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National Center for Education Statistics

Rescaled Data Files for Analyses of Trends in Adult Skills

In January 2022, NCES released the rescaled data files for three adult literacy assessments conducted several decades earlier: the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS), the 1994 International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), and the 2003 Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey (ALL). By connecting the rescaled data from these assessments with data from the current adult literacy assessment, the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), researchers can examine trends on adult skills in the United States going back to 1992. This blog post traces the history of each of these adult literacy assessments, describes the files and explains what “rescaling” means, and discusses how these files can be used in analyses in conjunction with the PIAAC files. The last section of the post offers several example analyses of the data.

A Brief History of International and National Adult Literacy Assessments Conducted in the United States

The rescaled data files highlighted in this blog post update and combine historical data from national and international adult literacy studies that have been conducted in the United States.

NALS was conducted in 1992 by NCES and assessed U.S. adults in households, as well as adults in prisons. IALS—developed by Statistics Canada and ETS in collaboration with 22 participating countries, including the United States—assessed adults in households and was administered in three waves between 1994 and 1998. ALL was administered in 11 countries, including the United States, and assessed adults in two waves between 2003 and 2008.

PIAAC seeks to ensure continuity with these previous surveys, but it also expands on their quality assurance standards, extends the definitions of literacy and numeracy, and provides more information about adults with low levels of literacy by assessing reading component skills. It also, for the first time, includes a problem-solving domain to emphasize the skills used in digital (originally called “technology-rich”) environments.

How Do the Released Data Files From the Earlier Studies of Adult Skills Relate to PIACC?

All three of the released restricted-use data files (for NALS, IALS, and ALL) relate to PIAAC, the latest adult skills assessment, in different ways.

The NALS data file contains literacy estimates and background characteristics of U.S. adults in households and in prisons in 1992. It is comparable to the PIAAC data files for 2012/14 and 2017 through rescaling of the assessment scores and matching of the background variables to those of PIAAC.

The IALS and ALL data files contain literacy (IALS and ALL) and numeracy (ALL) estimates and background characteristics of U.S. adults in 1994 (IALS) and 2003 (ALL). Similar to NALS, they are comparable to the PIAAC restricted-use data (2012/14) through rescaling of the literacy and numeracy assessment scores and matching of the background variables to those of PIAAC. These estimates are also comparable to the international estimates of skills of adults in several other countries, including in Canada, Hungary, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, and New Zealand (see the recently released Data Point International Comparisons of Adult Literacy and Numeracy Skills Over Time). While the NCES datasets contain only the U.S. respondents, IALS and ALL are international studies, and the data from other participating countries can be requested from Statistics Canada (see the IALS Data Files/Publications and ALL Data pages for more detail). See the History of International and National Adult Literacy Assessments page for additional background on these studies. 

Table 1 provides an overview of the rescaled NALS, IALS, and ALL data files.


Table 1. Overview of the rescaled data files for the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS), International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), and Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey (ALL) 

Table showing overview of the rescaled data files for the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS), International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), and Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey


What Does “Rescaled” Mean?

“Rescaling” the literacy (NALS, IALS, ALL) and numeracy (ALL) domains from these three previous studies means that the domains were put on the same scale as the PIAAC domains through the derivation of updated estimates of proficiency created using the same statistical models used to create the PIAAC skills proficiencies. Rescaling was possible because PIAAC administered a sufficient number of the same test questions used in NALS, IALS, and ALL.1 These rescaled proficiency estimates allow for trend analysis of adult skills across the time points provided by each study.

What Can These Different Files Be Used For?

While mixing the national and international trend lines isn’t recommended, both sets of files have their own distinct advantages and purposes for analysis.

