Literacy Resources

National Resources

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has conducted adult literacy assessments since 1985. A nationally representative sample of adults was assessed again in 2003, providing the first indication of the nation's progress in adult literacy since 1992.

The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) brochure discusses the new NAAL components.

National Institute for Literacy (NIFL) Provides a link to programs and activities including LINCS, a gateway to adult education and literacy resources on the Internet.

It also provides publications, a Literacy Hotline to identify programs in each state. The link for "The State of Literacy" offers an assessment of literacy in each state.

ProLiteracy In 2002, Literacy Volunteers of America and Laubach Literacy International merged to become ProLiteracy. Information on this site provides information about more than 1,200 member programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

State of Adult Literacy, 2006
ProLiteracy champions the power of literacy to improve the lives of adults and their families, communities, and societies. We envision a world in which everyone can read, write, compute, and use technology to lead healthy, productive, and fulfilling lives.

Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA) LVA was made part of the new Pro Literacy organization, but the former website still includes valuable general information and provides an overview of literacy in the U.S., and contacts to local offices in the U.S.

American Library Association (ALA)
ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS)
50 East Huron Street Chicago, Illinois 60611
(800) 545-2433 #4294
Contact: Dale Lipschultz by e-mail

The Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS) serves the Association by identifying and promoting library services that support equitable access to the knowledge and information stored in our libraries. OLOS focuses attention on services that are inclusive of traditionally underserved populations, including new and non-readers, people geographically isolated, people with disabilities, rural and urban poor people, and people generally discriminated against based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, language and social class. The Office ensures that training, information resources, and technical assistance are available to help libraries and librarians develop effective strategies to develop programs and service for new users.

The National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL) at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA offers high quality research to increase knowledge and help those teaching, managing, and setting policy in adult literacy education a sound basis for making decisions. NCSALL is a leader in professional development programs and in building support for research use. NCSALL's report, "As long as it takes" provides an assessment of library literacy programs.

Massachusetts Resources

English at Large
400 High St Medford, MA 02155
(781) 395-2374

Literacy Volunteers of Massachusetts
15 Court Square, Suite 540 Boston, MA 02108
(617) 367-1313

Massachusetts Coalition for Adult Education
6 Beacon St., Suite 415, Boston MA 02108
(800) 339-2498
Contact: Kenny Tamarkin

For a good overview of the state of literacy in Massachusetts:

Massachusetts Adult Literacy Hotline
c/o SABES, World Education
44 Farnsworth St, Boston, MA 02210
(800) 447-8844
Contact: Isilma Morales, email:

The Massachusetts Adult Literacy Hotline provides referrals to programs that offer one-on-one tutoring, small-group or classroom instruction to adult learners. Callers l receive information about basic reading, math, adult basic education, English language training, GED preparation or testing sites. The Hotline connects adult learners and volunteer literacy tutors with programs and GED testing sites across the state.

Massachusetts Family Literacy Consortium
Massachusetts Department of Education
350 Main St. Malden, MA 02148
(781) 338-3846
Contact: Kathy Rodriguez,
General e-mail:

Family literacy is a family education model which helps break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy by improving the educational opportunities of families. Family literacy builds on the strengths and addresses the needs of parents and their children. The Massachusetts Family Literacy Consortium is represented by state agencies, provider organizations and representatives of family literacy programs. The MFLC website includes a detailed list of community needs and assets for all cities and towns in the Commonwealth as well as a list of parent and program resources.

SABES (System for Basic Education Support) Regional Support Centers
c/o World Education
44 Farnsworth St Boston, MA 02210
(617) 482-9485
Contact: Lou Wollrab,

Facts on Literacy In America

How is literacy defined?

The former Literacy Volunteers of America, Inc. program defines adult literacy as the ability to read, write, and speak English proficiently, to compute and solve problems, and to use technology in order to become a life-long learner and to be effective in the family, in the workplace and in the community. The ability to read and write, to understand and be understood, is critical to personal freedom and the maintenance of a democratic society. Literacy is an integral element in the broader goals of economic opportunity and security, social justice, and dignity.

How is adult literacy measured?

Literacy is more than a measure of reading skill. It used to be measured in grade-level equivalents to reading at a grade in the kindergarten-12th grade system. Rather literacy is more complex which examines adult activities as a way to measure literacy. To determine the literacy skills of American adults, the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) used test items that resembled everyday life tasks involving prose, document, and quantitative skills. The NALS classified the results into five levels that are now commonly used to describe adults' literacy skills.

Almost all adults in Level 1 read a little but not well enough to fill out an application, read a food label, or read a simple bedtime story to a child. Adults in Level 2 can usually perform more complex tasks such as comparing, contrasting, or integrating pieces of information but usually not higher level reading and problem-solving skills. Adults in levels 3 through 5 usually can perform the same types of more complex tasks on increasingly lengthy and dense texts and documents. How literate is the adult population?

Very few adults in the U.S. are truly illiterate. Rather, there are many adults with low literacy skills who lack the foundation they need to find and keep decent jobs, support their children's education and participate actively in civic life. Between 21 and 23 percent of the adult population or approximately 44 million people, according to the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS), scored in Level 1. Another 25-28 percent of the adult population, or between 45 and 50 million people, scored in Level 2. Literacy experts believe that adults with skills at Levels 1 and 2 lack a sufficient foundation of basic skills to function successfully in our society.

There are a number of factors which explain the large number of adults in Level 1. Twenty-five percent of adults in Level 1 were immigrants who may have just been learning to speak English. More than 60 percent didn't complete high school. More than 30 percent were over 65. More than 25 percent had physical or mental conditions that kept them from fully participating in work, school, housework, or other activities, and almost 20 percent had vision problems that affected their ability to read print.

Where can I find out about literacy rates in my area? The National Institute for Literacy commissioned a study to apply the results of the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) to the state, county, and congressional district level. The study, called The State of Literacy shows the percentage of Level 1 adults in each of these jurisdictions.

Is there a National Literacy Day? An International Literacy Day?

Some states, cities, and towns occasionally declare a literacy month or week in their own jurisdictions. However, there is no permanently established National Literacy Day in the United States. In 1965, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated September 8 as International Literacy Day. Each year, the UNESCO Secretary-General issues a statement, and four prizes are awarded. Local organizations often plan their own celebrations.

The American Library Association website provides excellent information which defines and provides statistics on the state of adult literacy in the United States and the important role of the library.

Page last updated on 05/22/2015