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$10 Million Grant Will Enable U of M, Georgia State, and Four Other Universities to Research and Advance Adult Literacy

For release: August 8, 2012
For press information, contact Curt Guenther, 901-678-2843

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded the University of Memphis and Georgia State University, along with four other universities in the United States and Canada, a five-year, $10 million grant to establish a new research center that will support research focusing on ways to improve adult literacy in the United States.

The grant from the Institute of Educational Sciences will fund the establishment of a Center for the Study of Adult Literacyat GSU, where researchers will study the underlying cognitive and motivational issues of adults who struggle with reading. The research center will also work on developing and piloting a reading intervention to improve literacy among this population.

Dr. Art Graesser
Dr. Art Graesser

Dr. Art Graesser, U of M professor of psychology and co-director of the Institute for Intelligent Systems, is the local researcher involved in the project.  In explaining the U of M’s involvement in the research, Graesser said, “The role of the University of Memphis is to develop motivating computer technologies with conversational agents (avatars, talking heads) that train adults how to read by communicating with the adult learners in natural language.”

Graesser and his fellow researchers in the Institute for Intelligent Systems – Xiangen Hu, Andrew Olney, Mark Conley, and Zhiqiang Cai – will work with Literacy Mid-South in developing the learning environments.  

“Compared to many areas in education, adult literacy has had comparatively little funding and little rigorous research,” said Daphne Greenberg, Georgia State associate professor of educational psychology and special education, and principal investigator of the project.  “There is a need to understand the reading-related strengths and weaknesses of adults who have difficulty with reading, and how best to help them increase their reading abilities.”

According to the most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, approximately 43 percent of adults in the United States read at basic or below basic levels of literacy.  Approximately 44 percent of adults who read at below basic levels have incomes below the national poverty threshold. In addition, Greenberg noted that low adult literacy can translate into poor intergenerational transfer of literacy from adults to youth.

The primary focus of the new research center is on adults reading at the third- to eighth-grade levels, examining impediments to reading, and developing and evaluating a reading intervention to improve literacy.

Georgia State investigators include Greenberg; Lee Branum-Martin of the Department of Psychology; Chris Oshima of the Department of Educational Policy Studies; and Robin Morris, Associate Provost for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation and Regents’ Professor of Psychology.

Other participating institutions include The Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada; the American Institutes for Research, Washington, D.C.; and the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation and Statistics, Houston, Texas.

More information about the Center for the Study of Adult Literacy is available online at:

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