Never Too Late to Learn to Read

There is no age limit to acquiring literacy skills.

Statistics about basic adult literacy in the U.S. are perhaps the most quietly acknowledged unfortunate facts surrounding education in the country today.  It may surprise many to know that the global Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 50 percent of U.S. adults can’t read a book written at an eighth-grade level.

Other statistics are equally disturbing.

The National Center for Education Statistics reports one in six young adults drop out of high school every year, and that 43 percent who do will live in poverty. In fact, 70 percent of adult welfare recipients show a direct connection to low literacy levels.

Individuals at the lowest literacy and numeracy levels also have a higher rate of unemployment and earn lower wages than the national average. The American Journal of Public Health reports that low literacy costs the U.S. at least $225 billion each year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment.

Low literacy is also a predictor of other long-term consequences, including poorer health and lower self-esteem. And, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), there is  a 72 percent likelihood of low literacy parents passing along the low-literacy legacy to their own children, as well.

The causes of such illiteracy are many: English language learners (ELL) lacking the home reading support many of their peers enjoy; students with learning disabilities  who have not received effective reading instruction due to lack of teacher knowledge or resources ; a lack of teacher training focused on the latest research about the science of reading; and the inability of educators to achieve consensus on the best approaches to reading instruction.

Perhaps most insidiously, studies show learners tend to give up on themselves at some point and come to believe they are simply incapable of learning. And because many students have never been screened for dyslexia and other disabilities, educators, too, may not understand that these students are mentally capable, and thus teachers don’t pursue methods, such as multimedia instructional approaches, that support disabled learners.

But a new study bucks the widespread conventional belief that older learners are not capable of acquiring literacy skills. Research conducted by Dr. Meredyth Kealey at Arizona’s Pima Community College demonstrates that, given the right instruction, all students can learn to read.

In a six-week summer school adult literacy study, students identified as struggling readers increased their overall language literacy skills by more than 60 percent using the online MindPlay Virtual Reading Coach (MVRC). Students also significantly increased their comprehension skills, with their word per minute (WPM) reading speed going from an average of 109 to 169 WPM.

In addition, participants reported decreased anxiety around reading and increased pleasure in reading in general.

“They’re just so happy someone is teaching them how to read,” says Kealey, a 10-year teaching veteran. “They’re very grateful.”

The student participants, primarily English Language Learners, came from Spanish-speaking families and so had faced challenges their English-proficient peers did not. Often they were just “pushed through” the different grades and had simply given up on themselves, says Kealey.

This study conveys a message of hope to all learners. With the backing of research, MindPlay believes that with the right instruction, 98 percent of people can learn to read, no matter what their age or circumstances. MindPlay’s online curriculum was built by recognized industry reading experts and employs instructional methods based on the newest research about the science of reading. The results speak for themselves.

The organization ProLiteracy sums up the hopeful message for older learners in their article, Adult Literacy Can Change Everything:

Every important social issue is impacted by low literacy. When individuals learn how to read, write, do basic math, and use computers, they have the power to lift themselves out of poverty, lower health care costs, find and keep sustainable employment, and ultimately change their lives. 

Isn’t it to the benefit of all of us to promote a more literate, happy and prosperous population?


The MindPlay Team