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Overall Performance of U.S. Adults in 2003

In ALL, prose literacy and document literacy scores are combined into a single literacy score measured on a scale of 0–500 points. Numeracy scores also range from 0–500.

  • In 2003, U.S. adults had an average literacy score of 269 and a score of 261 in numeracy (table 1). The United States outperformed Italy in literacy and numeracy, but was outperformed by Bermuda, Canada, Norway, and Switzerland in both skill areas.1

Besides looking just at average scores, looking at the difference between the literacy and numeracy scores of high- and low-performers can be informative by helping illustrate how widely performance varies within a country.

  • In 2003, adults in Bermuda, Canada, and Norway had higher scores than U.S. adults at both the high and low ends of the score distribution in literacy and numeracy. The literacy scores of the highest performers (the top 10 percent of adults) were 353 or higher in Bermuda, 344 or higher in Canada, and 348 or higher in Norway, compared to 333 or higher in the United States. The literacy and numeracy scores of the lowest performers (those in the bottom 10 percent) in Bermuda, Canada, and Norway also outscored their peers in the United States.
  • The difference between the scores of the highest and lowest performers in Norway (approximately 114 points for literacy and 118 points for numeracy) was smaller than in the United States (where it was 132 points for literacy and 149 points for numeracy).
  • In Bermuda and Canada, the differences between the highest and lowest performers in literacy and numeracy were not measurably larger than the U.S. differences. In other words, although literacy scores for Bermudans, Canadians, and Norwegians on average were higher than in the United States, in Bermuda and Canada scores were spread to about the same degree as in the United States, while in Norway there was less variation in scores.
  • Switzerland’s lowest performers outscored U.S. lowest performers in literacy, while their highest performers did not score measurably differently. Swiss adults outperformed U.S. adults throughout the distribution in numeracy, and the differences between the highest and lowest performers in literacy and numeracy were smaller than in the United States.
  • Italian adults scored consistently lower than U.S. adults throughout the distribution in both literacy and numeracy.

1 ALL results reported here are from an NCES Issue Brief based on the performance of countries that participated in the first round of ALL in 2003.  Results for subnational estimates (e.g., for French- and English- speaking Canada) and estimates for the participating Mexican state of Nuevo Leσn are not reported here but are available in the report Learning a Living: First Results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (Statistics Canada and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 2005).  Results for countries that participated in the second round of ALL between 2006 and 2008 have not been analyzed in an NCES publication.


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