The Crisis

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Hope for the Future
"Anything's possible
if you believe."
Dorris
Two years ago, Dorris couldn't read a story book to her kindergartner.

Today, she's reading a complex study guide to prepare for her GED exam. See how we're solving the adult literacy crisis.

The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)

General InformationGeneral Information

ResultsResults

Key International FindingsKey International Findings

Key U.S. FindingsKey U.S. Findings

 

Useful WebsitesUseful Websites

Social Media MessagingSocial Media Messaging

State Adult Literacy ProfilesState Adult Literacy Profiles


General Information General Information

PIAAC is a survey done in 2011-12 of 5,000 adults aged 16-65 in the U.S. and 23 other participating countries. The survey assessed literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills in technology-rich environments. The survey is referred to as the Survey of Adult Skills.

PIAAC definitions:

  • literacy: 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
  • numeracy: the ability to access, use, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas, to engage in and manage mathematical demands of a range of situations in real life
  • problem solving in technology-rich environments: using digital technology, communication tools, and networks to acquire and evaluate information, communicate with others, and perform practical tasks.

Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills. (OECD)

Literacy, Numeracy, and Problem Solving in Technology-Rich Environments Among U.S. Adults. (NCES)

Time for the U.S. to Reskill? What the Survey of Adult Skills Says. (OECD)

A second round of surveys started in 2012 involving Chile, Greece, Indonesia, Israel, Lithuania, New Zealand, Singapore, Slovenia, and Turkey. This data will be released in 2016. A third round of data collection will start in 2014.

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Results Results

PIAAC results are reported in two ways: as scale scores on a 0–500 scale in three domains (literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments), and as percentages of adults reaching established proficiency levels. PIAAC reports five proficiency levels for literacy and numeracy (Below level 1, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4/5) and four levels for problem solving in technology-rich environments (Below level 1, Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3). Across all countries, only 2 percent of adults performed at Level 5 on many of the variables in the literacy and numeracy scales.

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Key International Findings Key International Findings

  • On average, across countries, the median hourly wage of workers who scored at levels 4 or 5 is more than 60 percent higher than those who scored at Level 1 or below.
  • Those with poor literacy skills are more than twice as likely to be unemployed.
  • Countries with lower skill levels risk losing in competiveness as the world economy becomes more dependent on skills.
  • Men and women have very similar proficiency levels.
  • In nearly all countries, at least 10 percent of adults lack the most elementary computer skills.
  • Successful literacy integration of immigrants is not a matter of time but of incentives and policies that encourage language learning.
  • Those with lower skills proficiency also tend to report poorer health, less trust, and lower civic engagement. Finland and Japan both have large shares of top-performers.
  • Japan, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden combine above-average performance with a high level of equity.

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Key U.S. Findings Key U.S. Findings

  • The U.S. mean literacy score was below the international average—ranking 16th out of 24 countries.
  • The average literacy score for adults in the U.S. was 270 out of 500.
  • Twelve percent of adults in the U.S. performed at the highest proficiency level on the literacy scale.
  • The average numeracy score for adults in the U.S. was 253 out of 500.
  • Nine percent of adults in the U.S. performed at the highest proficiency level on the numeracy scale.
  • The average score for adults in the U.S. on the problem solving in technology-rich environments was 277 out of 500.
  • Six percent of adults in the U.S. and 8 percent of adults under 35 in the U.S. performed at the highest proficiency level on the problem-solving/technology scale.

        Health

  • People with low skills are four times more likely to have poor health (two times the national average).

      Employment

  • The percentage of employed adults in the U.S. who performed at the highest proficiency level was lower than the international average of employed adults who performed at the highest proficiency level.
  • Socioeconomic status in the U.S. is highly related to literacy skills. The U.S. has the highest levels of income inequality and literacy skills inequality.

     Education

  • Americans with a high school diploma or less scored lower in literacy, on average, than their counterparts in the other 23 countries.
  • People who come from low educated families are 10 times more likely to have low literacy skills.
  • The difference in literacy proficiency between people with the lowest and highest education levels was greater in the U.S. than in any of the other 23 countries.

     Demographics

  • The percentage of black and Hispanic adults in the U.S. who performed at the highest proficiency level on the literacy scale was lower than the percentage of white adults.
  • Literacy differences between native-born and foreign-born Americans were greater than the average internationally.
  • The difference in average literacy scores between the youngest and oldest Americans was smaller than in any other country.

     Civic Engagement

  • Low-literacy Americans are far more likely than high-literacy Americans to express low political engagement and understanding.

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Useful Websites Useful Websites

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) provides information about the development of the assessment and the global results, plus samples of some of the tasks included on the survey. OECD promotes policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world, and provides a forum in which governments can work together to share experiences and seek solutions to common problems. OECD sponsored the PIAAC data collection.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides detailed information about the U.S. study. NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations. NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences, and was the U.S. partner to OECD for PIAAC.

American Institutes for Research/AIR PIAAC provides a gateway to information about PIAAC across multiple sites, including a collection of media reports about PIAAC and list of upcoming events at which PIAAC will be discussed. AIR is a nonprofit organization dedicated to behavioral and social science research and evidence-based technical assistance.

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Social Media Messaging Social Media Messaging

  • People with #lowliteracy are more than twice as likely to be unemployed #endilliteracy
  • 10% of adults lack the most elementary #computerskills #endilliteracy #lowliteracy
  • People with #lowliteracy also tend to report #poorhealth, and lower #civicengagement #endilliteracy 
  • U.S. literacy score was below the international average; ranking 16 out of 24 countries #lowliteracy #endilliteracy #globalcompetitiveness
  • Adults in the U.S. scored 270 out of 500 in literacy #lowliteracy #endilliteracy #globalcompetiveness
  • Adults in the U.S. scored 253 out of 500 in numeracy skills #lowliteracy #endilliteracy #globalcompetiveness
  • People with #lowliteracy are four times more likely to have #poorhealth #endilliteracy 
  • #Socioeconomic status in the U.S. is highly related to #literacyskills #lowliteracy #endilliteracy
  • Americans with a #highschool diploma or less scored lower in literacy than their counterparts in other countries. #lowliteracy #endilliteracy #globalcompetiveness 
  • People who come from low educated families are 10 times more likely to have #lowliteracy skills #endilliteracy
  • #Lowliteracy Americans are far more likely to express low #politicalengagement #endilliteracy #globalcompetiveness

 State Adult Literacy Profiles

The Office of Vocational and Adult Education in the U.S. Department of Education released new state adult literacy profiles. The profiles are not based on PIAAC data; they were calculated from the American Community Survey 2009-2011, U.S. Census Bureau. These profiles were constructed to indicate how many adults in each state lack a high school credential or English language proficiency and their corresponding participation rates in the labor force. 

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Explore other
ProLiteracy
websites:
| New Readers Press International Programs Ruth J. Colvin Center ProLiteracy Education Network