high schools, colleges and universities are advancing class after class of students who, because they can’t read well, lack the most basic critical and quantitative thinking skills.

The ramifications of these shortcomings are staggering. Routine tasks, such as filling out a job application or understanding the terms of a bank loan, are impossibly difficult for a significant portion of the population. In a meeting with the Review-Journal’s Editorial Board last week, Terry Wright, owner and chairman of Nevada Title Co., lamented that he routinely hires instructors to come to his business to teach new employees how to write a business letter.

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Las Vegas Review-Journal

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