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Mixing words and numbers

Stats don’t always have the answer, folks.
Stats don’t always have the answer, folks.

How literacy rates affect our future

Article: Destiny Kaus – A&C Writer

Good ol’ Statistics Canada recently published a study entitled “Study: Life-path outcomes associated with reading ability.” The study defines reading literacy as “the ability to understand, use and reflect on written texts, in order to achieve one’s goals, to develop one’s knowledge and potential, and to participate in society.”

Huzzah! Now that we have that definition, we can actually understand what the heck this study is talking about.

The study recounts how it followed individuals from age 15 until age 25 (that’s a whole 10 years of being followed around by stats people). After gathering data, the study then evaluated how these individuals’ reading proficiency at age 15 helped or hindered them when they reached the age of 25.

This study measured reading proficiency on a scale of one to five with one being the lowest level of reading proficiency and five being the highest. According to Statistics Canada, in the end, “the study found a clear relationship between levels of proficiency in reading at the age of 15 and highest level of educational attainment a decade later.”

Sweet. This is nice and all, but nowhere in the study does anyone state whether or not this relationship was a cause and effect relationship. Without that information, I can only gather that this study is simply a correlation, not a causation.

Let me clarify. Though a student’s high reading proficiency at age 15 may line up (correlate) with post-secondary education at age 25, that high reading proficiency alone did not cause that student to go to post-secondary education.

With all that jazz cleared up, the study states that “young people who had higher levels of proficiency in reading at the age of 15 had higher levels of educational attainment and income by the time they were 25 than youth with lower proficiency in reading.”

I take issue with this statement because, to me, it gives the impression that students who had a higher reading proficiency at 15 are better than those who had a lower one just because they went on to achieve higher education and a higher income.

If students read at a high level and want to go on to University and make loads of money afterwards, because that’s where they find their happiness, then power to them!

But, what if students with a lower reading level don’t want to go on to higher education, not because of their reading proficiency, but because they want to travel?

In my opinion, if students are happy travelling the world, working at McDonald’s, or working in retail for the rest of their lives then by all means they should do just that. A high reading proficiency, post-secondary education, and higher income does not make one person better than another.

Well that was a solid little rant, but definitely a rant that can be backed up by the University of Regina’s own Education Professor Ron Folk.

“I think job satisfaction is important regardless of salary.”

Boom. Well said.

Folk also didn’t find the results of the study’s correlation unexpected due to the necessity of reading ability in further education.

“Reading ability is very important in the overall education of students,” says Folk. “Those proficient in reading are more likely to pursue their learning to a higher level.”

Folk makes a good point here that supports the fact that this study presents correlative data, not causation data. While those who are more proficient in reading are more likely to pursue higher education, not all of them do.

How do teachers help students on a lower reading level raise their reading proficiency? Folk suggests the provision of more individual help and support to all students, smaller class sizes, and more resources available to help support the teachers.

Even with these resources in place, some students may still remain at a lower reading level. Folk makes a bold statement: “I don’t know if all students would be able to achieve the highest level.”

I wholeheartedly agree with this point. As an Education student, I have learned that students all learn at different levels and read at different levels.

While some students may be able to achieve the highest level of reading proficiency (for example a five on a five-point scale), other students may not because their highest level of achievement may be a three. Yes, they will have improved from a one to a three, but they may never reach a five.

Does that matter? No. If they reach that three and that’s as high as they can get, then I say good on them because for them that’s amazing.

Image: Haley Klassen

About Destiny Kaus

Former carillon production manager/arts editor/arts writer.