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PIAAC Results


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Explore how U.S. adults compare to their international peers and see the latest 2017 U.S. results

The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is a cyclical, large-scale study of adult cognitive skills and life experiences developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and, in the United States, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). PIAAC was designed to assess adults between the ages of 16 and 65 in different countries over a broad range of abilities, from reading simple passages to complex problem-solving skills, and to collect information on an individual's skill use and background.

PIAAC assesses three key competencies needed for successful participation in 21st-century society and the global economy:

Literacy: the ability to understand, use, and respond appropriately to written texts.

Numeracy: the ability to use basic mathematical and computational skills.

Digital Problem Solving: the ability to access and interpret information in digital environments to perform practical tasks. Referred to as “problem-solving in technology-rich environments (PS-TRE)” in supporting documentation and in previous publications.

The results presented here are estimates of group and subgroup performance based on a sample of respondents designed to be nationally representative of each participating country. PIAAC results are reported in two ways: as average scores on a 0–500 scale in each of the competencies and as percentages of adults reaching specific proficiency levels. There are six levels of proficiency for literacy and numeracy (from below Level 1 to Level 5) and four in digital problem solving (from below Level 1 to Level 3). Explore the following links for the types of tasks associated with the proficiency levels in literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving.

The menu bar below allows you to move between different PIAAC web reports. The International Context tab presents data collected in 2012–15, showcases how the U.S. results compared to top performers, and gives links to all international comparisons under each figure. The Highlights of 2017 U.S. Results tab provides the latest U.S. PIAAC results and compares them with previous U.S. PIAAC 2012/14 results.

U.S. PIAAC Results in their International Context

Results are currently available for adults age 16 to 65 in 32 countries, including the United States, that participated in PIAAC between 2012 and 2015. Results for 23 of the countries were gathered in 2011–12, and an additional 9 participated in 2014–15. Placing U.S. results in their global context provides a clearer view of how U.S. working-age adults compare to their peers in other countries (as well as to the international average). Such comparisons between education and training systems may reveal weaknesses to be addressed, as well as identify higher-performing systems from which we can learn.

In order to provide context for the highlights contained here, the figures show results for highest-performing countries, the United States, and the international average. The proficiency-level figures display some combined levels so that users can readily see broad patterns in the data. For example, in literacy and numeracy, the top category combines Levels 3, 4, and 5. In digital problem solving, the top category combines Levels 2 and 3. Links below each of the figures allow users to access full data tables in the International Data Explorer (IDE), which provide results for all of the participating countries/regions, all response categories for each variable, and all the discrete PIAAC proficiency levels.

Please note that the figures compare the United States with the average across participating countries (the “international average”) and highest-performing countries. All stated differences in the report are statistically significant at the .05 level.

U.S. adults scored higher in literacy than the PIAAC international average across participating countries; however, they scored lower in both numeracy and digital problem solving. Such comparisons to the international average paint a mixed picture of U.S. skills, but compared to higher-performing countries like Japan and Finland, the United States lags behind in all three domains.

Figure 1-A. Average scores on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving for adults age 16 to 65 for the United States and highest-performing countries: 2012–15

* Significantly different (p < .05) from the United States.

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. Average scores for the United States are compared to the PIAAC international average and highest-performing countries. Results for 23 of the countries were gathered in 2011–12, and an additional 9 participated in 2014–15. The two highest-performing countries are shown, in descending order from left to right within each domain. Results for the United States are shown on the far left within each domain to highlight that comparison.

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), 2012–15.

Examining skill levels, the United States is notably below the top-performing countries shown here—Japan and Finland. In literacy, 50 percent of U.S. adults performed at Level 3 or above compared to 72 percent in Japan and 63 percent in Finland. At the other end of the skill spectrum, 18 percent of U.S. adults performed at or below Level 1 in literacy, compared to 5 percent in Japan and 11 percent in Finland performing at this lowest level. In numeracy, 39 percent of U.S. adults performed at Level 3 or above compared to 63 percent in Japan and 58 percent in Finland; 28 percent of U.S. adults performed at or below Level 1, compared to 8 percent in Japan and 13 percent in Finland.

In digital problem solving, 36 percent of U.S. adults performed at Level 2 or above compared to 56 percent in Japan and 51 percent in Finland. While 23 percent of U.S. adults performed below Level 1 in digital problem solving, 12 percent in Japan and 14 percent in Finland performed at this lowest level. See the types of tasks associated with the PIAAC proficiency levels in literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving.

