National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL)


Data on Health and Well-being of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Other Native Americans, Data Catalog

National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL)

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Sponsor: U.S. Department of Education (DoE)/National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)
Description: The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) is a nationally representative assessment of English literacy among American adults age 16 and older. Results from the study cover the status and progress of literacy in the nation, the literacy skill level of American adults (including the least-literate adults), various factors associated with literacy, and the application of literacy skills to health-related materials. NAAL also provides the results of state-level assessments of six participating states and a national study on literacy among the state and federal prison population (local jails and other types of institutions are not included). Additionally, one important goal of the 2003 NAAL was to provide trend data in adult literacy performance since 1992. At this time, the 2003 NAAL full data set and accompanying technical documentation are not ready for public release.
Relevant Policy Issues: Educational Attainment.
Data Type(s): Survey
Unit of Analysis: Individual
Identification of AI/AN/NA: During the in-person interview, respondents are asked Which of the groups on this card best describes you? Choose one or more. and then given a handcard with the following response options:
  • White
  • Black or African American
  • Asian
  • American Indian or Alaska Native (AI/AN)
  • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander (NH/PI)
AI/AN/NA Population in Data Set: Of the 19,714 adults who made up the 2003 NAAL sample, 18,541 were from the household sample and 1,173 were from the prison sample. The total number of AI/AN respondents included in the full 2003 NAAL sample is 167. The total number of NH/PI respondents included is 26. An upcoming NAAL report will include separate estimates for AI/ANs.
Geographic Scope: The geographic scope of the study is national. In addition to allowing for national estimates, both the 1992 and 2003 NAAL allow estimates for state-level assessments for those states that choose to participate. In 2003, the following states participated in state-level assessments: Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, and Oklahoma.
Date or Frequency: The NAAL was conducted in 1992 and 2003. In order to provide trend data on adult literacy in the future, NCES plans to conduct additional periodic assessments.
Aggregation: The 1992 and 2003 NAAL used the same sampling and data collection procedures to ensure that comparable populations were assessed in both years. However, there are differences in how race information was collected between the two administrations. In 2003, respondents were not offered an Other category to describe their race and they could select one or more racial categories, while in 1992 respondents were limited to choosing one race or ethnicity. Additionally, there is an eleven year gap between the two data collection efforts, which may contribute to the variability in responses. For these reasons caution should be exercised if combining the 1992 and 2003 results for analysis by race/ethnicity.
Data Collection Methodology: NAAL is administered in person. Participants are first administered a set of background questions using computer assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) and a set of basic screening tasks to determine whether they should be given the main NAAL or the Adult Literacy Supplemental Assessment (ALSA). The least-literate participants are given the ALSA. Main NAAL participants read assessment questions from printed booklets and write their answers using a pencil. ALSA participants give oral responses to oral questions, but refer to printed materials to find the answers. At the end of the interview, all participants take the Fluency Addition to NAAL (FAN), which requires them to read lists and passages aloud from printed booklets. Participants responses to FAN are recorded using CAPI software.
Participation: Optional, with incentives. Respondents were paid $30 to participate.
Response Rate: Cases are considered complete if the respondent completed the background questionnaire and at least one question on each of the three scales of literacy assessment, or if the respondent was unable to answer questions due to language issues or mental disabilities. The overall weighted response rate for the household sample was 60.1 percent. The overall weighted response rate for the prison sample was 87.2 percent.
Sampling Methodology: NAAL uses a multi-stage probability sampling design. The NAAL sample is designed to represent all U.S. adults who live in households and prisons. For the 2003 NAAL, a national sample of the adult household population was combined with samples for the six states that participated in the NAAL state-level assessment. Stage 1 of the sample design involved dividing the U.S. into 1,900 primary sampling units (PSUs) and selecting 160 PSUs total among the national and state samples combined. Stage 2 involved selecting area segments within each selected PSU. Stage 3 was the selection of sampled households, and stage 4 was the selection of individual participants within the households.

The NAAL prison sample was independently selected using a two-stage design. The first stage involved selecting more than 100 federal and state prisons. The second stage involved selecting individual inmates from the selected prisons.

Strengths: Data are collected on a key policy issue, adult literacy. There are multiple years of data available.
Limitations: There are a small number of AI/AN/NA respondents. Differences in how race was assessed in 1992 and 2003, as well as the length of time between the two data collection efforts, will affect the ability to aggregate the data. Although currently there is a public use data set containing a limited number of variables available on the NAAL website, this limited data set does not identify AI/AN individuals (available race categories in the public use data set include White, Black, Hispanic, and Other.)

The full NAAL public-use and restricted-use data sets are not ready for dissemination at this time. However, once they are released, only the restricted use NAAL data set will identify AI/AN individuals. As there are less than 45 NH/PI cases in the data set, these values will be suppressed according to NAAL rules.

Access Requirements and Use Restrictions: To access the NAAL restricted-use data set, individuals will have to obtain an NCES license. NAAL staff currently will respond to special requests for analysis of NAAL data. Users who want to request that service need to complete a request form and submit it to NAAL. There is no cost for these analyses.
Contact Information: National Center for Education Statistics
1990 K Street, NW
Room 8087
Washington, DC 20006

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