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This paper was presented at the International Literacy Year Colloquium in October 1990 in Washington, D.C. It proposes that the statistical figures concerning literacy rates, often presented as development indicators for a country, are not as valid as the assertions indicate. The lack of consistency in the statistics from year to year indicates their lack of reliability. Three alternatives are suggested to the current practice. The paper shows the value of the third alternative, direct literacy assessment. Some thoughts on how to conduct this type of assessment are shared. Some recent national and international developments indicate that direct assessment may be a growing trend.