Reading & Literacy What the Research Says

Global Test Shows America’s Literacy, Numeracy Problems

November 26, 2019 1 min read

The 2017 results of the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies finds that America’s adult workforce is no more skillful in reading, math, or digital problem-solving than it was five years ago, even though more students are graduating from high school before entering the workforce.

Every three years, the PIAAC measures those skills of “working age” adults, 16 to 65, in 38 countries. It was developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In both math and digital problem-solving skills, U.S. adults scored significantly below the international average.

In the United States, scores in all three domains have been statistically flat since 2014, and more than half of adults scored at or below the test’s “basic” Level 1 in all three areas. For example, basic literacy would mean an adult could read well enough to recognize common vocabulary and enter his or her personal information into an online form—but not well enough to identify information within a document or compare and contrast information in different texts.

While white and black adults saw no change, Hispanic adults improved in both literacy and digital problem-solving, mirroring similar gains among Hispanic students on the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

A version of this article appeared in the November 27, 2019 edition of Education Week as Global Test Shows America’s Literacy, Numeracy Problems

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