The State of Literacy in Maine - 2021

Literacy opens doors to the world.  Ensuring that all Maine children enter adulthood equipped to be successful in post-secondary study, careers, and civic life is the ultimate mission of Maine’s educational system and requires proficiency with a variety of literacy-oriented abilities. Consistent, systemic instruction of literacy must be coupled with diverse experiences and opportunities to apply developmentally appropriate skills in increasingly complex contexts.  

Reading and understanding a wide-range of complex texts, developing a well-supported argument in writing or conversation, accessing and evaluating the quality of information obtained through technology-based tools, and interpreting and applying information presented through an oral presentation are only a few of many abilities literate adults rely on regularly in their daily lives.  The Maine Learning Results: Parameters for Essential Learning (2007) established the importance of strong literacy skills that enable us to be:  

  • clear and effective communicators;  

  • self-directed and lifelong learners;  

  • creative and practical problem solvers;  

  • responsible and involved citizens; and   

  • integrative and informed thinkers.       

The detriments of low levels of literacy have been well-documented.  In the United States, approximately 1 in 6 (14% or 43 million) adults are considered functionally illiterate (World Literacy Foundation, 2018).  The disparity between adults with and without functional literacy abilities begins early in life and is highly correlated with economic security and race.  Children living in poverty and children of color are far more likely not to read proficiently by third grade and not to graduate from high school (Fiester, 2013). The research of Donald Hernandez has repeatedly demonstrated that, “among children who face a double jeopardy — failure to read proficiently and being poor for at least one year — 26 percent fail to graduate” (Hernandez, 2011). Of even more concern is the recognition that children who enter school behind in Kindergarten are far less likely to catch up by third grade, even with substantial amounts of intervention (Fiester, 2013).  This reality clearly points to the need to better address intervention efforts in the years prior to Kindergarten (including two-generation approaches that support parents and children), particularly for families who are economically disadvantaged.   

The consequences of low levels of literacy lead to economic and public health challenges. Not only are adults with low levels of literacy four times more likely to report poor health, but they are far more likely to earn annual incomes below the poverty line and to access public assistance (Barbara Bush Foundation, 2020). Approximately 225 billion dollars in lost revenue results from unemployment, low workplace productivity, and crime (World Literacy Foundation, 2018).  Literacy skills, essential to the health of our democracy and the quality of our culture, have become even more important with the explosion of modern communication media. Effective communication is critical regardless of the devices we use or the distances over which we communicate.  Literacy skills make possible communication related to all disciplines across all devices and distances. Without a command of literacy skills, it is difficult to access, think about, understand, or explain the vast amount of content available to us.  

In response to these realities, Literacy for ME’s original priorities included ensuring that:  

  • Children and adults have access to more of the help they need to meet the literacy demands of post-secondary education, careers, and civic life;  

  • Maine communities have access to a statewide system of support for evidence-based literacy learning practices across the birth to adult span;  

  • State-level literacy education efforts are informed by practices proven effective in local communities;  

  • Local learning communities have access to guidance for developing and implementing comprehensive local literacy plans; and  

  • Cross-agency collaborations strengthen literacy across the birth to adult span.  

In the time since Literacy for ME’s launch in 2012, growth in literacy achievement as well as supports that contribute to higher levels of literacy have occurred across age/grade spans in Maine. Despite this forward movement, there remain challenges and plenty of room for additional growth. The chart below summarizes Maine’s current realities.  

The State of Literacy 2012 to Today

Click here to open the table.