Low literacy and violence among adolescents in a summer sports program

Terry C. Davis, Robert S Byrd, Connie L. Arnold, Peggy Auinger, Joseph A. Bocchini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Purpose: To investigate the relationship between inadequate literacy and violent behavior among adolescents. Methods: This descriptive study involved a convenience sample of 386 adolescents who participated in a summer track and field and literacy program serving youths in low-income neighborhoods in Shreveport, Louisiana, during 1994-1996. Self-reported violence was measured using the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and reading grade levels were measured by the Slosson Oral Reading Test-Revised (SORT-R). Results: Youths ranged in age from 11 to 18 years; 66% were male, and 86% were African- American. Forty-three percent of adolescents tested had below-grade reading levels (≥2 grades). Participants with below-grade reading skills had higher rates of self-reported violent behaviors compared with those reading at grade level. When gender, race, and age were controlled for, adolescents reading below grade level were significantly more likely to report carrying weapons [odds ratio (OR) = 1.9; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.1-3.5], carrying guns (OR = 2.6; CI 1.1- 6.2), to have been in a physical fight at school (OR = 1.7; CI 1.1-2.6), and to have been in a physical fight resulting in injuries requiring treatment (OR = 3.1; CI 1.6-6.1). In addition, youths reading below grade level were significantly more likely to be threatened at school with a weapon (OR = 2.1; CI 1.2-3.7) and to report missing days of school in the previous 30 days because they felt unsafe at school (OR = 2.3; CI 1.3-4.3). In characterizing the violence related behaviors, we found that low reading- level adolescents were more likely to be both aggressor/perpetrator and victim (44% vs. 32%; p = .02) and less likely to be only a victim (6% vs. 12%; p = .04) compared to adolescents with grade-appropriate reading skills. Conclusions: Below-grade-level reading was significantly related to violence behaviors among adolescents who volunteered for a summer track and field program. Longitudinal studies are needed to further investigate the relationship of below-grade-level reading and aggressive/perpetrator and victim behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)403-411
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1999


  • Adolescents
  • Low literacy
  • Reading
  • Violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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