U.S. Update

Researchers Take Note:  U.S. PIAAC Data Files, Technical Report, and Data Explorer Now Available 

In May and June of this year, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the U.S. National Public-Use File, the U.S. Restricted-Use File, the U.S. PIAAC Technical Report, and the U.S. PIAAC Data Explorer (IDE).
Researchers and policy analysts now have access to all of the PIAAC data, including the U.S.-specific background variables. While the international data were released in October 2013, this marks the first availability of the U.S.-specific variables (such as those on race/ethnicity, English language ability, and preventive health practices). 

Data Files

Below is a description of each of the released data files. If you have any questions about them, send an e-mail to piaac@air.org and a PIAAC expert will respond.

The U.S. National Public-Use File contains U.S.-specific variables that are not available in the International Public-Use File, which contains only variables common to all countries. The U.S. National Public-Use File is available for download here: http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2014045.

The U.S. Restricted-Use File contains the most comprehensive and detailed information, including the U.S.-specific variables and more detailed versions of other variables (such as those on age, occupation, and income). Information on obtaining a license to access the U.S. Restricted-Use Data File can be found here: http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/licenses.asp.

The U.S. PIAAC Technical Report describes how the PIAAC data were collected and includes information on background questionnaire adaptations in different countries, sample design, and weighting and variance estimation. It also includes technical notes and general data user guidance. The U.S. PIAAC Technical Report can be found here: http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2014047.

The International Data Files for each of the participating countries in PIAAC (except Australia) continue to be available for download from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) website at http://vs-web-fs-1.oecd.org/piaac/puf-data

Online Data Tools

Several online tools can be used to learn more about what PIAAC tells us about the skills of adults in the United States and around the world.  Experienced researchers who are comfortable working with SPSS, SAS, and Stata can download the public-use files directly (see above).  For those who are not as familiar with these statistical programs, NCES and OECD provide tools that make it easier to find out about topics of interest online without specialized software. These tools—the U.S. PIAAC International Data Explorer (IDE), the OECD IDE, and the NCES Results Portal—are described below.

What are the differences between the U.S. PIAAC IDE and the OECD IDE?
The U.S. PIAAC IDE, which resides on the NCES website, includes U.S.-specific variables. It also provides more complete descriptions of variables and categorizes them into more detailed subcategories than the OECD IDE. Another difference is that the OECD IDE includes data for Australia and the Russian Federation, but not Cyprus, whereas the U.S PIAAC IDE includes data for Cyprus, but not Australia and the Russian Federation, which explains minor differences when OECD or all participating countries’ averages are calculated. The decision not to include Cyprus in the OECD IDE was due to objections raised by Turkey about exclusion of the Turkish enclave from results for Cyprus, and NCES did not include the Russian Federation due to questions related to data quality and representativeness. The U.S. PIAAC IDE includes international data based on the public use files released by participating countries. Due to national data confidentiality laws, Australia did not release public use files.

What are the differences between the NCES Results Portal and the U.S. PIAAC IDE?
The Results Portal was designed by NCES as an interactive extension of its PIAAC First Look report. It enables you to produce figures and tables that take an in-depth look at the U.S. results as well as compare the performance of U.S. adults to adults in other participating countries. For example, you can select a table for average scores or proficiency levels in one of the three domains (literacy, numeracy, or problem solving in technology-rich environments) and look at the results by a variety of background characteristics, such as age, gender, race/ethnicity, and nativity status.
The U.S. PIAAC IDE produces more customizable tables and graphs, but requires a higher level of involvement from the user. For example, you can create a table using one of the domains, select a subgroup of interest, and choose from hundreds of international and U.S. background variables. You can show the data in a variety of ways, including averages, percentages, proficiency levels, and percentiles. It also allows you to look at significant differences between variables or countries and at trend data to compare adult performance in literacy and numeracy over time.*
Both the NCES Results Portal and the U.S. PIAAC IDE tables and graphs are exportable to Excel. They are available online free of charge and do not require any advanced statistical software.
*The International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) and the Adult Lifeskills Survey (ALL) were administered in 1994 and 2003, respectively. PIAAC enhances and expands on these previous assessments’ frameworks and provides data over time for literacy (both IALS and ALL) and numeracy (ALL only). Problem solving in technology-rich environments is a new assessment domain in PIAAC and therefore does not have trend data. 

