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ASSOCIATION FOR CAREER & TECHNICAL EDUCATION

Troubling U.S. Performance on Survey of Adult Skills

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October 14, 2013

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Troubling U.S. Performance on Survey of Adult Skills

The OECD has conducted its first Survey of Adult Skills, analyzing the skills of more than 150,000 adults across the world in literacy and numeracy as well as problem solving in technology-rich environments. The United States was ranked below average in each of the three domains:

  • Literacy: The U.S. was ranked 16th out of the 23 OECD nations
  • Numeracy: The U.S. came in at 21st out of 23
  • Problem solving: The U.S. was ranked 14th out of 23

U.S. adults scored particularly poorly in numeracy, with a wide gap between the numeracy of older adults and young people: The numeracy of U.S. 55-65 year-olds was about average, but the numeracy of the 16-24 age group was the lowest among all participating countries.

In addition, findings point to a gap between postsecondary attainment in the U.S. and the proficiencies that are expected to go along with this level of education. For instance, In the 25-34 age group, numeracy and literacy proficiency were low, despite a high proportion of 25-34-year-olds with higher education credentials.   

Finally, the research also pointed to significant proficiency gaps between the high and low end of the socioeconomic ladder.  

Several key policy points outlined in the report will look familiar to CTE advocates:

  • Connect the domains of learning and work
  • Provide relevant, flexible training for workers
  • Provide transparent, easy-to-locate career guidance and information about adult education
  • Recognize and certify skills proficiency

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