County literacy below state rate

Published 11:59 pm Monday, January 12, 2009

Reading is a basic skill many take for granted; however, 16 percent of the county’s 28,885 residents lack basic literacy skills, according to figures in the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy.

The study, released last week, shows that figure is slightly higher than the 15 percent of the state’s population who lack the same skills.

It’s also a figure that does not surprise Marion Powell, director of the Lucille Pierce Literacy Center in Opp.

“Reading is a skill that goes hand in hand with every life skill,” Powell said. “Additionally, the need to spell and write — it all goes together.”

At the Literacy Center, Powell and her staff work to give residents those skills they need to survive in life.

“If someone comes to our door and needs help, we arrange for that literacy help,” she said. “First we start with phonics, pictures really — just like a young child. A, ah, apple. It’s all about repetition. Then we move on to writing the words correctly and so on.”

Along with its neighboring counties — Escambia, Coffee, Houston and Conecuh — Covington ranked third lowest of those lacking the basic literacy skills. Lowest was Houston County with 12 percent; Coffee with 13 percent, Escambia with 19 percent and Conecuh with 23 percent.

The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy is a nationally representative assessment of English literacy among American adults age 16 and older. Sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), it is the nation’s most comprehensive measure of adult literacy since the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS).

In 2003, more than 19,000 adults participated in the national and state-level assessments, representing the entire population of U.S. adults who are age 16 and older, most in their homes and some in prisons from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Approximately 1,200 inmates of federal and state prisons were also assessed in order to provide separate estimates of literacy for the incarcerated population.

By comparing results from 1992 and 2003, NAAL provides the first indicator in a decade of the nation’s progress in adult literacy. NAAL also provides information on adults’ literacy performance and related background characteristics to researchers, practitioners, policymakers and the general public.

In 1992, 25 percent of the county’s residents lacked basic literacy skills.