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Although basic literacy rates have traditionally been an essential part of any statistical description of a country, such figures have lost their utility for wealthy nations because the rudimentary skills they measure are so widespread. The high basic literacy rate for the United States, for example, sheds little light on the extent to which American adults are able to integrate information from multiple sources or make inferences from written materials, skills they need to fully participate in an increasingly complex society. More revealing measures gauge degrees of literacy instead of just classifying people as either literate or illiterate.

V-01a: Percentage of Adult Population Scoring at Each Level of the PIAAC Literacy Proficiency Assessment, by Country, 2011/12†

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† "PIAAC" stands for the OECD’s Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies. Countries are ranked in descending order of the combined percentage of adults scoring at Level 3 and Level 4/5. Values for each country do not add up to 100%, because some adults were not able to provide enough background information to impute proficiency scores because of language difficulties, or learning or mental disabilities. Information regarding the statistical significance of the observed differences between countries with respect to the percentage of their populations scoring at particular levels was not available from data collector when this indicator was prepared. The difference between the mean U.S. literary proficiency score and that of every other participating country, with the exception of France, is statistically significant at the .05 level. The difference between the U.S. average and the combined average for all participating countries is also statistically significant.
* The sample for the Russian Federation does not include the population of the Moscow municipal area.
** Area under the effective control of the government of the Republic of Cyprus.

Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills (Paris: OECD Publishing, 2013), Table A2.1.

The Survey of Adult Skills (administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] as part of its Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, or PIAAC) assesses the proficiency of adults, ages 16–65, in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments. Literacy is defined “as the ability to understand, evaluate, use and engage with written texts to participate in society, achieve one’s goals, and develop one’s knowledge and potential” (OECD, OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills [Paris: OECD Publishing, 2013], 61). The test, administered primarily on computer, assesses respondents’ ability to navigate through texts with print and digital characteristics; identify, interpret, and evaluate the material; and synthesize findings. For a complete description of the types of skills associated with each level, see “Description of Proficiency Levels in Literacy” in the PIAAC report.

V-01b: Average Score on PIAAC Literacy Proficiency Assessment, by Age, United States Compared to International Average, 2011/2012*

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* “PIAAC” stands for the OECD’s Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies.
** The adjusted difference is based on a regression model and takes account of differences associated with the following variables: age, gender, education, immigration, language, and socioeconomic background. The adjusted differences are statistically significant at the .05 level.

Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills (Paris: OECD Publishing, 2013), Table A3.2.

The Survey of Adult Skills (administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] as part of its Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, or PIAAC) assesses the proficiency of adults, ages 16–65, in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments. Literacy is defined “as the ability to understand, evaluate, use and engage with written texts to participate in society, achieve one’s goals, and develop one’s knowledge and potential” (OECD, OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills [Paris: OECD Publishing, 2013], 61). The test, administered primarily on computer, assesses respondents’ ability to navigate through texts with print and digital characteristics; identify, interpret, and evaluate the material; and synthesize findings. For a complete description of the types of skills associated with each level, see “Description of Proficiency Levels in Literacy” in the PIAAC report.

V-01c: Average Score on PIAAC Literacy Proficiency Assessment, by Skill Level of Occupation, United States Compared to International Average, 2011/2012*

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* “PIAAC” stands for the OECD’s Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies. Skilled occupations include legislators, senior officials and managers, professionals, technicians, and associate professionals. Semiskilled white-collar occupations include clerks, service workers, and shop and market sales workers. Semiskilled blue-collar occupations include skilled agricultural and fishery workers, craft and related trades workers, plant and machine operators, and assemblers. Elementary occupations include, but are not limited to, laborers.
** The adjusted difference is based on a regression model and takes account of differences associated with the following variables: age, gender, education, immigration, language, and socioeconomic background. The adjusted differences are statistically significant at the .05 level.

Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills (Paris: OECD Publishing, 2013), Table A3.19.

The Survey of Adult Skills (administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] as part of its Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, or PIAAC) assesses the proficiency of adults, ages 16–65, in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments. Literacy is defined “as the ability to understand, evaluate, use and engage with written texts to participate in society, achieve one’s goals, and develop one’s knowledge and potential” (OECD, OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills [Paris: OECD Publishing, 2013], 61). The test, administered primarily on computer, assesses respondents’ ability to navigate through texts with print and digital characteristics; identify, interpret, and evaluate the material; and synthesize findings. For a complete description of the types of skills associated with each level, see “Description of Proficiency Levels in Literacy” in the PIAAC report.

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