PIAAC Helps Tell the Story

Word is beginning to spread among researchers and writers in a variety of fields about the wealth of data that PIAAC provides. Below we highlight two recent articles that draw on the PIAAC data to underline the argument about the importance of high skills in the United States.
In Skills, Education, and the Rise of Earnings Inequality Among the “Other 99 Percent,” labor economist David Autor identifies PIAAC as “a compelling data source for gauging the importance of skills in wage determination.” His research paper, published as part of a Science Magazine special issue on the Science of Inequality (May 23, 2014), provides a close examination of the wage premium for higher skills, documenting how rising inequality among the 99 percent is a function of this skills premium. Between 1979 and 2012, the earnings gap between a college-educated two-earner husband-wife family and a high school-educated two-earner husband-wife family nearly doubled—from $30,298 to $58,249—in response to an increase in demand for higher skills and a decrease in the supply of workers with postsecondary and professional degrees (p. 848).
The growth in the wage premium is not just a good news story, however, as Autor points out:
"Although the substantial college wage premium conveys the positive economic news that educational investments offer large returns, this wage premium also masks a discouraging truth: The rising relative earnings of workers with post-secondary education is not simply due to rising real earnings among college-educated workers but is also due to falling real earnings among non–college-educated workers." (p. 849, emphasis provided)
Autor finds that in the three decades between 1980 and 2012:
"‘real hourly earnings’ of males with high school or lower educational levels declined substantially, falling by   22% among high school dropouts and 11% among high school graduates.
…Accompanying the fall in real wages among less educated workers has been a pronounced drop in their labor force participation rates, particularly among less educated males. Between 1979 and 2007, prior to the onset of the Great Recession, the fraction of working-age males in paid employment fell by 12 percentage points among high school dropouts and 10 percentage points among those with exactly a high school diploma." (p. 849)

These numbers are cause for concern. To raise prosperity and reduce inequality, Autor calls for long-term public policy interventions that “cultivate the skills of successive generations, including excellent preschool through high school education, broad access to postsecondary education; and good nutrition, good public health, and high quality home environments. Such policies address inequality from two  directions: (i) enabling a larger fraction of adults to attain high productivity, rewarding jobs, and a reasonable  standard of living; and (ii) raising the total supply of skills available to the economy, which in turn, moderates the skill premium and reduces inequality." (p. 850)

The full article is available at the School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative website of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Economics Department: http://seii.mit.edu/research/study/skills-education-and-the-rise- of-earnings-inequality-among-the-other-99-percent/
In “Americans Think We Have the World’s Best Colleges. We Don’t” (New York Times, June 28, 2014), Kevin Carey, Director of the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation, takes on the strongly held belief that the United States has the best postsecondary education system in the world. Carey uses PIAAC data on the numeracy skills differential between college graduates in the United States and in other PIAAC nations to underline the problems with the U.S. education system, including postsecondary education:
 "Piaac (sic) suggests that the wide disparities of knowledge and skill present among American schoolchildren  are not ameliorated by higher education. If anything, they are magnified. In 2000, American 15-year-olds scored  slightly above the international average. Twelve years later, Americans who were about 12 years older scored  below the international average. While American college graduates are far more knowledgeable than American  nongraduates, creating a substantial “wage premium” for diploma holders, they look mediocre or worse    compared to their college-educated peers in other nations."

Like Autor, Carey uses this finding to call for renewed attention to improving the skills of Americans:
 "This reality should worry anyone who believes—as many economists do—that America’s long-term prosperity  rests in substantial part on its store of human capital. The relatively high pay of American workers will start to  erode as more jobs are exposed to harsh competition in global labor markets. It will be increasingly dangerous  to believe that only our K-12 schools have serious problems." 

The full article is available at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/29/upshot/americans-think-we-have-the-worlds-best-colleges-we-dont.html?_r=1.
Four papers using PIAAC data were commissioned by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) last year (in addition to the seven papers recently commissioned by AIR). These papers will increase our understanding of the key issues our country is facing today:
  • Harry Holzer and Robert Lerman will give us a closer look at some of the economic issues that David Autor explored in his paper.
  • Michael Fix and Jeanne Batalova will help us understand what PIAAC tells us about immigrants in the United States and the impact of our policies on the integration of new Americans. 
  • Margaret Patterson and Steve Reder will each give us a closer look at adult learning. Steve’s paper will focus on what PIAAC tells us about digital literacy among U.S. adults, and Margaret’s paper will help us understand more about adult participation in ongoing formal and informal education.
Look for more information about these papers in the next issue of The PIAAC Buzz and on the PIAAC Gateway (http://piaacgateway.com/) this fall.

