ESD Research Shows: Literacy Equals Numeracy

SOUTHFIELD – Literacy leads to numeracy.

In other words, if you want to learn STEM, you must first learn to read.

Sounds obvious, right? But you’d be surprised how much talk there is about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education that seems to just assume that all kids can read.

Trouble is, all of them can’t. In many areas of Michigan, testing shows that fewer than half of students are reading at grade level. And research by The Engineering Society of Detroit’s ESD Institute shows that that’s a grave threat to efforts to boost STEM education – and fill the future engineering and science talent pipeline.

In the Spring 2002 issue of Kansas Science Teacher, a review of scientific studies showed that  ”Reading and math require very similar cognitive skills at the symbol processing level.  Symbol processing involves the ability to derive meaning (comprehension) from symbols whether they be letters, words, numbers, or equations.  If the student lacks the ability to process symbols, then he or she cannot read nor can they “do” math… Our first priority is to be sure the student can read.

And a 2010 study from Liberty University found that “The presence or absence of a reading deficiency is a powerful predictor of the stability of a mathematics disability… A child with comorbid RD/MD (reading deficiency/math deficiency) at the beginning of second grade is likely to have intractable problems in mathematics throughout primary school, despite special education support.”

The study suggested that “Poor readers also could be instructed in orthographic techniques (memorizing common words in text) which would reduce the need for decoding and aid in comprehension.”

“There are many articles, studies and initiatives out there that talk about the importance of both literacy and numeracy,” said Lea Wojciechowski, director of education at the ESD Institute. “Literacy and numeracy are linked, especially given all the reading and vocab-decoding that students must do when reading math story problems. Math literacy – reading in the math classroom within a mathematical context – is important when it comes to comprehension strategies – knowledge, understanding, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation.

And there’s a psychological aspect too, Wojciechowski said.

“If students do better in reading, they like school more, work harder, want to succeed more, and are likely to do better in math,” she said. “Reading provides both context and motivation for math students.”

Literacy is a critical component of The ESD’s Pre-K to Job Initiative that aims to give students a better start at both reading and STEM studies, leading them to greater choices for college or career. The initiative is currently seeking financial and volunteer support. To find out how you can help, contact Wojciechowski at (248) 353-0735, ext. 147, or More about the effort overall at or

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