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Definition of Literacy

Literacy has been traditionally defined as the ability to read and write with a certain degree of competence. However, research and best practices in education indicate that, in recent years, the meaning has been expanded to include literacy in information and communication technologies, quantitative literacy, and scientific literacy, among others. To improve academic success in university programs, research indicates that all literacy areas should be integrated throughout the curriculum.

Construction of a working meaning of literacy to focus ASU’s QEP began with the definition from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and from the Alabama Quality Teaching Standards (AQTS) mandated by the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) for all teacher preparation programs in the state.

UNESCO defines literacy as “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society.” (

ASU’s College of Education is the oldest degree granting college on campus and currently graduates approximately 26% of all undergraduates and awards the largest number of degrees in a single major, teacher education, each year. Therefore, the ALDSE’s literacy standard is critical to the formulation of ASU’s definition of literacy.The third standard of the ALSDE Alabama Quality Teaching Standards addresses directly the mandate that all teaching field programs require teacher candidates to demonstrate competence in literacy, which is clearly defined to encompass the basic academic skills—“oral and written communication, reading, mathematics”:

Standard 3—Literacy:  To improve student learning and achievement, teachers use knowledge of effective oral and
written communications, reading, mathematics, and technology to facilitate and support direct instruction, active inquiry,
collaboration, and positive interaction.

Rationale:  Research clearly indicates that one of the strongest correlates to effective teaching is a high level of literacy.
Not only do effective teachers demonstrate effective use of the spoken and written language, reading, mathematics, and
technology, they also model and actively teach their students the fundamentals of reading, writing, and oral communications
across all content areas (

The literacy areas selected as most important for ASU students, based on university student performance assessment data, are reading and writing literacy (always connect the two), quantitative literacy, and information literacy. The UNESCO definition and the ALSDE definition specifically encompass these areas as well.

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