IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

NCES Releases New Edition of the Digest of Education Statistics

NCES recently released the 2020 edition of the Digest of Education Statistics, the 56th in a series of publications initiated in 1962. The Digest—which provides a centralized location for a wide range of statistical information covering early childhood through adult education—tells the story of American education through data. Digest tables are the foundation of many NCES reports, including the congressionally mandated Condition of Education, which contains key indicators that describe and visualize important developments and trends.

The Digest includes data tables from many sources, both government and private, and draws especially on the results of surveys and activities carried out by NCES. In addition, the Digest serves as one of the only NCES reports where data from across nearly 200 sources—including other statistical agencies like the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau—are compiled. The publication contains data on a variety of subjects in the field of education statistics, including the number of schools and colleges, teachers, enrollments, and graduates, in addition to data on educational attainment, finances, federal funds for education, libraries, and international comparisons. A helpful feature of the Digest is its ability to provide long-term trend data. Several tables include data that were collected more than 50—or even 100—years ago:

  • Poverty status of all persons, persons in families, and related children under age 18, by race/ethnicity: Selected years, 1960 through 2019 (table 102.50)
  • Percentage of the population 3 to 34 years old enrolled in school, by age group: Selected years, 1940 through 2019 (table 103.20)
  • Rates of high school completion and bachelor's degree attainment among persons age 25 and over, by race/ethnicity and sex: Selected years, 1910 through 2020 (table 104.10)
  • Historical summary of faculty, enrollment, degrees conferred, and finances in degree-granting postsecondary institutions: Selected years, 1869-70 through 2018-19 (table 301.20)
  • Federal support and estimated federal tax expenditures for education, by category: Selected fiscal years, 1965 through 2019 (table 401.10)

The Digest is organized into seven chapters: All Levels of Education, Elementary and Secondary Education, Postsecondary Education, Federal Funds for Education and Related Activities, Outcomes of Education, International Comparisons of Education, and Libraries and Use of Technology. Each chapter is divided into a number of topical subsections. The Digest also includes a Guide to Sources and a Definitions section to provide supplemental information to readers. To learn more about how the Digest is structured and how best to navigate it—including how to access the most current tables or tables from a specific year and how to search for key terms—check out the blog post “Tips for Navigating the Digest of Education Statistics.”

In addition to providing updated versions of many statistics that have appeared in previous years, this edition also includes several new tables, many of which highlight data related to the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Percentage of adults with children in the household who reported their child’s classes were moved to a distance learning format using online resources in selected periods during April through December 2020, by selected adult and household characteristics (table 218.80)
  • Percentage of adults with children in the household who reported that computers and internet access were always or usually available for educational purposes in their household in selected periods during April through December 2020, by selected adult and household characteristics (table 218.85)
  • Percentage of adults with children in the household who reported that computers or digital devices and internet access were provided by their child’s schools or districts in selected periods during April through December 2020, by selected adult and household characteristics (table 218.90)
  • Number of school shootings at public and private elementary and secondary schools between 2000-01 and 2019-20, by location and time period (table 228.14)
  • Percentage of adults who reported changes to household members’ fall postsecondary plans in August 2020, by level of postsecondary education planned and selected respondent characteristics (table 302.80)
  • Percentage of adults with at least one household member’s fall attendance plans cancelled who reported on reasons for changes in plans in August 2020, by level of postsecondary education planned and selected respondent characteristics (table 302.85)

Also new this year is the release of more than 200 machine-readable Digest tables, with more to come at a later date. These tables allow the data to be read in a standard format, making them easier for developers and researchers to use. To learn more about machine-readable tables, check out the blog post “Machine-Readable Tables for the Digest of Education Statistics.

Learn more about the Digest in the Foreword to the publication and explore the tables in this edition.

 

By Megan Barnett, AIR

New Project Exploring Adult Basic Skills in STEM-Related Postsecondary CTE®

In celebration of CTE® (career and technical education) month, we would like to highlight the launch of an NCER project that aims to help us understand how to best support adults seeking additional CTE education and training.