National files

The rescaled NALS 1992 files can be used for national trend analyses with the PIAAC national trend points in 2012/2014 and 2017. Some potential analytic uses of the NALS trend files are to

  • Provide a picture of the skills of adults only in the United States;
  • Examine the skills of adults in prison and compare their skills with those of adults in households over time, given that NALS and PIAAC include prison studies conducted in 1992 and 2014, respectively;
  • Conduct analyses on subgroups of the population (such as those ages 16–24 or those with less than a high school education) because the larger sample size of NALS allows for more detailed breakdowns along with the U.S. PIAAC sample;
  • Focus on the subgroup of older adults (ages 66–74), given that NALS sampled adults over the age of 65, similar to PIAAC, which sampled adult ages 16–74; and
  • Analyze U.S.-specific background questions (such as those on race/ethnicity or health-related practices).

International files

The rescaled IALS 1994 and ALL 2003 files can be used for international trend analyses among six countries with the U.S. PIAAC international trend point in 2012/2014: Canada, Hungary, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. Some potential analytic uses of the IALS and ALL trend files are to

  • Compare literacy proficiency results internationally and over time using the results from IALS, ALL, and PIAAC; and
  • Compare numeracy proficiency results internationally and over time using the results from ALL and PIAAC.

Example Analyses Using the U.S. Trend Data on Adult Literacy

Below are examples of a national trend analysis and an international trend analysis conducted using the rescaled NALS, IALS, and ALL data in conjunction with the PIAAC data.

National trend estimates

The literacy scores of U.S. adults increased from 269 in NALS 1992 to 272 in PIAAC 2012/2014. However, the PIAAC 2017 score of 270 was not significantly different from the 1992 or 2012/2014 scores.


Figure 1. Literacy scores of U.S. adults (ages 16–65) along national trend line: Selected years, 1992–2017

Line graph showing literacy scores of U.S. adults (ages 16–65) along national trend line for NALS 1992, PIAAC 2012/2014, and PIAAC 2017

* Significantly different (p < .05) from NALS 1992 estimate.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS), NALS 1992; and Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), PIAAC 2012–17.


International trend estimates

The literacy scores of U.S. adults decreased from 273 in IALS 1994 to 268 in ALL 2003 before increasing to 272 in PIAAC 2012/2014. However, the PIAAC 2012/2014 score was not significantly different from the IALS 1994 score.


Figure 2. Literacy scores of U.S. adults (ages 16–65) along international trend line: Selected years, 1994–2012/14

Line graph showing literacy scores of U.S. adults (ages 16–65) along international trend line for IALS 1994, ALL 2003, and PIAAC 2012/2014

* Significantly different (p < .05) from IALS 1994 estimate.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Statistics Canada and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), 1994–98; Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey (ALL), 2003–08; and Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), PIAAC 2012/14. See figure 1 in the International Comparisons of Adult Literacy and Numeracy Skills Over Time Data Point.


How to Access the Rescaled Data Files

More complex analyses can be conducted with the NALS, IALS, and ALL rescaled data files. These are restricted-use files and researchers must obtain a restricted-use license to access them. Further information about these files is available on the PIAAC Data Files page (see the “International Trend Data Files and Data Resources” and “National Trend Data Files and Data Resources” sections at the bottom of the page).

Additional resources:

By Emily Pawlowski, AIR, and Holly Xie, NCES


[1] In contrast, the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), another assessment of adult literacy conducted in the United States, was not rescaled for trend analyses with PIAAC. For various reasons, including the lack of overlap between the NAAL and PIAAC literacy items, NAAL and PIAAC are thought to be the least comparable of the adult literacy assessments.

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

NHES Data Files Provide Researchers Supplemental Information on Survey Respondents’ Communities

Increasingly, researchers are merging survey data with data from external sources, such as administrative data or different surveys, to enhance analyses. Combining data across sources increases the usefulness of the data while minimizing the burden on survey respondents.

In September, the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) released restricted-use supplemental geocode data files that use sample respondents’ addresses to integrate the 2016 NHES Parent and Family Involvement in Education (PFI), Early Childhood Program Participation (ECPP), and Adult Training and Education (ATES) survey data with data from other collections. The supplemental geocode files include additional geographic identifiers, characteristics of respondents’ neighborhoods and local labor markets, radius-based measures of household proximity to job search assistance and educational opportunities, and, for surveys focused on children, school district identifiers based on home addresses and school district characteristics.

