Column One: Research

October 21, 1992 2 min read

A “sobering’’ one in eight adult job-seekers possesses only low-level literacy skills, a study by the Educational Testing Service has found.

The study, conducted for the U.S. Labor Department, measured the abilities of a sample of the 20 million people in 1990 who had registered for unemployment insurance, applied for a job at the United States Employment Service, or enrolled in a program under the Job Training Partnership Act.

It was based on a test of their abilities to understand prose; to locate and use information on job applications, payroll forms, and the like; and to balance a checkbook, complete an order form, and perform other quantitative tasks.

The study found that 13 percent of the insurance and employment-service applicants, and 14 percent of the J.T.P.A. enrollees, performed at the lowest level on the assessment, and that the number of minorities at that level--from 26 percent to 31 percent--reached “rates that are alarming--even dismaying,’' according to the E.T.S. Those at the lowest level could sign their name on a Social Security card or complete a section on a job application.

The study also found that, as expected, those who had dropped out of school tended to perform less well than those with more education. Yet, it notes, about 10 percent of high school graduates were unable to perform tasks--such as identify the right dosage for a child’s medicine--that “would appear to be of a nature that someone with 9 to 11 years of schooling should be able to do.’'

The report, “Beyond the School Doors,’' is summarized in the Summer 1992 issue of E.T.S. Policy Notes. Free copies are available by writing: E.T.S. Policy Information Center, 04-R, Educational Testing Service, Princeton, N.J. 08541.

Add a new critique to the growing ranks of reports challenging the gloomy view of the state of American education.

A report by the Educational Research Service, a private, Virginia-based firm, attacks what it calls myths about the poor quality of schools. The report states that, contrary to popular perceptions, scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test have remained relatively stable, not fallen; school costs have been driven up by special educational needs and legislative mandates; student achievement is “significantly better’’ than it was a generation ago; and the size of the educational bureaucracy is not hindering school improvement.

Copies of the report, “Perceptions About American Education: Are They Based on Facts?’' are available for $14 each from the Educational Research Service, 2000 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington, Va. 22201; or call (703) 243-2100.--R.R.

A version of this article appeared in the October 21, 1992 edition of Education Week as Column One: Research