Figure 1-B. Percentage distribution of adults age 16 to 65 at selected levels of proficiency on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving for the United States and highest-performing countries: 2012–15

* Significantly different (p < .05) from the United States.

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. Percentages for the United States are compared to the PIAAC international average and highest-performing countries. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Results for 23 of the countries were gathered in 2011–12, and an additional 9 participated in 2014–15. The two highest-performing countries are shown, in descending order from left to right within each domain. Results for the United States are shown on the far left within each domain to highlight that comparison.

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), 2012–15.

A brief look at context

U.S. adults have some of the highest levels of educational attainment among countries participating in PIAAC. About 86 percent of U.S. adults age 16 to 65 have attained at least a high school education, while 14 percent have less than a high school education. Only one country in PIAAC has a smaller percentage of adults with less than a high school education: Lithuania (with 12 percent). Compared to the international average, the United States had higher percentages who have completed a high school education or whose education level is more than high school.

The “less than high school” category includes adults who have not finished high school or attained an equivalent credential, while “high school” includes adults who have attained at least a high school credential but have not yet earned an associate’s degree or higher. “More than high school” includes adults who have attained at least an associate’s degree or higher level of education.

Figure 2-A. Percentage distribution of adults age 16 to 65 for the United States and highest-performing countries, by level of educational attainment: 2012–15

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* Significantly different (p < .05) from the United States.

NOTE: Respondents were asked to identify the highest level of education they have completed. The variable used to report education attainment here (EDCAT6) allows us to report international comparisons. Note that the percentages with this variable differ slightly from the percentages reported for education attainment in the U.S. trend figures because this variable is based on the newer International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) categories. U.S. trends based on earlier international adult skill assessments rely on the older classification system, which considers all adults who have “earned a certificate from a college or trade school” as adults with “More than high school” education, but the new classification system considers adults who have earned a certificate that is not part of an associate’s program or higher (ISCED 4-A-B-C) as adults with only a “High school” education. The percentages shown in the figure are based on the PIAAC literacy scale. Percentages from the PIAAC numeracy and digital problem solving scales are similar to the percentages from the literacy scale. Percentages for the United States are compared to the PIAAC international average and highest-performing countries. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Results for 23 of the countries were gathered in 2011–12, and an additional 9 participated in 2014–15.

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), 2012–15.

The next figure breaks out the average performance of adults by educational attainment, with each level of attainment represented by a different shape. Hover over the key at the top of the figure to focus on results for one educational level. Hover over a specific data point to see an expanded view.

In all three domains, U.S. adults who have attained a high school diploma as well as U.S. adults who have less than a high school education scored lower, on average, than their peers internationally. Moreover, U.S. adults with a high school diploma scored lower, on average, in all three domains than adults in Japan who have less than a high school education. Adults in Finland who did not finish high school, similarly, had higher average numeracy and digital problem solving scores than U.S. high school graduates. In addition, adults who did not finish high school in eight other countries (the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Norway, Poland, the Republic of Korea, and the Slovak Republic) scored higher, on average, in digital problem solving than U.S. adults who attained only a high school diploma. Specific results for these eight countries, as well as all other participating countries, may be accessed by clicking the full data link below the digital problem solving display.

Figure 2-B. Average scores on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving for adults age 16 to 65 for the United States and highest-performing countries, by level of educational attainment: 2012–15

Hover over the key or a data point for an expanded view


* Significantly different (p < .05) from the United States.

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. Respondents were asked to identify the highest level of education they have completed. The variable used to report education attainment here (EDCAT6) allows us to report international comparisons. Note that the results with this variable differ from the results reported for education attainment in the U.S. trend figures because this variable is based on the newer International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) categories. U.S. trends based on earlier international adult skill assessments rely on the older classification system, which considers all adults who have “earned a certificate from a college or trade school” as adults with “More than high school” education, but the new classification system considers adults who have earned a certificate that is not part of an associate’s program or higher (ISCED 4-A-B-C) as adults with only a “High school” education. Average scores for the United States are compared to the PIAAC international average and highest-performing countries. Results for 23 of the countries were gathered in 2011–12, and an additional 9 participated in 2014–15. The two highest-performing countries are shown, in descending order from left to right within each domain based on the “more than high school” average scores. Results for the United States are shown on the far left within each domain to highlight that comparison.

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), 2012–15.

