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Gaston County's Rate of Illiteracy

The 2010 Census revealed the number of Gaston County residents, aged 25 or older, possessing at least a high school diploma or equivalent credential rose from 71.4% in 2000 to 78.9% in 2010. This progress is impressive, and Gaston is now nearly on par with State and National literacy averages (84% and 85%, respectively). Still, without at least a high school education, 21% of Gaston County’s adults are considered functionally illiterate. This high rate of illiteracy is a well-documented barrier to our region’s economic development.

Likewise, illiteracy is one of the foremost barriers to an individual’s employability, and those who are able to find work often cannot earn family-sustaining wages with opportunities for promotion. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Among people 25 and over who had full-time jobs, the median weekly income for people without a high school diploma or equivalent test credential was $444 in 2010. With a high school diploma or equivalent test credential, it jumped to $626 a week, an increase of nearly 41%. With that 2-year Associate degree, median income was $767 a week. More education equates to better paying jobs."

In FY 2000/01, Gaston Literacy began collecting data on new English-speaking clients as they entered the program to develop a profile of Gaston County residents seeking literacy services. A total of 1,105 clients were surveyed and their functioning literacy levels determined using the federally recognized Comprehensive Adult Skills Assessment System (CASAS). Our goal was to identify a “hot spot” in the community that we could target to eradicate intergenerational illiteracy. To our surprise, every municipality was represented—not one “hot spot” but many! Consequently, the data has been more useful for program development as we strive to provide high quality services that meet the needs and goals of our students.

Results from the first five years were published in September 2005. The report analyzed data from 525 clients who were served between 2000/01 and 2004/05. This report seeks to summarize how the population changed during the last five years of the survey (2005/06 – 2009/10) as well as the major differences between the minors and adults served.

Some things held constant during the entire ten year period:  1)  Last grade completed was no indicator of functioning ability. Although the majority of our students attended at least some high school, the majority tested somewhere between 4th and 8th grade in terms of literacy skills and knowledge.  2)   Most were unemployed and did not meet the minimum standards to qualify for job training programs.


↑ 279%), and African Americans became the most prominent race represented, growing by 19%. Among the youth however, Caucasians were the majority the entire 10 years.

Although males outpaced females 53% to 51% among the youth, in totality, genders were equally represented in both 5-year segments of the survey.

44% responded they were born in Gaston County. The percentage declined over time (from 48% during the first 5 years to 40% during the last five). Youth responses mirrored adults in place of birth.

 Most (57%) dropped out of school between grades 9 and 12. The number of students completing at least 9th grade increased by 24% during the 2nd half of the survey.

Youth tended to have attended school longer with 81% completing at least some high school compared to 51% of adults.

12% of our clients had previously been awarded a HS diploma or equivalent credential (13% of adults and 6% of minors). While students reporting during the last five years of the survey remained in school longer, the number completing high school actually declined by four percentage points.

5% had attended some college (6% of adults and only 1% of minors)—the majority with this level of education reported during the last five years.


During the 10-year period, the number of students functioning at the four lowest literacy levels experienced a significant decline while the High Intermediate and the Adult Secondary levels grew. Youth scored at higher functioning levels than did adults. The majority of our students scored at the High Intermediate Level.

The number of students functioning at the three lowest levels decreased by 51%. Students testing at the Pre-Literacy level may not possess cognitive skills or may have severe/profound developmental or learning disabilities. Most individuals who score within the Beginning Literacy and Beginning Basic Education range can read and write numbers and letters and simple words and phrases. They can calculate a single simple operation when numbers are given and make simple change. Some can fill out forms requiring basic personal information, write a list or take a telephone message. They can handle entry level jobs that require only basic written communication.

We saw an increase of 16% among clients functioning at the intermediate levels. Individuals at the lower end of this level can handle basic reading, writing, and computational tasks related to life roles. They can interpret simple charts, graphs, and labels, and follow basic written instructions and diagrams. The more advanced students in this level can handle most routine reading, writing and computational tasks related to their life roles. They can read and interpret a simple handbook for employees; compute tips; reconcile a bank statement; follow multi-step diagrams and written instructions; maintain a family budget; and write reports. Students at the upper end of this range are able to begin GED® text preparation. They can handle jobs and/or job training that involve following basic oral or written instructions and diagrams if they can be clarified orally.

The most significant growth (↑ 147%) was among the clients functioning at the highest literacy level. Clients at the Adult Secondary Level (grades 9 -12) can read and interpret common legal forms and manuals; use math in business; create and use tables and graphs; and communicate personal opinion in written form. They can integrate information from multiple texts and evaluate and organize information. They can perform tasks that involve oral and written instruction in both familiar and unfamiliar situations.

An average of 48% of our total population reported they were raised in two-parent households. That trend held constant during the entire study. Adults were more apt to have lived in a single-parent household than minors.

Averages for the 10 year project revealed an equal number of mothers and fathers graduated high school and can read, 30% and 55% respectively.

Students entering the program during the last half of the survey reported higher educational levels for both their mothers and fathers. Adults reported higher education levels and functioning abilities among their parents than did the youth. They also reported that their mothers had higher education levels and were more likely to be able to read.

While many students reported suffering either mental or physical trauma as children, the most common physical impairments to learning were visual and auditory. Reports were similar for all ages across all categories except auditory, which was much higher among adults.

Two percent of our clients disclosed they were court-ordered to attend classes (50% more adults than youth).  The number on parole did not waver during the course of the survey.

 The majority last attended schools in Gaston County (54%) although the numbers declined during the last 5 years of the survey. The percentage of adults dropping out of Gaston County schools was significantly higher than youth—65% and 54%, respectively.

During the 10 year survey, only 34% of our students were employed at intake. The numbers declined from 39% during the first 5 years to 30% during the latter years.
Consequently, the number receiving public assistance increased during that time. More youth than adults reported being employed. More youth also reported receiving public assistance.

50% of the individuals seeking literacy services were Caucasian. During the first 5 years, Caucasians made up 58% of the enrollment. During the last five, Caucasian enrollment decreased by 26%, Hispanic numbers grew from 19 served to 72.

The Impacts

The Impact of Literacy

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