Through their exploratory project, Literacy, Numeracy, and Problem-Solving Skills in Technology-Rich Environment in the STEM-Related Subbaccalaureate Programs in the United States, researchers will use a mixed-method design to gather information about the distribution of basic skills (literacy, numeracy, and problem solving) for adults in STEM occupations and students enrolled in STEM-related sub-baccalaureate programs at community colleges. Their goal is to help identify the needs of students and the programming practices at community colleges that may promote basic skill development in STEM programs.

The team will be leveraging data from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) to survey the distribution of skills and abilities across a nationally representative sample of adults in STEM fields. They will also be collecting primary data from adults and programs in multiple locations, including Indiana, Ohio, and Washington states.

 

 

To help inform the public about their project, the researchers have created a short YouTube video for the public. This project began in July 2020 and may have initial results ready as early as late 2021.

 


Written by Meredith Larson (Meredith.Larson@ed.gov), Program Officer for Postsecondary and Adult Education, NCER.

Recent Report Identifies Possible Categories of Adult Struggling Readers (and How to Help Them)

Nearly one in five U.S. adults aged 16 and over may struggle with basic literacy. These adults may struggle with any of the core components of reading, such as decoding, vocabulary, and comprehension. They may struggle for many different reasons—English is not their first language, possible cognitive declines from aging, or a lack of formal education. To identify the right instructional tools and curricula, we need to understand the varying needs of this heterogeneous group of adult struggling readers and design appropriate solutions.

In a recent report, IES-funded researchers conducted a latent class analysis of 542 adults (age 16- to 71-years old) enrolled in adult education programs whose reading scores indicate a reading level between the 3rd- and 8th-grade level. The analysis identified four possible subgroup categories of adult struggling readers based on their performance on lower-level competencies (phonological awareness, decoding, vocabulary) and higher-level competencies (comprehension, inferencing, background knowledge):

 

  • Globally Impaired Readers: adults who show difficulties in all competencies
  • Globally Better Readers: adults who are relatively strong in all competencies
  • Weak Decoders: readers who are relatively weaker in lower-level competencies but strong in higher-level competencies
  • Weak Language Comprehenders: readers who are strong in lower-level competencies but relatively weaker in higher-level competencies

 

On average, Weak Decoders were older than other categories, though Globally Impaired Readers were on average older than Globally Better Readers or Weak Language Comprehenders. Globally Better Readers and Weak Decoders included a larger proportion of native English speakers than the other two categories. Thus, both age and English proficiency may predict the pattern of strengths and weaknesses. However, having a high school diploma did not predict performance patterns.

Although Globally Better Readers tended to perform better on reading assessment than other categories, even this group of readers performed at the 6th-grade level on average. Thus, all groups of readers would benefit from additional instruction. The researchers suggest different approaches for addressing the needs of learners in the different categories. For example, Weak Language Comprehenders may benefit from technology-based solutions that help build their oral language competencies, whereas Globally Impaired Readers and Weak Decoders may benefit from direct instruction on decoding skills.

 


This research was conducted as part of the Center for the Study of Adult Literacy (CSAL): Developing Instructional Approaches Suited to the Cognitive and Motivational Needs for Struggling Adults funded in 2012 through NCER.

The abstract for the publication discussed above is available on ERIC; Identifying Profiles of Struggling Adult Readers: Relative Strengths and Weaknesses in Lower-Level and Higher-Level Competencies (Talwar, Amani; Greenberg, Daphne; Li, Hongli).

Dr. Meredith Larson, program officer for postsecondary and adult education, wrote this blog. Contact her at Meredith.Larson@ed.gov for additional information about CSAL and adult education research.

Research on Adult Literacy: A History of Investment in American Adults

Reading is fundamental, but it is also difficult to master, taking thousands of hours of instruction and practice. Roughly 52 percent of U.S. adults over the age of 16 may struggle with everyday literacy tasks. Of these adults, approximately 20 percent may perform at very low levels of literacy. For adults who are still mastering of this skill, the task can seem overwhelming.

