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Report: Insight Into Spanish-Speaking Adults Who Struggle With Reading


People living in the United States who started school knowing only Spanish are more likely than those who started school knowing only English to struggle with reading as adults, according to a federal study released this week that explores why some adults in the United States are struggling readers. The study's findings are featured in an article, "Why Do Millions of Americans Struggle with Reading and Writing?," published this week in the Christian Science Monitor (Hat tip to This Week in Education).

The article says that the researchers moved into relatively new territory by interviewing adults whose first language is Spanish to get more insight into their English literacy. The interviewers were permitted to talk with the adults in Spanish. But they had to give answers in English.

One way that the study, released by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences, examined whether participants were slow or fluent readers was by finding out how many words they could read correctly per minute. That was the basis for a "basic reading skills" score. Participants who had started school speaking only English scored 100 words per minute on average, while those who started school speaking only Spanish scored 66 words per minute (on Page 19 of the study). Thus, those adults who had started school in English were less likely to be slow readers than those who started school in Spanish.


It is pretty obvious that these adults probably lack literacy in Spanish as well, were probably SIFE students in which they lack education in their native language, attended poor schools which didn't do well with native speaking students, and are poor. They also may have come later in life and only were taught English in a limited manner. If there are programs for ESOL for adults, they are often in dumpy places where stores or offices refused to rent, the teachers aren't usually ESOL certified teachers and often a warm body will do. Doesn't bode well for teaching literacy in English in any capacity.

Lynn addresses the main cause of adult bi-illiteracy, a natural consequence of inadequate and inefficient curriculum, socio-economic factors, and a remedial versus enrichment view of literacy development. It is unfortunate that government funds paid by us are misused with flaky and biased reports that are anything but scientific. These simplistic data emerge from highly politicized environments. Conceptualization and assessment of language proficiency derive from power relations in society and that they have far-reaching effects on student opportunities in that society. Besides these political issues, imagine your kid going to China and sitting in a classroom without English support for years. What would happen to him or her?

Marta Dean, literacy specialist Read Eds UGA

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