Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)

The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), also known as the Survey of Adult Skills, is a large-scale international household study on the cognitive and workplace skills that adults need to participate successfully in 21st century society and the global economy. PIAAC, developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), is administered in over 40 countries. In the United States, PIAAC is conducted by the NCES.

PIAAC covers several areas, including:

  • Adult competencies
  • International comparison
  • Adult literacy
  • Adult numeracy
  • Digital problem solving
  • Education and training of adults
  • Young adults’ skills
  • Skills of non-native born adults
  • Workforce development
  • Health
  • Skills of incarcerated adults

The AIR-PIAAC team works closely with the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education and other contractors in the United States to provide various services, including: 

  • Expert analysis and analytical support
  • Technical assistance and management support
  • Survey and item development
  • Technical review of statistical reports
  • Continuous outreach and dissemination for PIAAC in the United States

The team develops reports and other publications based on the data. The team also trains outside researchers on how to use PIAAC data files and analysis tools. In addition, the AIR-PIAAC team has worked with researchers to develop research papers that are published as NCES/AIR Commissioned Papers. Several of these researchers have presented at AIR-hosted Research-To-Practice Conferences and PIAAC Research Webinars. The team also initiated and maintains the PIAAC Gateway website that provides access to U.S. and international resources on PIAAC.

Findings from PIAAC Cycle I show adults in the U.S. had higher literacy skills compared to other participating countries but lagged behind in numeracy and digital problem solving. 

There were no gender gaps in literacy and digital problem solving in the U.S., while the gender gap in numeracy (advantaging men) decreased between 2012/14 and 2017. 

In 2017, Hispanic adults scored higher than in 2012/14 in literacy and digital problem solving.

During Cycle I of PIAAC, three rounds of data were collected in the U.S.: 2012, 2014, and 2017. The first data collection in 2012 was administered to a nationally representative sample of adults (ages 16–65). The 2014 round of data collection enhanced the 2012 dataset by extending assessments to older adults (ages 66–74) and oversampling unemployed adults (ages 16–65) and young adults (ages 16–34). 

Additionally, the 2014 round included a study of incarcerated adults, also referred to as the PIAAC Prison Study. The 2017 data collection was administered to a nationally representative household sample of adults (ages 16–74) to provide a second point in time for comparisons to the combined 2012/2014 data and to be used in combination with the 2012/2014 data. The combined 2012/2014/2017 dataset was used to develop estimates of adults’ literacy and numeracy skills at the state and county levels. These estimates are included in a tool called the U.S. PIAAC Skills Map.

During Cycle II of PIAAC, the first round of data was collected in 2022–2023. The data will be released in December 2024.

Explore the links below for more information about PIAAC.