Luckily, IES-funded researchers have been working towards solutions for adults with low basic reading skills and are creating and refining assessments, curricula, and software. These innovations aim to help adult learners, the instructors and tutors who work with them, and the programs that support them.

As part of our commemoration of National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week (September 20-26, 2020), we would like to recognize the history of adult literacy research at IES and its National Center for Education Research.  

Since 2004, IES-funded researchers have been developing assessments to help identify the needs of adults struggling with literacy and working on solutions to build adult literacy skills. This work fed into the measurement component of IES’s Reading for Understanding Initiative in 2010 and later returned back to addressing adult basic literacy measurement in 2016.

In 2012, IES funded the Center for the Study of Adult Literacy (CSAL), which developed a curriculum and technology for adults reading between the 3rd- and 8th-grade levels. CSAL demonstrates how adult literacy research benefits by integrating research conducted with students with disabilities and those in K-12 and postsecondary settings. In fact, the researchers pulled upon findings from eight prior IES grants funded by NCER and NCSER.

Our researchers are also developing a clearer picture of the adults who fall into the broad category of those with low literacy. They are leveraging the PIAAC data set to conduct exploratory work that informs both our understanding of those at the very low ends of literacy and also of whether basic skills may predict success in postsecondary career and technical education programs.

In 2020, IES funded additional development research to help refine an interactive, online reading comprehension program, AutoTutor for Adult Reading Comprehension (AT-ARC). Another project will recruit and train postdoctoral fellows to cultivate the next generation of researchers who can continue to build a research base for improving adult literacy outcomes.

Although IES researchers are making great strides to build knowledge, the field needs more information, and adult learners deserve tools and innovations developed for their specific needs and goals. IES hopes to continue to support such work.

 


To learn more about IES-wide efforts to understand and improve adult learners’ outcomes, visit the Adult Basic Skills topic page. Contact Dr. Meredith Larson for more information about the research supported by NCER.

 

Building Knowledge About Adult Education

Adult education programs aim to support the millions of American adults who wish to strengthen their basic skills, earn a high school degree or equivalent, or become U.S. citizens. During the National Adult Education Family and Literacy Week (September 20-26, 2020), IES is highlighting the ongoing research it supports to help expand our knowledge of and innovations for the adult education system and the communities they support.

Roughly 30 million U.S. adults may lack a high school degree or equivalent. And according to an assessment conducted in 2017, approximately 30 percent of adults may have very low numeracy skills, and approximately 20 percent may have very low literacy skills. Adults with low levels of academic attainment or low basic skills may face barriers to full economic or civic engagement.

Adult education programs aim to help such adults. These programs often run on lean budgets and need to meet the needs of a highly diverse population with a multitude of learning goals.

In order to help understand and improve the ability of the adult education system to provide services, IES researchers have been conducting various research projects in partnership with adult education providers.

For example, Career Pathways Programming for Lower-Skilled Adults and Immigrants conducted mixed-methods research in partnership with Chicago, Houston, and Miami. This work helped each city understand what types of career pathways adult education programs were offering and who was participating in such programing. This type of information helps programs, cities, and the system more broadly understand and adjust to the needs of learners and communities.

The New York State Literacy Zone Researcher-Practitioner Partnership focused on improving the ability of case managers to help adult learners leverage wrap-around services and access and succeed in adult education and training programs. This project helped develop tools and training for case managers and conduct an exploratory pilot study of these tools to see if they predicted learner outcomes, such as persistence in a program.

The Georgia Partnership for Adult Education and Research (GPAER) is a collaboration among researchers at Georgia State University and leadership at the Georgia Office of Adult Education: Technical College System of Georgia to help understand adult literacy programs across the state. This ongoing work is conducting mixed-methods studies to understand program features, learner characteristics, and indicators of beneficial learner outcomes.

There is still much to learn to help improve the ability of programs to find and support adult learners. IES encourages additional research to further help us understand the landscape of adult education, the needs and interests of adult learners and their instructors, and the outcomes and impacts of improving adult basic skills.


For more information about adult education research at the National Center of Education Research, contact Dr. Meredith Larson.