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20 percent of Highlands adults are illiterate

SEBRING - Are you more literate than a third grader? Thirteen percent of Americans may not be.

"There are currently more than 30 million adults in the United States whose ability to read, write, and do basic math is at or below the level of the average third grader," said a Dec. 11 Remapping Debate web story.

"I would agree," said Sylvia Turner, director of South Florida State College's Adult Education Department, "based on what I see, through the students who come to us, who don't know how to do reading and writing or math."

Literacy isn't just the ability to read basic words. The National Assessment of Adult Literacy measures the skill to search, comprehend and read continuous texts; to use payroll forms, job applications, transportation schedules, maps, tables and food labels; and the proficiency to balance a checkbook, figure a waiter's tip, or complete an order form.

Eleven million Americans are non-literate in English, 7 million couldn't answer test questions, 4 million couldn't take the NAAL because of language barriers.

Today's digital society presents ever-larger challenges.

"The GED is comprised of more and more advanced math," said Turner. The General Education Development test includes measurements, geometry, data analysis, statistics, probability, algebra and patterns.

Eighteen percent of Highlands County's 80,000 adults lack basic literacy skills, according to the Florida Literacy Coalition's 2003 assessment. That's 2 percent better than the rest of the Sunshine State. In 13 of Florida's counties, 20 percent or more lack skills, according to the FLC's 2003 report "Getting Started in Adult Literacy."

Those are the most current statistics available from the Florida Literacy Coalition in Orlando, Turner said.

The problem could be better addressed, said RemappingDebate.com, a public policy website, stated: "Doing so, however, would require aggressive, coordinated investment on all levels of government, and the federal government has not provided the necessary leadership or funding. In fact, over the last decade, federal funding, adjusted for inflation, has gone down. State governments, too, have mostly failed to respond in any way that would suggest recognition that the epidemic of adult illiteracy is an emergency."

"The number one issue is that we're simply not providing the resources that we need to serve the students that we need to serve," Marcie Weadon-Moreno Foster, public policy chair for the National Coalition for Literacy, told Remapping Debate. "It's a very undernourished system at both the federal level and the state level."

Experts and advocates told Remapping Debate there is a tendency among lawmakers to see low-skilled adults as undeserving or beyond repair.

"I think all people can learn," Turner disagreed. "We just to have to lead them to that point."

Students already have the passion inside them, she said. "Some parents don't demand more, but when we do, we open up a whole new world for them. Every person has a passion inside them that must be unleashed."

SFSC offers adult education literacy classes on the Avon Park campus Tuesday through Thursday at 4 p.m.

English as a Second Language classes are offered at the Avon Park, Lake Placid and Bowling Green campuses are taught on most weekdays in the mornings and evenings, and at Our Lady of Grace Church on Main Street in Avon Park.

More info: 784-7422.