Webinar on Health-Related Issues in PIAAC

Eugene Owen, NCES’s PIAAC National Project Manager, presented during a webinar conducted for the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Southeastern/Atlantic Region, on July 16. The audience of medical librarians was given an overview of PIAAC and the 2012 results, including data about the relationship between health measures and literacy, numeracy, and computer-based problem-solving skills. A recording of the webinar can be found here.

What’s New on the PIAAC Gateway:

PIAAC Data Explorer Online Training Video

In May, AIR hosted an online training session on the PIAAC Data Explorer for researchers interested in conducting analysis on PIAAC data. The training provided an overview of the data tool and instruction in how to use it to analyze PIAAC data. Researchers asked many questions and expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to learn how to use the data tool. A video of the training is available on the Gateway’s home page: http://piaacgateway.com/ (under the NCES PIAAC Data Explorer link in the center column). 

Education and Skills Online      

Test your PIAAC skills! A demonstration of Education and Skills Online (E&S Online) is available through the PIAAC Gateway home page. (On the right-hand side of the page, click on the link for “Take the Test: Education and Skills Online.”) Like the PIAAC 2012 main assessment, E&S Online will measure the cognitive and non-cognitive skills of adults age 16 and older; it will also provide individual-level results that can be compared with, and benchmarked against, the national and international results of PIAAC 2012. In the United States, E&S Online will be available in English and Spanish.  The full version of E&S Online will be available in early 2015.


Researchers’ Corner


Do you have questions about PIAAC? Do you want to know if your statistical software can be used to analyze the PIAAC data or what macros are available? We are compiling the answers to all of the technical and nontechnical questions we have received. One such question is as follows:
 I am trying to clarify how the Education and Skills Online assessment can be utilized. Would geographic areas    (counties) be able to get data on their region?  When will it be available and will it be on a time-limited basis?  Will there be any cost in establishing a specific group/region for assessment purposes?
You will find the answer to this question and others in the new Data Q&A, which will be posted to the PIAAC Gateway this fall.

AERC Conference

On June 6, Saida Mamedova from AIR gave a presentation at the 55th Annual Adult Education Research Conference (AERC) in Harrisburgh, PA. The session provided an overview of the PIAAC 2012 results, and the available data tools. There were 20 adult education practitioners and researchers in the audience, including researchers from Scotland and Germany.


National Engagement Plan

Making Skills Everyone’s Business

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) recently released Making Skills Everyone’s Business: A Call to Transform Adult Learning in the United States, a brief guide that is a preview of a longer report that will be released later this fall. The guide is based on a review of the performance and outcomes of state adult education practices, an assessment of states’ status on various adult education reforms, consultations with peers in other nations that have developed national strategies for improving foundation skills, a review of the literature on instructional effectiveness, review and analysis of the U.S. PIAAC 2012 data by the OECD, and a nationwide engagement process that collected input from students and stakeholders. The guide provides seven high-level strategies that communities, public and private entities, and all levels of government can adopt to achieve the shared objective of strengthening the foundation skills of our nation: (1) create joint ownership of solutions, (2) expand opportunities for adults to improve foundation skills, (3) make career pathways available and accessible in every community, (4) ensure all students have access to highly effective teachers, leaders, and programs, (5) align federal policies and programs to integrate services for adults, (6) increase the return on investment in skills training for business, industry, and labor, and (7) commit to closing the equity gap for vulnerable subpopulations. The guide can be found here: http://skylablearning.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Making-Skills-Everyones-Business.pdf. When the full report is released, it will be available here: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ovae/pi/AdultEd/index.html.

PIAAC Around the World

Summer Institute 2014: Exploring PIAAC Data - Enriching research, supporting practice • JUNE 25–27, 2014 • MONTREAL, CANADA

The 2014 summer institute organized by the Centre for Literacy in Montreal, Canada, was the third in a series of bilingual institutes (English and French) that has explored the PIAAC data and connections between PIAAC and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). More than 90 researchers, practitioners, and administrators from Canada and other countries (including the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Germany, Estonia, and Australia) attended this three-day institute. 