A brief look at context

Employment rates across the countries participating in PIAAC ranged from 79 percent in Norway to 44 percent in Turkey. With 74 percent of adults being either employed or self-employed, the U.S. percentage was higher than the international average (67 percent). Readers should note that adults in the “unemployed” category were those who indicated that they were without work but currently available for work, and were actively seeking paid work. Adults in the “out of labor force” category were those not currently seeking paid work (e.g., because of study, household duties, or sickness/disability).

Figure 3-A. Percentage distribution of adults age 16 to 65 for the United States and selected PIAAC participating countries, by current employment status: 2012–15

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* Significantly different (p < .05) from the United States.

NOTE: The percentages shown in the figure are based on the PIAAC literacy scale. Percentages from the PIAAC numeracy and digital problem solving scales are similar to the percentages from the literacy scale. Percentages for the United States are compared to the PIAAC international average and selected countries. Detail may not sum to totals because the response category “not known” is not shown. Results for 23 of the countries were gathered in 2011–12, and an additional 9 participated in 2014–15.

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), 2012–15.

In literacy, the average score of employed adults in the United States was higher than the international average, but was lower than those of employed adults in the higher-performing countries displayed here. Employed U.S. adults scored lower than the international average across participating countries in both numeracy and digital problem solving. Similar to earlier patterns, U.S. adults across all employment categories scored below or not significantly different from the higher-performing countries in all three domains. Readers should note that comparison results for Japan were not available for digital problem solving because the category “unemployed” was not reportable and thus Netherlands appears in the digital problem solving figure as it is the next highest performing country after Finland with data in this domain.

Figure 3-B. Average scores on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving for adults age 16 to 65 for the United States and highest-performing countries, by current employment status: 2012–15

Hover over the key or a data point for an expanded view


* Significantly different (p < .05) from the United States.

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. Average scores for the United States are compared to the PIAAC international average and highest-performing countries. Results for 23 of the countries were gathered in 2011–12, and an additional 9 participated in 2014–15. The two highest-performing countries are shown for which data are available, in descending order from left to right within each domain based on the “employed” average scores. Results for the United States are shown on the far left within each domain to highlight that comparison.

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), 2012–15.

A brief look at context

In 5 of the 32 countries that participated in PIAAC, non-native born adults make up at least 20 percent of the adult population, ranging from a high of 29 percent for New Zealand to 21 percent for Ireland. The United States ranks eighth overall among these 32 countries with 15 percent of its adults being non-native born. Although not shown here, both Japan and Poland have very few non-native born adults (i.e., they have about 100 percent native born adult populations).

Figure 4-A. Percentage of non-native born adults age 16 to 65 for the United States and selected PIAAC participating countries: 2012–15

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* Significantly different (p < .05) from the United States.

NOTE: Respondents were asked whether they were born in the country in which they completed the PIAAC assessment. “Native born” refers to those who were born in that country, while “non-native born” refers to those who were not. The percentages shown in the figure are based on the PIAAC literacy scale. Percentages from the PIAAC numeracy and digital problem solving scales are similar to the percentages from the literacy scale. The percentage for the United States is compared to the PIAAC international average and selected countries. Results for 23 of the countries were gathered in 2011–12, and an additional 9 participated in 2014–15. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.

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), 2012–15.

While the overall pattern shows significant score differences in the average literacy scores between native born and non-native born adults, countries with some of the largest proportions of non-native born adults have smaller score differences in literacy than other participating countries, like Singapore (with a nonsignificant score difference between native born and non-native born adults) and New Zealand (with an 8-point difference). The score gap for the international average is 23 points—lower than the gap in the United States (38 points). Non-native born adults in New Zealand had a higher score than those in all other countries except the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic (which were not measurably different).

The pattern is similar in numeracy and digital problem solving in New Zealand and Singapore, with only the digital problem solving score difference in New Zealand (4 points) being statistically significant. Both of those countries’ non-native born adults are among the top performers in PIAAC numeracy and digital problem solving. While the score gaps between native born adults and non-native born adults in the United States are not as dramatic in the two domains less driven by language ability, they are still 29 points in numeracy and 26 points in digital problem solving.

Figure 4-B. Average scores on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving for adults age 16 to 65 for the United States and highest-performing countries, by nativity: 2012–15

Hover over the key or a data point for an expanded view


* Significantly different (p < .05) from the United States.

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. Respondents were asked whether they were born in the country in which they completed the PIAAC assessment. “Native born adults” refers to those who were born in that country, while “non-native born adults” refers to those who were not. Average scores for the United States are compared to the PIAAC international average and highest-performing countries. Results for 23 of the countries were gathered in 2011–12, and an additional 9 participated in 2014–15. The two highest-performing countries among the countries with the highest proportions of non-native born adults are shown, in descending order from left to right within each domain based on “native born adults” average scores. Results for the United States are shown on the far left within each domain to highlight that comparison. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.

