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What PIAAC Is

The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is an international study for measuring, analyzing, and comparing adults’ basic skills of literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving. The assessment focuses on the basic cognitive and workplace skills needed for individuals to participate in society and for economies to prosper. Data from PIAAC is meant to help countries better understand their education and training systems and the distribution of these basic skills across the adult working-age population.

Developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), PIAAC is intended to be administered at least once a decade. PIAAC was first conducted in 2011 and the same survey instruments were administered twice more through 2017. In total, 39 countries participated in PIAAC in Cycle I (2011-17). Cycle II of PIAAC, with revised survey instruments, will begin in 2022, with 32 countries scheduled to participate in the first round of administration.

PIAAC has been administered in countries with diverse populations, cultures, education systems, and life experiences, and it is conducted in the language or languages of the country administering it. It is the first large-scale international assessment to be administered on laptop computers to respondents in their homes, with a paper-and-pencil version for those who cannot take the assessment on a computer. The study consists of both a background questionnaire and an assessment in literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving.

PIAAC’s background questionnaire includes questions about the respondent’s demographic information, education and training, employment, and skills used at home and at work. The background portion of the survey is conducted by an interviewer, typically in the respondent’s home.

Immediately after completing the background questionnaire, the respondent is asked to complete the assessment using the interviewer’s laptop computer/tablet or a paper-and-pencil test. PIAAC is the first adult skills assessment1 to be adaptive: participants taking the computer-based assessment are presented a series of test questions (“items”) targeted to their performance level, based on their success answering earlier questions. PIAAC is also the first adult skills assessment to measure adults' digital problem-solving skills in an online environment (e.g., e-mail, web pages, and spreadsheets).

1 PIAAC was developed based on the knowledge and experience gained from two previous international adult assessments: the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), conducted between 1994 and 1998, and the Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey (ALL), conducted in 2003. PIAAC enhances and expands on these previous assessments' frameworks and improves upon their design and methodologies.