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Adult literacy

What are the literacy levels of adults, and how does the United States compare to other countries?


The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is a cyclical, large-scale study of adult skills and life experience focusing on education and employment that was developed and organized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). 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." PIAAC results are reported as scale scores on a 0500 scale. PIAAC reports five proficiency levels for literacy: Below level 1, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4/5.

Average scores on the PIAAC literacy scale for adults age 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.

Average scores on the PIAAC literacy scale for adults age 16 to 65, by participating country and 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.

Twelve percent of U.S. adults age 16 to 65 performed at the highest proficiency level (4/5) on the PIAAC literacy scale. The percentage of adults performing at this level was higher than in the U.S. 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).

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2013). 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 (NCES 2014008).

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