When it comes to adult illiteracy numbers for the state of Texas, Young County falls well below the state average but is somewhere in the middle when compared to seven surrounding counties.
The 2009 study still cited by the Texas Center for the Advancement of Literacy & Learning comes from the National Center for Education Statistics and it breaks down, county by county, the percentage of adults who can’t read.
Debra Hargrove, director of professional development design for TCALL, said that upon initial investigation, it does appear that the NCES Texas county breakdown remains the most current data for Young County adult illiteracy rates. Of the 254 counties in Texas, the median percentage of illiterate adults stood at 17 percent, while the average was 18.89 percent.
Young County stands at 13 percent.
To put that into perspective, in the counties surrounding Young, Parker had that lowest percentage of adult illiteracy at 9 percent, while Palo Pinto and Stephens counties showed the highest at 15 percent.
Throughout the state, Starr County showed the highest percentage of adult illiteracy at 65 percent, followed by Presidio and Maverick at 61 percent, Hudspeth at 52 percent and Hidalgo at 50 percent.
On the other end of the spectrum, Randall County, which extends south from the southern half of Amarillo, has only a seven percent adult illiteracy rate. This is followed by Denton, Collin, Kendall, Rockwall and Williamson counties, each showing an 8 percent adult illiteracy rate. Atascosa, Bandera, Hood and Parker counties all came in at 9 percent.
The NCES study criteria is based on what it calls basic prose literacy skills, BPLS.
“Prose literacy is defined by reading materials arranged in sentences and paragraphs,” the report states. “Examples of prose literacy include newspaper articles, editorials and brochures. Adults who lack BPLS have skills that range from being unable to read and understand any written information to being able only to locate easily identifiable information. In short, commonplace prose text in English, but nothing more advanced. The percentage of those who lack BPLS reflects the magnitude of the adult household population at the lowest level of English literacy.”
Sara Shelton, director of the Wichita Adult Literacy Council, said that much of the data for studies such as the NCES report comes from census data and from www.proliteracy.org.
“You’re going to find that in counties that have a very high ESL (English as a second language) population, whether they’re legal or illegal, they look at the total numbers and they look at how many of those folks in that area can’t read or write,” Shelton said. “And so those numbers sometimes, it’s hard to know for sure (how accurate they are), especially when you’re looking at an (ESL).”
Shelton said that the other criteria literacy studies look at involves employment, and she added that while the 2009 NCES study places Wichita County at 13 percent in adult illiteracy, the same as Young County, the actual number for Wichita is closer to 23 percent.
“There’s a lot of different ways to gather those statistics,” Shelton said. “Basically, the 23 percent that we came up with was from the census for 2000. And for the latest census (2010), I was not able to find the actual literacy statistics on that.”
Shelton also guesses that Young County’s adult literacy numbers are probably higher than the 13 percent given by the 2009 NCES study.
Read the entire story in Wednesday's Graham Leader.