Thursday, March 10, 2016

U.S. results on international assessment of adult skills

Adults in the U.S. score about the same as their international peers in literacy, on average, but more U.S. adults score in the highest and lowest proficiency levels than is the case in other countries, according to the latest results of a cognitive and workplace skills survey released today by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) assesses the cognitive and workplace skills necessary for social and economic participation in an advanced economy. This new report presents updated results on the skills of U.S. adults compared to other countries, based on data collected in 2012 and 2014. The report also takes a deeper look at the skill levels of three critical demographic groups of the U.S. population: the unemployed, young adults, and older adults.

Among the findings:

•    In numeracy, a higher percentage of U.S. adults scored in the bottom levels of proficiency compared to adults from other participating countries;

•    The average numeracy score for U.S. adults was lower than average scores for 16 other countries, not statistically different for three countries, and higher than those for three countries; and

•    In digital problem-solving skills, the U.S. average score was lower than every other participating country except one.

PIAAC was first conducted in 2011−2012 in the United States and 23 other countries. In the United States, PIAAC was administered to a nationally representative sample of 5,000 adults between the ages of 16 and 65. Similar nationally representative samples of adults were surveyed in each of the 23 other participating countries. In 2013-14, NCES conducted a second round of data collection in the United States to enhance the U.S. PIAAC dataset. Specifically, the second round of data collection added (a) 3,660 adults from three key subgroups of policy interest—unemployed adults, young adults (ages 16-34), and older adults (ages 66-74)—and (b) 1,300 incarcerated adults in federal and state prisons. The expanded national household sample (about 8,700 adults, combining the first and second rounds) supports more accurate and reliable national estimates of unemployed and young adults and makes possible analyses of older adults.

PIAAC was developed and organized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In the United States, PIAAC was sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the Institute of Education Sciences within the U.S. Department of Education. More PIAAC results are available on the NCES website at

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