Thursday, March 13, 2008

Declining Literacy: Yet more evidence!

I work at the testing center at a State University. For every test we give, we have to offer accommodations for students with learning disabilities, difficulty concentrating, etc. We mail all of these students a letter two weeks before the test, telling them where the test will be, what accommodations they qualify for, and how to confirm they're coming. The first thing the letter says, in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, is that the student must call and confirm they're coming.

This weekend we've got an accommodated English placement test. (You don't even need to take the English placement test--accommodated or not--if you score 550 or above on the english section of the SAT. Scoring 550 or higher on the SAT doesn't seem that hard, yet thousands of students sign up for every offering.) Most of these students, still in highschool, have their parents sign them up. Of the five students signed up for the accommodated English test this Saturday, two called to confirm. This morning I started calling those who hadn't confirmed. Two of the numbers were invalid. The third number worked.

The student's mother picked up the phone. I told her who I was and why I was calling. She said her daughter was definitely planning on coming to the test. I asked if she'd received the letter. She said she had. I didn't bother to ask why she hadn't call to confirm. She asked me when the test was scheduled, and where to show up for it.

The letter we sent is three sentences long. One of those three sentences says when the test is scheduled, and where.

I imagine this mother picking the letter off her hardwood floor, near her front door, where it fell with the other mail that day. I imagine this mother tearing the envelope open with a silver letter opener. I imagine this mother unfolding the paper inside. I imagine her holding the paper in front of her face, on hand on either side, the page about fourteen inches from her nose. I imagine her eyes tracing over the words printed on the page, but her brain never truly decoding the meaning of those words. I imagine that her eyes did in fact process 100% of the words on the page, but that her brain captured maybe 10% of the meaning.

Statistics show that the number of funtionally literate High School students has fallen to 35% (prison planners now estimate their future populations by researching the number of illiterate 4th graders, by the way). Apparently, those students' parents aren't doing so well either.

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