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Pediatrics. 1994 Mar;93(3):460-8.

Reading ability of parents compared with reading level of pediatric patient education materials.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Louisiana State University Medical Center School of Medicine, Shreveport 71130-3932.



To test the reading ability of parents of pediatric outpatients and to compare their reading ability with the ability necessary to read commonly used educational materials; to compare individual reading grade levels with the levels of the last grade completed in school; and to further validate a new literacy screening test designed specifically for medical settings.


Prospective survey.


Pediatrics outpatient clinic in a large, public university, teaching hospital.


Three hundred ninety-six parents or other caretakers accompanying pediatric outpatients.


Demographics and educational status were assessed using a structured interview. Reading ability was tested using the Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine (REALM) and the Wide Range Achievement Test-Revised. Written educational materials were assessed for readability levels with a computer program (Grammatik IV).


The mean score on the REALM for all parents placed them in the seventh to eighth grade reading range, despite the mean self-reported last grade completed in school being 11th grade 5th month. Wide Range Achievement Test-Revised scores correlated well with REALM scores (0.82). Eighty percent of 129 written materials from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control, the March of Dimes, pharmaceutical companies, and commercially available baby books required at least a 10th grade reading level. Only 25% of 60 American Academy of Pediatrics items and 19% of all materials tested were written at less than a ninth grade level, and only 2% of all materials were written at less than a seventh grade level.


This study demonstrates that parents' self-reported education level will not accurately indicate their reading ability. Testing is needed to screen at-risk parents for low reading levels. In a public health setting, a significant amount of available parent education materials and instructions require a higher reading level than most parents have achieved. In such settings, all materials probably should be written at less than a high school level if most parents are to be expected to read them. The REALM can easily be used in busy public health clinics to screen parents for reading ability.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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