James Woodworth, PhD
Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics
NCES Commissioner's Statement on the U.S. PIAAC Skills Map Release
June 17, 2020
Today, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) announces the release of the most comprehensive snapshot of key workforce skills in every state and county in America. Using the U.S. PIAAC Skills Map: State and County Indicators of Adult Literacy and Numeracy online tool, users can easily access new information about the literacy and numeracy proficiency of adults ages 16–74 in states and counties across the United States, as well as view side-by-side comparisons of performance for individual states and counties.
NCES is releasing local-level data on adult numeracy skills for the first time and more extensive literacy data than have previously been available. The Skills Map provides policymakers, business leaders, educators, and researchers access to data that will support economic development, inform policy solutions, and improve education. The data presented in the Skills Map are indirect estimates based on results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), an international study of adults that measures the basic cognitive and workplace skills needed for successful participation in an advanced economy.
The data were generated by a technique called small area estimation (SAE). The statistical models used to calculate the SAE relied on combined PIAAC data from 2012, 2014, and 2017, in conjunction with 2013–2017 data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS), to produce reliable estimates. The estimates are predictions of how the population of adults in a given state or county would have performed had they taken the PIAAC assessments.
Literacy refers to the ability to understand, evaluate, use, and engage with written texts in everyday contexts—from locating contact information on a website to reading simple passages. Numeracy is the ability to use, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas in a range of situations in adult life—from estimating how much gas is in 24-gallon tank if the gas gauge reads three-quarters full to identifying expiration dates for food. Both the literacy and numeracy assessments were conducted in English in the United States.
The data show that—of the 50 states and the District of Columbia— Alaska, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Vermont are among the top five states, by average score, for both literacy and numeracy, while the District of Columbia is in the top five in literacy, and North Dakota is in the top five in numeracy. The five states with the lowest average scores in both literacy and numeracy are Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas.
Out of all 3,141 countiesi, the counties with the top five highest average scores are the same for literacy and numeracy: Delaware County, Ohio; Douglas County, Colorado; Falls Church, Virginia; Hamilton County, Indiana; and Los Alamos County, New Mexico. Four counties are in the bottom five for both literacy and numeracy: Hudspeth County, Texas; Kenedy County, Texas; Starr County, Texas; and Zapata County, Texas. For literacy, Zavala County, Texas is in the bottom five, and for numeracy, Willacy County, Texas is in the bottom five.
In addition to viewing average scores and the proportion of adults performing at each proficiency level (lowest, middle, and highest performers), users can access selected state- and county-level demographic information, such as educational attainment, race/ethnicity, employment status, and poverty level, so that users can better understand the results produced for each state or county.
The Skills Map also shows how state results compare to the national average and how county results compare to the state average, as well as how results for states or counties compare to each other. These data are provided in easy-to-understand summaries. Users can also download data for states and counties in Excel and PDF formats.
For more information on PIAAC, please visit the NCES website. View the SAE Methodology Report to learn more about the statistical models used to calculate the small area estimates. Contact Holly Xie, Holly.Xie@ed.gov, with any questions.
i Counties are the primary legal divisions of most states. Most counties are functioning governmental units, whose powers and functions vary from state to state. In Louisiana, these primary divisions are known as parishes. In Alaska, the county equivalents consist of legally organized boroughs, municipalities, and “census areas” delineated for statistical purposes by the State of Alaska and the Census Bureau (since 1980). In four states (Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, and Virginia), one or more cities are independent of any county organization and thus constitute primary divisions of their states; the Census Bureau refers to these places as “independent cities” and treats them as the equivalents of counties for statistical purposes. The District of Columbia has no primary divisions and the jurisdiction is treated as the equivalent of both a state and a county.