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), 2012–15.

A brief look at context

The percentages of adults age 16 to 65 who reported being either in “excellent” or “very good” health ranged from a high of 71 percent in Israel to a low of 17 percent in the Republic of Korea. In the United States, 57 percent reported “excellent” or “very good” health, which was higher than the international average of 48 percent and Japan’s 30 percent (presented to provide a consistent point of comparison).

Figure 5-A. Percentage of adults age 16 to 65 reporting “excellent” or “very good” health for the United States and selected PIAAC participating countries: 2012–15

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* Significantly different (p < .05) from the United States.

NOTE: Respondents were asked to indicate the status of their health, choosing from the choices of “excellent,” “very good,” “good,” “fair,” or “poor.” The percentages shown in the figure are based on the PIAAC literacy scale. Percentages from the PIAAC numeracy and digital problem solving scales are similar to the percentages from the literacy scale. The percentage for the United States is compared to the PIAAC international average and selected countries. Results for 23 of the countries were gathered in 2011–12, and an additional 9 participated in 2014–15.

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), 2012–15.

Performance gaps between adults in the United States who reported “excellent” or “very good” health and those reporting “fair” or “poor” health were statistically significant compared to the gaps internationally. For example, the U.S. score gap in literacy was 41 points compared to the international average 29-point score gap and the U.S. score gap in numeracy was 44 points compared to the international 33-point gap. Readers should note that these differences are calculated with unrounded results so that subtracting the rounded results shown in the figures may differ. U.S. adults consistently scored lower than Japan and Finland across all health categories in all three PIAAC domains.

Figure 5-B. Average scores on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving for adults age 16 to 65 for the United States and highest-performing countries, by self-reported health status: 2012–15

Hover over the key or a data point for an expanded view


* Significantly different (p < .05) from the United States.

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. Respondents were asked to indicate the status of their health, choosing from the choices of “excellent,” “very good,” “good,” “fair,” or “poor.” Results are not shown for the “good” response category in the figure. Average scores for the United States are compared to the PIAAC international average and highest-performing countries. Results for 23 of the countries were gathered in 2011–12, and an additional 9 participated in 2014–15. The two highest-performing countries are shown, in descending order from left to right within each domain based on the average scores for adults reporting “excellent or very good” health. Results for the United States are shown on the far left within each domain to highlight that comparison.

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), 2012–15.

NOTES AND SOURCES

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), 2012–15.

Suggested citation: PIAAC International Highlights Web Report (NCES 2020-127). U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. Available at https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/current_results.asp#international.

Highlights of 2017 U.S. Results

PIAAC provides relevant data about the U.S. adult population’s competencies and skills in literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving, and helps inform decision-making at the local, state, and national levels, especially around economic development and workforce training. In 2017, the third PIAAC data collection in the United States took place. The results of the first round of U.S. PIAAC data collection in 2012 and the second round of data collection in 2014 (officially known as the National Supplement to the Main Study) are combined, by design, into one data point for 2012/14. The results for 2017 highlighted in this report are compared to 2012/14 results. In the tables and figures the symbol (*) indicates that 2012/14 scores or percentages are statistically different from the 2017 results.

All three rounds of PIAAC were administered on laptop computers to respondents, typically in their home. PIAAC is an adaptive assessment, so participants taking the computer-based assessment responded to a series of items targeted to their performance levels for more precise measurement. Those who could not take the assessment on a computer were administered a standard paper-and-pencil version of the assessment with no adjustment for the test taker's ability. In addition, these individuals do not have digital problem solving scores.

While both the 2014 supplement and the 2017 data collection surveyed U.S. adults age 16 to 74, the focus of this report is on the traditional work force age range of 16 to 65. Results are presented for the major variables of gender, age, race/ethnicity, educational attainment, current employment status, nativity, and self-reported health status.

The proficiency-level figures display some combined levels so that users can readily see broad patterns in the data. For example, in literacy and numeracy, the top category combines Levels 3, 4, and 5. In digital problem solving, the top category combines Levels 2 and 3. Links below each of the figures allow users to access full data tables in the International Data Explorer (IDE), which provide results for all response categories for each variable and all the discrete PIAAC proficiency levels.

