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.

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