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Adult skills in an international context

Question:
How do the skills of adult Americans compare with those of adults around the world?

Response:
The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is a cyclical, large-scale study that assesses and compares the broad range of competencies of adults around the world, and the skills necessary for successful participation in 21st-century society and the global economy. PIAAC was developed and organized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In the United States, the study was conducted in 2011–12 with 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 22 other participating countries.

PIAAC presents average score results for adults on three separate domains: literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments. PIAAC results are reported in two ways: as scale scores on a 0–500 scale in the three domains and as percentages of adults reaching established proficiency levels. PIAAC reports five proficiency levels for literacy and numeracy (Below level 1, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4/5) and four levels for problem solving in technology-rich environments (Below level 1, Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3).

Selected Findings

Literacy scale


Average scores on the PIAAC literacy scale for adults ages 16 to 65, by participating country/region: 2012

The data in this figure is described in the surrounding text.

NOTE: Countries/regions are listed in descending order by unrounded average scores.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) , 2012.


PIAAC broadly defines literacy as “understanding, evaluating, using, and engaging with written text to participate in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” In 2012, average scores on the PIAAC literacy scale for adults ages 16 to 65 ranged from 250 in Italy to 296 in Japan. The U.S. average score was 270. Compared with the U.S. average score, average scores in 12 countries were higher, in 5 countries they were lower, and in 5 countries they were not significantly different.

Twelve percent of U.S. adults ages 16 to 65 performed at the highest proficiency level (4/5) on the PIAAC literacy scale. Compared with the United States, the percentage of adults performing at this level was higher in 7 countries (Japan, Finland, Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, Norway, and Canada), lower in 11 countries (Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, France, Ireland, Republic of Korea, Slovak Republic, Cyprus, Spain, and Italy), and not significantly different in 4 countries (England and Northern Ireland-United Kingdom, Flanders-Belgium, Estonia, and Germany).

Numeracy scale


Average scores on the PIAAC numeracy scale for adults ages 16 to 65, by participating country/region: 2012

The data in this figure is described in the surrounding text.

NOTE: Countries/regions are listed in descending order by unrounded average scores.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) , 2012.


Numeracy in the PIAAC framework is defined as “the ability to access, use, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas, and to engage in and manage mathematical demands of a range of situations in adult life.” For the numeracy scale, average scores for adults ages 16 to 65 ranged from 246 in Spain to 288 in Japan. The U.S. average score was 253. Compared with the U.S. average score, average scores in 18 countries were higher, in 2 countries they were lower, and in 2 countries they were not significantly different.

In 2012, about 9 percent of U.S. adults ages 16 to 65 performed at the highest proficiency level (4/5) on the PIAAC numeracy scale. Compared with the United States, the percentage of adults performing at this level was higher in 15 countries (Finland, Japan, Sweden, Flanders-Belgium, Norway, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Australia, Austria, Slovak Republic, Canada, Czech Republic, England and Northern Ireland-United Kingdom, and Estonia), lower in 3 countries (Republic of Korea, Italy, and Spain), and not significantly different in 4 countries (France, Poland, Ireland, and Cyprus).

Problem solving in technology-rich environments scale


Average scores on the PIAAC problem solving in technology-rich environments scale for adults ages 16 to 65, by participating country/region: 2012

The data in this figure is described in the surrounding text.

NOTE: Countries/regions are listed in descending order by unrounded average scores.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) , 2012.


PIAAC defines problem solving in technology-rich environments as “using digital technology, communication tools, and networks to acquire and evaluate information, communicate with others, and perform practical tasks.” Average scores on the PIAAC problem solving in technology-rich environments scale for adults ages 16 to 65 ranged from 275 in Poland to 294 in Japan. The U.S. average score was 277. Compared with the U.S. average score, average scores in 14 countries were higher and in 4 countries they were not significantly different.

Six percent of U.S. adults ages 16 to 65 performed at the highest proficiency level (3) on the PIAAC problem solving in technology-rich environments scale. Compared with the United States, the percentage of adults performing at this level was higher in eight countries (Japan, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, and Australia), lower in two countries (Ireland and Slovak Republic), and not significantly different in eight countries (Poland, Denmark, Flanders-Belgium, Norway, England and Northern Ireland-United Kingdom, Estonia, Austria, and Republic of Korea).

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2013). Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) (NCES 2014-008), Literacy, Numeracy, and Problem Solving in Technology-Rich Environments Among U.S. Adults: Results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies: 2012 First Look.

Related Tables and Figures:  (Listed by Release Date)

Other Resources:  (Listed by Release Date)


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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
U.S. Department of Education