U.S. Adults Below International Average in Numeracy and Digital Problem-Solving Skills; Average in Literacy

Highest level of educational attainment for more than three-quarters of unemployed U.S. adults is high school degree or less

Mar 10, 2016, 00:01 ET from National Center for Education Statistics

WASHINGTON, March 10, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Higher percentages of American adults (age 16-65) scored at the bottom levels of proficiency in literacy, numeracy, and digital problem-solving skills compared to their peers in other countries, according to a new report of literacy and workplace skills released today by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). According to updated results of the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), the average numeracy scores for American adults were lower than sixteen other countries, higher than three countries, and not different from two. On the test of digital problem-solving skills, the U.S. average score was lower than every other participating country except Poland. The results were somewhat different for literacy. The average U.S. literacy score was not different from the international average; however, there were higher percentages of American adults at both the highest and lowest proficiency levels compared to the international average.

PIAAC assesses the cognitive and workplace skills necessary for social and economic participation in an advanced economy, and offers a far more complete and nuanced picture of human capital than has yet been available to policymakers in the participating countries. The new report also takes a deeper look at the skill levels of three critical demographic groups of the U.S. population: young adults (age 16-34), older adults (age 66-74), and the unemployed (age 16-65).

"The study suggests a relationship between educational attainment, workforce skills, and economic participation," said Peggy G. Carr, acting commissioner of NCES. "PIAAC was designed to provide insights into the availability of critical skills and how those skills are used at work and at home. The adult population in the United States is decidedly weaker in numeracy and digital problem-solving skills than in literacy. Troublingly, there are more U.S. adults at the lowest proficiency levels in all of the skills tested than the international average."

"There are particularly stark differences between employed and unemployed adults," Carr continued. "Nearly three-quarters of unemployed Americans score at the lowest proficiency levels in digital problem solving."

This survey, the second PIAAC data collection in the United States, was conducted from August 2013 through April 2014. The first round of data collection occurred in 2012.

The full report is available at http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the U.S. Department of Education coordinated with other countries in the OECD to create the PIAAC, which compares the skills of adults around the world to measure literacy in the digital age. PIAAC directly assesses key information-processing skills: literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments. By providing a direct measure of key cognitive skills, PIAAC offers a far more complete and nuanced picture of the stock of human capital than has yet been available to policymakers in most participating countries, including data on:

  • the level of skills proficiency among adults;
  • how adults with different levels of education compare;
  • the extent and distribution of skills use and skills mismatch in the labor market;
  • how key information-processing skills are developed and maintained over a lifetime; and
  • how key information-processing skills translate into better economic and social outcomes.

NCES, a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, is the statistical center of the U.S. Department of Education and the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations. NCES fulfills a congressional mandate to collect, collate, analyze, and report complete statistics on the condition of American education; conduct and publish reports; and review and report on education activities internationally.


SOURCE National Center for Education Statistics