Between 2012/14 and 2017, overall average scores for U.S. adults were not measurably different in literacy, numeracy, or digital problem solving.

Figure 1-A. Average scores on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving for U.S. adults age 16 to 65: 2012/14 and 2017

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. The PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving scales range from 0 to 500. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

Between 2012/14 and 2017, there were no statistically significant changes in the percentages of adults performing at each proficiency level in any of the three PIAAC domains. The percentages of U.S. adults performing at the lowest levels (i.e., Level 1 or below in literacy and numeracy and below Level 1 in digital problem solving) in 2017 were 19 percent in literacy, 29 percent in numeracy, and 24 percent in digital problem solving. The percentages performing at the highest levels (i.e., Level 3 or above in literacy and numeracy and Level 2 or above in digital problem solving) in 2017 were 48 percent in literacy, 37 percent in numeracy, and 38 percent in digital problem solving.

Figure 1-B. Percentage distribution of U.S. adults age 16 to 65 at selected levels of proficiency on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving: 2012/14 and 2017

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools. In literacy and numeracy, higher, middle, and lower performance are denoted by “Level 3 or above,” “Level 2,” and “Level 1 or below,” respectively. In digital problem solving, these are denoted by “Level 2 or above,” “Level 1,” and “Below level 1.”

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

A brief look at demographics

The proportions of male and female U.S. adults remained steady from 2012/14 to 2017, with 49 percent males and 51 percent females.

Table 2-A. Percentage distribution of U.S. adults age 16 to 65, by gender: 2012/14 and 2017
Male 49 51
Female 49 51

NOTE: The percentages shown in the table are based on adults who responded to the literacy assessment. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

The average score for U.S. adult males in numeracy decreased between 2012/14 and 2017, from 265 to 259. Looking at performance gaps between males and females in 2017, one finds males scored higher than females in numeracy (259 compared to 251). The gender gap was smaller in 2017 than in 2012/14 (8 vs. 15 points). There were no statistically significant gender gaps in literacy or digital problem solving scores in 2017 or 2012/14.

Figure 2-A. Average scores on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving for U.S. adults age 16 to 65, by gender: 2012/14 and 2017

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* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2017.

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. The PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving scales range from 0 to 500. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

Between 2012/14 and 2017, there were no statistically significant changes in the percentages of adults performing at each proficiency level across all three domains for either gender.

Comparing the percentages of males and females performing at the various combined proficiency levels in 2017 reveals no statistically significant differences in literacy. In both numeracy and digital problem solving, there were higher percentages of males than females performing at the highest proficiency levels in 2017 (i.e., Level 3 or above in numeracy and Level 2 or above in digital problem solving). In addition, higher percentages of females than males performed at Level 2 in numeracy and at Level 1 in digital problem solving.

Figure 2-B. Percentage distribution of U.S. adults age 16 to 65 at selected levels of proficiency on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving, by gender: 2012/14 and 2017

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NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools. In literacy and numeracy, higher, middle, and lower performance are denoted by “Level 3 or above,” “Level 2,” and “Level 1 or below,” respectively. In digital problem solving, these are denoted by “Level 2 or above,” “Level 1,” and “Below level 1.”

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

A brief look at demographics

Between 2012/14 and 2017, the percentages of U.S. adults within the age groups of 16 to 24 and 55 to 65 increased, but the percentage decreased for adults age 45 to 54.

Table 3-A. Percentage distribution of U.S. adults age 16 to 65, by age intervals: 2012/14 and 2017
16–24 18 20
25–34 20 20
35–44 20 19
45–54 21 20
55–65 20 22

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2017.

NOTE: The percentages shown in the table are based on adults who responded to the literacy assessment. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

Between 2012/14 and 2017, the only measurable change in average scores for U.S. adults across the age groups and domains was for adults age 35 to 44: they scored higher in digital problem solving in 2017 compared to 2012/14.

Comparing 2017 average scores among the age groups reveals that adults age 25 to 34 scored higher in literacy than all other age groups except for the group of adults age 35 to 44. In numeracy, adults age 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 scored higher on average than the two oldest age groups. Digital problem solving followed the same pattern as numeracy, but with adults age 16 to 24 also scoring higher than the two oldest age groups.

Figure 3-A. Average scores on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving for U.S. adults age 16 to 65, by age intervals: 2012/14 and 2017

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2017.

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. The PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving scales range from 0 to 500. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

Between 2012/14 and 2017, there were no statistically significant changes in the percentages performing at each proficiency level across all three domains for any of the age groups.

