Appendix A – background on PIAAC

PIAAC is a cyclical, large-scale, computer-based, direct household assessment of adult skills and life experience. Twenty-four countries and regions surveyed adults between the ages of 16 and 65 in the first round of the PIAAC assessment.85 The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) administered the U.S. assessment to a representative sample of 5,000 adults from August 2011 to April 2012.

PIAAC defines three core competency domains—what the OECD labels “key core information processing skills”—of literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments (PS-TRE) that support the social and economic participation of adults in advanced economies.86

These competencies are defined as follows:

Literacy: the ability to understand, evaluate, use, and engage 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 in order to engage in and manage the mathematical demands of a range of situations in adult life.

Problem solving in technology-rich environments (PS-TRE): using digital technology, communication tools, and networks to acquire and evaluate information, communicate with others, and perform practical tasks.

PIAAC participating countries/regions included in this report are as follows:

Australia Flanders (Belgium) Norway
Austria France Poland
Canada Germany Republic of Korea
Czech Republic Ireland Slovak Republic
Denmark Italy Spain
England and Northern Ireland Japan Sweden
Estonia Netherlands United States

Previous literacy assessments such as the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), the Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) survey and the NALS (National Adult Literacy Survey) defined and measured adult skills in the domains of literacy and numeracy. PIAAC represents the first attempt to assess PS-TRE on a large scale and as a single dimension. This competency focuses on the ability to solve problems for personal, work, and civic purposes by setting up appropriate goals and plans, and accessing and making use of information through computers and computer networks.

A detailed description of each of the literacy levels for the three domains, along with general descriptions of the types of tasks that adults can perform at these levels, is presented in appendix B.

In addition to focusing on the direct measurement of adult competencies in the three main cognitive domains, PIAAC also examined adults’ intrapersonal, interpersonal, and professional skills through background questionnaires. These questionnaires asked respondents questions about the types and levels of skill use (including social skills) inside and outside of the work environment, as well as the computer skills required for employment. Exploring skill use in the predefined domains directly assessed by PIAAC allows for the identification of indicators of skill mismatch in various demographic populations. The background questionnaires also included questions about respondents’ personal traits (e.g., motivation, level of perseverance, and physical skills), education and training (e.g., formal and informal learning opportunities), and demographic characteristics (e.g., age, race, gender, etc.).

Reporting results

PIAAC results are reported in two ways: as scale scores on a 0–500 scale in three domains (literacy, numeracy, and PS-TRE), 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. This report follows OECD reporting conventions by combining the top two proficiency levels for the literacy and numeracy scales. Differences between countries or specific groups of adults are noted only if the differences in scores or percentages are determined to be statistically significant (p < .05). No statistical adjustments to account for multiple comparisons were used. PIAAC scales and proficiency levels are developed independently for each scale (literacy, numeracy and PS-TRE); therefore, results cannot be compared across subjects.

The complete competency framework for the PIAAC is available here:

The conceptual framework for the PIAAC background questionnaire is available here:

Sample items from the PIAAC assessment are available here:

PIAAC international Data Explorer and public use files are available here: (includes U.S. data) and here: (international data only).

85 This report includes 22 countries/regions. The report does not include PIAAC data for the Russian Federation or Cyprus. Not all 22 countries participated in the PS-TRE assessment.

86 OECD, Skills Outlook 2013, 54.