On day one, William Thorn, Senior Analyst in the Education Directorate of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development at the OECD, focusing on the PIAAC results, looked at the relationships between literacy proficiency and education and training over the life cycle, exploring questions such as: What are the explanations for the observed decline in literacy proficiency from the age of 30 and does education play any role in mitigating this? What is the relationship between participation in non-formal education and training and proficiency in literacy? Other presentations discussed how the design and results of international assessments influence policy and practice and how PIAAC is being used to inform policy and practice in a few participating countries.  Jaleh Soroui, the PIAAC Project Manager at AIR, presented on the extensive dissemination effort in the United States led by AIR, NCES, and OCTAE. 

On day two, three presenters focused on PIAAC numeracy, including the possibilities of using the PIAAC numeracy framework to design mathematics instruction, the impact of low numeracy on the workplace, and the connection between the PISA mathematical literacy and PIAAC numeracy results, making a strong case for better quality math instruction. In addition, participants heard from the Canadian PIAAC research teams that are studying PIAAC data at the provincial level in Canada. The themes currently being studied include Aboriginal peoples, labor markets, minority language communities, immigrants, and health and social dimensions. Steve Reder from Portland University provided the results of his study that is based on Canadian PIAAC data on low-skilled readers—adults performing at level 1 and below. 
Other highlights of the institute during day 2-3 included a presentation on “Upskill,” sharing positive outcomes and measurable gains from essential skills training for workers and participating firms in the hospitality industry.
Overall, the 2014 summer institute provided a content-rich, engaging, and thought-provoking three-day institute focusing on the impact of the results from PIAAC and other surveys on the policy and practices of adult education and learning.  

Call for Research Papers Using PIAAC Data

On July 28, the National Institute for Child and Human Development (NICHD) and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) of the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) of the U.S. Department of Education announced a call for research papers that investigate the relationships between health, skills, and well-being for adults and their families using the PIAAC data. Authors interested in applying should familiarize themselves with the U.S. PIAAC Background Questionnaire, which includes questions on health status, health insurance coverage, sources of information about health issues, and preventive health practices based on age and gender. The deadline to submit a preliminary draft paper for funding consideration is January 30, 2015. Read more about the call for papers here: http://blogs.plos.org/blog/2014/07/28/relationships-education-health-skills-improving-lives-adults-families-call-papers-new-plos-collection/

New on PIAAC Gateway

On the Road with PIAAC

Effective Transitions in Adult Education Conference
November 12-14, 2014
Providence, RI

If your organization is planning a presentation on PIAAC, let us know and we will publicize it on the PIAAC Gateway. To learn more about such presentations, visit www.piaacgateway.com

PIAAC on the Web

National Center for Education Statistics: http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac 
The PIAAC Background Questionnaire: http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/final_en_bq.htm
Organization for the Economic Cooperation and Development: http://www.oecd.org/site/piaac 

PIAAC Presentations Available on YouTube

Several presentations from one of our first "Planning for PIAAC" outreach sessions were recorded and are available to the public on YouTube. 
The presentations provide detailed descriptions about different aspects of PIAAC:

PIAAC Overview 
by Irwin Kirsch, Director of the Center for Global Assessment at ETS
PIAAC Literacy Domain 
by John Sabatini, Principal Research Scientist at ETS
PIAAC Numeracy 
by Kentaro Yamamoto, Deputy Director of the Center for Global Assessment at ETS
PIAAC Problem Solving in Technology-Rich Environments 
by M. Anne Britt, Professor of Psychology at Northern Illinois University
PIAAC Background Questionnaire 
by Matthias von Davier, Research Director at ETS

Take Action

What are some strategies for promoting PIAAC at the local and state levels? This is a question we have been asked by several readers of The PIAAC Buzz
Here are some suggestions on how you can help promote PIAAC:

  • Forward this e-mail and encourage others to sign up for our newsletter.
  • Download and print our informational brochures and infographics to learn more about PIAAC, and share the printed copies with your colleagues.
  • Post information about PIAAC on the websites, blogs, and discussion lists
  • Share information about PIAAC

Do you have an outreach plan, research topic, or program related to PIAAC that you’d like to share with others? Would your organization benefit from a webinar or a guest speaker? Contact us at piaac@air.org.

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PIAAC is funded by the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education