Comparing the percentages within the age groups performing at the various combined proficiency levels in 2017 reveals that a higher percentage of adults age 25 to 34 performed at Level 3 or above in literacy compared to the two oldest age groups. In numeracy, higher percentages of adults age 25 to 34, 35 to 44, and 45 to 54 performed at Level 3 or above compared to adults age 55 to 65 in 2017. In digital problem solving, a lower percentage of adults age 55 to 65 performed at Level 2 or above compared to all other age groups in 2017.

Figure 3-B. Percentage distribution of U.S. adults age 16 to 65 at selected levels of proficiency on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving, by age intervals: 2012/14 and 2017

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools. In literacy and numeracy, higher, middle, and lower performance are denoted by “Level 3 or above,” “Level 2,” and “Level 1 or below,” respectively. In digital problem solving, these are denoted by “Level 2 or above,” “Level 1,” and “Below level 1.”

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

A brief look at demographics

Between 2012/14 and 2017, the percentage of White U.S. adults decreased from 65 to 63 percent, with no significant changes in the percentages of adults in the other racial/ethnic groups.

Table 4-A. Percentage distribution of U.S. adults age 16 to 65, by race/ethnicity: 2012/14 and 2017
White 65 63
Black 13 13
Hispanic 15 15
Other 7 9

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2017.

NOTE: Black includes African American, and Hispanic includes Latino. Race categories exclude Hispanic origin. The percentages shown in the table are based on adults who responded to the literacy assessment. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

Between 2012/14 and 2017, the only measurable changes in average scores were observed for Hispanic adults, who scored higher in both literacy and digital problem solving in 2017 compared to 2012/14, and for adults in the Other race/ethnicity category, who also scored higher in digital problem solving in 2017 compared to 2012/14.

Significant performance gaps exist between White adults and all other race/ethnicity categories. The White–Black score gaps were large across literacy (41 points), numeracy (53 points), and digital problem solving (32 points) in 2017 (similar to the gaps in 2012/14). There were measurable changes in the White–Hispanic gaps in two of the three subject areas (closing from 49 to 31 points in literacy and from 26 to 10 points in digital problem solving). The White–Hispanic gap in numeracy showed a numeric, but not statistically different, change from 50 to 41 points. In addition, while there was a 14-point White–Other score gap in digital problem solving in 2012/14, there was no measurable difference in scores in 2017 (both with average scores of 279).

Figure 4-A. Average scores on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving for U.S. adults age 16 to 65, by race/ethnicity: 2012/14 and 2017

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2017.

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. Black includes African American, and Hispanic includes Latino. Race categories exclude Hispanic origin. The PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving scales range from 0 to 500. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

Between 2012/14 and 2017, the percentages of Hispanic adults performing at Level 1 or below decreased in literacy from 41 to 31 percent, and increased at Level 2 or above in digital problem solving from 24 to 35 percent. The percentage of White adults who performed at Level 1 or below in numeracy increased over the same period of time from 17 to 20 percent. The percentage of adults in the Other race/ethnicity category performing at Level 2 or above in digital problem solving increased from 30 to 43 percent between 2012/14 and 2017.

Figure 4-B. Percentage distribution of U.S. adults age 16 to 65 at selected levels of proficiency on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving, by race/ethnicity: 2012/14 and 2017

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2017.

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. Black includes African American, and Hispanic includes Latino. Race categories exclude Hispanic origin. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools. In literacy and numeracy, higher, middle, and lower performance are denoted by “Level 3 or above,” “Level 2,” and “Level 1 or below,” respectively. In digital problem solving, these are denoted by “Level 2 or above,” “Level 1,” and “Below level 1.”

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

A brief look at demographics

Between 2012/14 and 2017, the percentage of U.S. adults with less than a high school education decreased from 14 to 12 percent, and the percentage with more than a high school education increased from 45 to 48 percent.

Table 5-A. Percentage distribution of U.S. adults age 16 to 65, by level of educational attainment: 2012/14 and 2017
More than high school 45 48
High school 41 40
Less than high school 14 12

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2017.

NOTE: Respondents were asked to identify the highest level of education they have completed. “Less than high school” includes adults who have not attained a high school diploma or credential, while “high school” includes adults who have attained at least a high school diploma or credential but have not yet earned an associate’s degree. “More than high school” includes adults who have attained at least an associate’s degree or higher level of education. The percentages shown in the table are based on adults who responded to the literacy assessment. Detail may not sum to totals because the response category “not definable” is not shown. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

Between 2012/14 and 2017, the average score for U.S. adults with less than a high school education increased in literacy, while for adults with a high school education average scores decreased in both literacy and numeracy. In literacy, the score gap between adults with more than a high school education and those with less than a high school education decreased from 65 points in 2012/14 to 52 points in 2017, and the score gap between adults with a high school education and those with less than a high school education decreased from 34 points in 2012/14 to 20 points in 2017.

