Functional Literacy in High School Students
What is Functional Literacy?
Prior to 1985, functional literacy was defined as the ability to read or write in English or another language. Standards for measuring one’s functional literacy have changed numerous times over the decades. In the 1930’s functional literacy meant having three or more years of school. During the WWII era, it meant completing a fourth grade education. The standards increased during the 1960’s. Literacy in this era meant that a person had completed an eighth grade education. During the 1970’s, the completion of a high school education meant that a person was functionally literate (Rose 2005).
The National Literacy Act of 1991 and the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 expanded the definition of functional literacy. These two pieces of legislation define functional literacy as “an individual’s ability to read, write, speak English, compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family of the individual and in society”. In conjunction with the clarified definition, literacy in general has been broken down into four levels (White and Dillow 2005):
• Able to follow simple written directions and select phrases that describe pictures
• Basic adding and subtraction
Ex: Locate the time and place of a meeting, Fill out a job application, Add amounts on a deposit slip.
• Identifying cause and effect
• Demonstrating understanding of a body of text and draw conclusions about the text
• Using arithmetic when not explicitly needed
Ex: Identify specific location on a map, Compare cost of two items
• Understand, summarize, and explain themes complicated literature
• Make complex inferences
• Apply information from one source to use in another
Ex: Reading charts Compare and contrast themes in two bodies of work
• Analyze and draw conclusions from multiple text
• Use arithmetic to solve multistep problems
• Link the ideas of different bodies of work to your own personal experiences
Ex: Writing college level term paper and including references. Computing and comparing the cost per ounce for food items.
Individuals who operate at levels one and two function at a basic level of literacy performance. This categorizes them as functionally literate. Individuals, who operate at levels three and four function at a proficient level of literacy. 70 years ago an individual could operate in society with level one literacy performance, however, new ways of acquiring information and the evolution of new technologies has reshaped society. The skills that are necessary to be functionally literate in this era go beyond the skill of basic reading.
Is it a Problem?
Over the last 15 years in the United States there has been an increase in the number of high school students that have graduated at or below the basic level of functional literacy. The most common issue that teachers see...