OBJECTIVE. The magnitude and consequences of low literacy in adolescent health and health care are unknown. The purpose of this study was to validate the Rapid Estimate of Adolescent Literacy in Medicine (REALM-Teen), a word-recognition test in English that can be used as a brief literacy-screening tool in health care settings.

PATIENTS AND METHODS. A total of 1533 adolescents aged 10 to 19 years attending 1 of 5 middle schools, 3 high schools, 1 pediatric clinic, or 2 summer programs in Louisiana and North Carolina participated in face-to-face interviews. Demographic information was solicited, and participants were administered a battery of reading tests, including the REALM-Teen, Wide Range Achievement Test–Revised (WRAT-3), and Slosson Oral Reading Test–Revised (SORT-R). Internal consistency for the REALM-Teen was determined using Cronbach’s α, and criterion validity was established through correlations with both the WRAT-R and SORT-R. Using reading below grade level (according to SORT-R scores) as an outcome, instrument accuracy and corresponding cutoff scores were calculated by plotting receiver operating characteristic curves and stratum-specific likelihood ratios.

RESULTS. Participants were 50% black and 53% female; 34% were enrolled in middle school and 66% in high school. The average time required to administer the REALM-Teen was 3 minutes. Internal consistency was excellent, as was test-retest reliability. The REALM-Teen is strongly correlated with both the WRAT-R and SORT-R. Five reading level categories were identified: 3rd grade and below, 4th to 5th grade, 6th to 7th grade, 8th to 9th grade, and 10th grade and above. Forty-six percent of participants were reading below grade level according to the SORT-R and 28% had repeated at least 1 grade.

CONCLUSION. The REALM-Teen is a brief, reliable instrument for assessing adolescent literacy skills and reading below grade level.

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