Comparing the 2017 average scores across the levels of educational attainment shows that adults attaining higher education levels scored higher than those with lower education levels in both literacy and numeracy: that is, adults with more than a high school education scored higher than those with a high school education, who in turn scored higher than adults with less than a high school education. However, in digital problem solving the average score for adults with a high school education was not measurably different from their peers with less than a high school education.

Figure 5-A. Average scores on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving for U.S. adults age 16 to 65, by level of educational attainment: 2012/14 and 2017

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2017.

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. Respondents were asked to identify the highest level of education they have completed. “Less than high school” includes adults who have not attained a high school diploma or credential, while “high school” includes adults who have attained at least a high school diploma or credential but have not yet earned an associate’s degree. “More than high school” includes adults who have attained at least an associate’s degree or higher level of education. The PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving scales range from 0 to 500. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

Between 2012/14 and 2017, the percentages of adults with only a high school education performing at Level 1 or below increased in both literacy and numeracy.

Figure 5-B. Percentage distribution of U.S. adults age 16 to 65 at selected levels of proficiency on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving, by level of educational attainment: 2012/14 and 2017

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2017.

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. Respondents were asked to identify the highest level of education they have completed. “Less than high school” includes adults who have not attained a high school diploma or credential, while “high school” includes adults who have attained at least a high school diploma or credential but have not yet earned an associate’s degree. “More than high school” includes adults who have attained at least an associate’s degree or higher level of education. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools. In literacy and numeracy, higher, middle, and lower performance are denoted by “Level 3 or above,” “Level 2,” and “Level 1 or below,” respectively. In digital problem solving, these are denoted by “Level 2 or above,” “Level 1,” and “Below level 1.”

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

A brief look at demographics

Between 2012/14 and 2017, there was an increase in the percentage of employed U.S. adults from 74 to 77 percent, with a related decrease in the percentage of unemployed from 7 to 4 percent over the same time frame. Readers should note that adults in the “unemployed” category were those who indicated that they were without work but currently available for work, and were actively seeking paid work. Adults in the “out of labor force” category were those not currently seeking paid work (e.g., because of study, household duties, or sickness/disability).

Table 6-A. Percentage distribution of U.S. adults age 16 to 65, by current employment status: 2012/14 and 2017
Employed 74 77
Unemployed 7 4
Out of labor force 19 19

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2017.

NOTE: The percentages shown in the table are based on adults who responded to the literacy assessment. Detail may not sum to totals because the response categories “not known,” “valid skip,” and “not stated or inferred” are not shown. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

Between 2012/14 and 2017, while there were no statistically significant changes in the average scores for employed U.S. adults in any of the three PIAAC domains, unemployed adults posted gains in both literacy and numeracy and adults who were out of the labor force scored lower in digital problem solving in 2017 compared to 2012/14.

Figure 6-A. Average scores on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving for U.S. adults age 16 to 65, by current employment status: 2012/14 and 2017

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2017.

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. The PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving scales range from 0 to 500. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

Between 2012/14 and 2017, there were decreases in the percentages of unemployed adults performing at Level 1 or below in both literacy and numeracy. In addition, the percentage of unemployed adults who performed at Level 3 or above in numeracy increased in 2017 compared to 2012/14.

Figure 6-B. Percentage distribution of U.S. adults age 16 to 65 at selected levels of proficiency on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving, by current employment status: 2012/14 and 2017

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2017.

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools. In literacy and numeracy, higher, middle, and lower performance are denoted by “Level 3 or above,” “Level 2,” and “Level 1 or below,” respectively. In digital problem solving, these are denoted by “Level 2 or above,” “Level 1,” and “Below level 1.”

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

A brief look at demographics

Between 2012/14 and 2017, there were no statistically significant changes in the percentages of U.S. adults indicating where they were born.

