The average reading age is…?

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The average reading age of the UK is 11. That’s what the speaker told us at the last Socitm meeting I attended. It struck me as an interesting statistic and possibly a damning indictment of our education system. Of course it may not be true and I felt I needed to explore it a bit further. Is the claim right? Is it actually a problem and is there something that could be done about it?

A bit of research later and it would seem that the problem is actually worse. According to See a Voice and Content Design London: The average reading age of the UK population is 9 years – that is, they have achieved the reading ability normally expected of a 9 year old. The Guardian has a reading age of 14 and the Sun has a reading age of 8.

They go on to say that you mustn’t confuse the reading age with the actual age of the reader.

There is something not right here. The word to look out for is expected. Average reading age is being measured against an expected standard rather than an actual standard. But expected by whom, the Government’s Standards and Testing Agency. What is really being said here is that the actual reading attainment is lower than the standard set.

The Literacy Trust says that 1.7 million adults in England, have literacy levels below those expected of an 11-year-old, whilst Superduperinc tells me that the average 12 year old has over 50,000 terms in their vocabulary.

Again, this cannot be right. If an average 12 year old has achieved a certain level, yet the population average is that of a 9 year old then the average person’s reading ability must deteriorate sharply after the age of 12. At least 15% of people are below the age of 12 anyway which will skew any figures.

I am assuming that reading ability is not linear. There must come a time when your ability to read stops increasing, or increases marginally. Information processing speed peaks around age 18 or 19, while short-term memory is strongest at about age 25. If peak reading ability is in your early twenties then the average must be somewhere in the low teens.

The average reading age of the UK population must be exactly the same as the average age of the UK population, which is 40.3 years. Now you know.

Beware of rash and sensationalist claims that do not stand up to scrutiny nor are supported by fact.

7 thoughts on “The average reading age is…?

  1. the irony that you dont actually understand the reading age is level of comphrension shows your reading age level itself

    1. My blog says ‘you mustn’t confuse the reading age with the actual age of the reader’. I understand that but my argument is that it is compared to an arbitary standard.

  2. hmm there are quite a few logical fallacies in your post. let’s break ’em down:

    > “Average reading age is being measured against an expected standard rather than an actual standard.”

    It IS being measured against an “actual” standard. A standard, by its very nature, is arbitrary and someone has to set them. Once it is set, it is an “actual” standard which is then set as an expectation on the populous. Your statement is a little meaningless since the “actual” standard is the expected standard…since you know, it’s a standard.

    > “The Literacy Trust says that 1.7 million adults in England, have literacy levels below those expected of an 11-year-old, whilst Superduperinc tells me that the average 12 year old has over 50,000 terms in their vocabulary…..Again, this cannot be right.”

    Why not? I think you’re conflating comprehension with vocab. Memorization is easy – the reading level is measured for comprehension.

    > “At least 15% of people are below the age of 12 anyway which will skew any figures”
    But you just said in your post that the “Literacy Trust says that 1.7 million –>adults “If peak reading ability is in your early twenties then the average must be somewhere in the low teens……The average reading age of the UK population must be exactly the same as the average age of the UK population, which is 40.3 years. ”

    Those two statements are contradictory. If the average “must be somewhere in the low teens” then how can it be 40.3?

    I think you are also misunderstanding what the reading age measures – it measures comprehension. So to equate literal age with reading age is incorrect.

    > “.Beware of rash and sensationalist claims that do not stand up to scrutiny nor are supported by fact.”

    I agree with the sentiment, but wholeheartedly disagree that these claims are not supported by fact. Every year, for the past 70+ years, kids all over the world take standardized tests which rank them against their peers. Some do well, some do poorly, and most fall within a standard distribution of the normalized average.

    If that is the case, then we can certainly measure adults to this same standard yes? I can give an adult the same exact test I just gave a middle schooler and compare the results. If the adult performs worse, than his/her reading level is below that of the **average** middle schooler. If I perform this N=1 million times, well now I have a nice normal distribution of scores to compare across all age groups and levels.

    What do you feel is arbitrary about that? Is the test arbitrary? So what? We are using the same test right – so the test is the control here since results are normalized.

    You are correct in that we are using an arbitrary measure – but you do not explain why that is an incorrect thing to do. All standardized measurements are arbitrary – they are set by someone to test something. We then normalize the scores and we have a distribution of levels. We can them compare all ages to these normalized scores. What is arbitrary about this?

    1. Firstly thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my blog. Your reply is very helpful.

      When I wrote the piece I was concerned about a number of things, in the main that people in the audience just accepted what was being said and I felt that it needed unpicking.

      On reflection I think what has confused me is the use of ‘average reading age ‘ to mean ‘expected reading attainment’. The actual average reading age will be the same as the average age of the population, while the average against an expected, or aspirational, will be different. Using the same defintion and measurement to mean two seperate things is confusing.

      My other issue was that an average reading age of 11 seemed low, yet I suspect that after a certain age, average reading ability will not increase signifiantly. For example a person may not be abel to read any better at 40 than they could at 20 and so their average reading age will always appear low. An average reading age of 11 may not be as bad as the headline grabbing statement appears.

      Anyway, thanks once again.

    1. Yes and no. The average actual reading age of any country must be the same as the average age of its population. The average reading age of any country against an agreed standard is significantly lower. The average reading age doesn’t mean what it says.

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