The Washington Post reports

Literacy experts and educators say they are stunned by the results of a recent adult literacy assessment, which shows that the reading proficiency of college graduates has declined in the past decade, with no obvious explanation.

“It’s appalling — it’s really astounding,” said Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association and a librarian at California State University at Fresno. “Only 31 percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it. That’s not saying much for the remainder.”

Some more excerpts:

The test measures how well adults comprehend basic instructions and tasks through reading — such as computing costs per ounce of food items, comparing viewpoints on two editorials and reading prescription labels. Only 41 percent of graduate students tested in 2003 could be classified as “proficient” in prose — reading and understanding information in short texts — down 10 percentage points since 1992. Of college graduates, only 31 percent were classified as proficient — compared with 40 percent in 1992.

…Dolores Perin, a reading expert at Columbia University Teachers College, said that her work has indicated that the issue may start at the high school level. “There is a tremendous literacy problem among high school graduates that is not talked about,” said Perin

I noticed this in the fall of 2004 when I taught my Economics for the Citizen course. Many students had great difficulty when I gave an assignment to read a book and write a paper on it. As a result, when I taught the course again this fall, I assigned two such papers.

I may or may not be able to give students any lasting knowledge of economics. But I certainly can give them practice with reading and writing.