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Two-Hundred-Forty Thousand Adults In State Said To Lack Basic Reading Skills

LITERACY

By KATE FARRISH | The Hartford Courant

January 09, 2009

More than 240,000 adults in Connecticut or 9 percent of those 16 and older lack even the most basic reading skills, according to estimates released Thursday by the National Center for Education Statistics.

That means they would have trouble understanding a doctor's written instructions or a pamphlet explaining jury duty, state officials said.

Although state officials said the figures are reasonably accurate, some literacy advocates say the number of struggling readers is much higher, particularly in the state's poor and urban areas.

The estimates for 2003, the latest year available show improvement from the federal agency's 1992 estimate that 14 percent of Connecticut adults were reading at the lowest literacy level, said Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the state Department of Education.

"Nearly a quarter-million adults in the state do not meet this basic level, which is alarming," Murphy said. "We see it as positive news that there's been improvement, but it doesn't take away the significant need for adult education services in Connecticut."

About 30,000 state residents are enrolled in adult education, but thousands more should be in classes to improve their reading skills, officials said. State funding for adult education mostly has been flat in recent years and is capped at $20.6 million this year.

"The need is definitely great," said Eduardo Genao, executive director of the adult education center in Hartford.

Genao has been trying to find more students through television ads and recruitment fairs, and even by writing to every church in the city.

In New Britain, local residents and parents, as well as immigrants from Bosnia, Poland, Africa, Latin America and Central America, are filling basic English and English as a second language courses day and night, said Benjamin Foster, director of adult literacy and social studies for the school district.

They need to be stronger readers to expand their employment opportunities, Foster said.

"This is something that is crucial for our nation and state to be able to compete in the workforce," he said.

State officials said the new estimates are reliable, even though they were extrapolated from a survey in which only six states Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Missouri, New York and Oklahoma took part. The federal Center on Education Statistics used a complicated analysis that took into account U.S. Census data on poverty, immigration, the number of adults over 25 who lack a high school diploma and the racial and ethnic background of residents.

But Foster said he thought the estimate that 9 percent of Hartford County residents lacked basic reading skills (which happens to be the same figure as the statewide estimate) was low, and Carl Guerriere, executive director of the Greater Hartford Literacy Council, dismissed the estimates as meaningless, in part because they have wide margins of error.

His group often cites an earlier survey that concluded that 40 percent of Hartford County residents read at the two lowest levels of literacy. In any case, Guerriere said, the need for more literacy training is enormous. As parents become better readers, the reading skills of their children improve, he said.

"A parent's literacy level has been shown to be the most significant factor in a child's success," said Guerriere, whose council is nevertheless due to close its doors at the end of January because of a lack of money.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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