Table 7-A. Percentage distribution of U.S. adults age 16 to 65, by nativity: 2012/14 and 2017
Native born 85 86
Non-native born 15 14

NOTE: Respondents were asked whether they were born in the United States. “Native born” refers to those who were born in the United States, while “non-native born” refers to those who were not. The percentages shown in the table are based on adults who responded to the literacy assessment. Detail may not sum to totals because the response categories “valid skip” and “not stated or inferred” are not shown. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

Between 2012/14 and 2017, non-native born U.S. adults scored higher in both literacy and digital problem solving, while native born U.S. adults showed no statistically significant changes in average scores across all three domains over the same time frame.

Figure 7-A. Average scores on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving for U.S. adults age 16 to 65, by nativity: 2012/14 and 2017

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* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2017.

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. Respondents were asked whether they were born in the United States. “Native born” refers to those who were born in the United States, while “non-native born” refers to those who were not. The PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving scales range from 0 to 500. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

Between 2012/14 and 2017, a higher percentage of native born U.S. adults performed at Level 1 or below in literacy in 2017, while a lower percentage of non-native born adults performed at Level 1 or below in 2017. In numeracy, there were no statistically significant changes between 2012/14 and 2017 for either group across all proficiency levels. In digital problem solving, a higher percentage of non-native born U.S. adults performed at the higher proficiency levels (Level 2 or above) in 2017 compared to 2012/14.

Figure 7-B. Percentage distribution of U.S. adults age 16 to 65 at selected levels of proficiency on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving, by nativity: 2012/14 and 2017

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* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2017.

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. Respondents were asked whether they were born in the United States. “Native born” refers to those who were born in the United States, while “non-native born” refers to those who were not. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools. In literacy and numeracy, higher, middle, and lower performance are denoted by “Level 3 or above,” “Level 2,” and “Level 1 or below,” respectively. In digital problem solving, these are denoted by “Level 2 or above,” “Level 1,” and “Below level 1.”

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

A brief look at demographics

Between 2012/14 and 2017, the percentage of U.S. adults reporting “fair” or “poor” health increased from 15 to 17 percent. Adults reporting “excellent” or “very good” health decreased from 57 to 54 percent over the same period.

Table 8-A. Percentage distribution of U.S. adults age 16 to 65, by self-reported health status: 2012/14 and 2017
Excellent or very good 57 54
Good 28 29
Fair or poor 15 17

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2017.

NOTE: Respondents were asked to indicate the status of their health, choosing from the choices of “excellent,” “very good,” “good,” “fair,” or “poor.” The percentages shown in the table are based on adults who responded to the literacy assessment. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

Health is associated with performance across literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving: U.S. adults reporting higher levels of health scored on average higher than adults with lower levels of health in all three PIAAC domains. Between 2012/14 and 2017, the average score for U.S. adults with fair or poor health increased in both literacy and numeracy.

Figure 8-A. Average scores on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving for U.S. adults age 16 to 65, by self-reported health status: 2012/14 and 2017

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2017.

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. Respondents were asked to indicate the status of their health, choosing from the choices of “excellent,” “very good,” “good,” “fair,” or “poor.” The PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving scales range from 0 to 500. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

Between 2012/14 and 2017, there were no statistically significant changes in the percentages performing at each proficiency level across all three domains for any of the health status categories.

Comparing the percentages in the various health status categories performing at the various combined proficiency levels in 2017 reveals that a smaller percentage of U.S. adults reporting fair or poor health performed at Level 3 or above in literacy and numeracy, and at Level 2 or above in digital problem solving compared to their peers reporting excellent or very good health. Also, a smaller percentage of adults with excellent or very good health performed at Level 1 or below in literacy and numeracy, and below Level 1 in digital problem solving compared to their peers reporting fair or poor health.

Figure 8-B. Percentage distribution of U.S. adults age 16 to 65 at selected levels of proficiency on PIAAC literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving, by self-reported health status: 2012/14 and 2017

NOTE: LIT = Literacy. NUM = Numeracy. DPS = Digital problem solving. Respondents were asked to indicate the status of their health, choosing from the choices of “excellent,” “very good,” “good,” “fair,” or “poor.” Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Only statistically significant differences between years are marked with an asterisk. Users may explore other differences via the full data links and using the International Data Explorer tools. In literacy and numeracy, higher, middle, and lower performance are denoted by “Level 3 or above,” “Level 2,” and “Level 1 or below,” respectively. In digital problem solving, these are denoted by “Level 2 or above,” “Level 1,” and “Below level 1.”

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

NOTES AND SOURCES

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2017, U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.

Suggested citation: Highlights of the 2017 U.S. PIAAC Results Web Report (NCES 2020-777). U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. Available at https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/current_results.asp.