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E.T.S. Awarded Adult-Literacy Study Contract

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The Education Department has awarded a $7.8-million contract to the Educational Testing Service to conduct the most extensive U.S. survey of adult literacy undertaken since the early 1970's, e.t.s. officials announced last week.

The testing service, a private, nonprofit educational-measurement company headquartered in Princeton, N.J., will also design and develop the four-year study, which will focus on Americans ages 16 to 64.

"Our major goal is to establish a body of relevant information that will have a direct impact on policymaking and the judgments of policymakers," Irwin Kirsch, director of adult-literacy projects for the e.t.s., said in a statement announcing the project.

"The standards being used to judge national progress in the past," Mr. Kirsch said, "have varied from being able to write one's name to reading at the 4th-, 8th-, and, more recently, 12th-grade levels. This project will improve our understanding of the nature and extent of literacy problems for various segments of the adult population, providing policymakers with a basis for developing future literacy services."

12,000 Interviews

The assessment, entitled the "National Adult Literacy Survey," will interview more than 12,000 Americans in their homes for 60 to 90 minutes during the winter of 1992. Field testing will be conducted in the winter of 1991.

Survey data will be reported according to race and ethnicity, gender, education level, and geographic region.

A 1985 study conducted by the e.t.s. and funded by the Education Department focused on adults ages 21 to 25 and defined literacy as the ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one's goals, and to develop one's potential.

"The issue of literacy is now widely debated, as Fortune 500 ceo's, school principals, economists, and parents recognize the links between the skills of our youth and the future capabilities of our work force," Mr. Kirsch said. The survey, he said, "will keep the debate tuned to the literacy demands facing adults in their homes, their communities and at work."--ps

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