The new data can complement researchers’ analyses of data from all three surveys. Researchers can expand their analyses of school choice and access to K–12 schooling options using the PFI survey data. Those interested in analyses of decisions about children’s early education can use the ECPP survey data to look at the availability of Head Start programs, preschools in private schools near children’s homes, and the prevalence of prekindergarten programs in local school districts. Researchers interested in nondegree credential attainment and training for work can use data from the ATES to find information on local labor markets and the number of American Job Centers near respondents’ homes.

The NHES:2016 restricted-use supplemental geocode files are available to restricted-use license holders to be used in conjunction with the NHES:2016 survey data files. To access the full set of NHES:2016 geocode supplemental restricted-use data files, apply for a restricted-use license. You can also browse the list of variables in the supplemental geocode files.

 

By Emily Isenberg and Sarah Grady, NCES

CTE Statistics: New Information on How Adults Prepare for Work

By Lisa Hudson

Education provides students with the knowledge and skills needed to be informed citizens, productive workers, and responsible community members. Meeting one of these goals—preparing students for work—is the main goal of career and technical education (CTE, formerly known as vocational education). To monitor CTE in the United States, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) produces a comprehensive set of statistical data on CTE at the secondary and postsecondary levels, as well as on adult preparation for work. These statistics, and related reports, are available on the CTE Statistics website.

NCES recently released data related to preparation for work, which was collected as part of the 2016 Adult Education and Training Survey (ATES).  The ATES asked a nationally-representative sample of adults about their attainment of two often-overlooked work credentials—licenses and certifications—and about their completion of work experience programs (such as internships and apprenticeships).  The survey also examined the role of education in helping adults attain these credentials and complete these programs.

The data show that 21 percent of adults have a currently active license or certification, with 18 percent reporting they have a license and 6 percent reporting they have a certification (some adults have both). Additionally, completion of degree programs is related to the attainment of these work credentials. For example, having a certification or license is more common among adults who have a college degree than among adults with lower levels of education (see figure).  In addition, about two-thirds of the adults who have completed a certification or licensing program (67 percent) did so in conjunction with coursetaking after high school.



Findings are similar for work experience programs. Overall, 21 percent of adults have completed a work experience program, and 14 percent of adults have completed a work experience program that was part of an educational program after high school.

Finally, the ATES showed that work credentials and work experience programs are particularly common in the health care field. In fact, health care was the most common field in which both licenses and certifications were held (31 percent of credentialed adults), and the most common field in which adults had completed a work experience program (26 percent of program completers) .

The information discussed in this blog is drawn from the ATES “First Look” report. The CTE Statistics website also includes a summary of these key findings, and within the next year additional ATES statistics will be added to the website.  To sign up for automatic email notifications on when new material is added to the CTE Statistics website, visit the IES newsflash (under National Center for Education Statistics, check the box for “Adult and Career Education”).  We look forward to sharing future results with you!

New Data Explore Adults’ Nondegree Credentials

By Lisa Hudson

Despite a national interest in nondegree credentials—such as postsecondary certificates, occupational certifications, and occupational licenses—there hasn’t been comprehensive, national data on these programs. However, a new report from NCES fills this gap using data from our new Adult Training and Education Survey (ATES).

These data show that 27 percent of adults have a nondegree credential and that 21 percent have completed a work experience program (such as an apprenticeship or internship). The ATES data also show that the completion of degree programs and nondegree programs are related. For example, having a certification or license is more common among adults who have a college degree than among adults with lower levels of education.  

The ATES is one component of the NCES National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES), which collects information on education-related topics that cannot be addressed through school-based surveys. It includes a suite of surveys designed to capture data related to learning at all ages. This most recent NHES administration, conducted from January to September 2016, was the first administration of the ATES. This survey was completed by a national sample of about 47,700 adults between the ages of 16 and 65.

The data show that nondegree credentialing and work experience programs are particularly common in the health care field. In fact, health care was the most common field in which both certifications and licenses were held, and the most common field for which adults had completed a work experience program.

The ATES also found that adults perceive nondegree credentials to be useful for many labor market outcomes. For example, 82 percent of adults who have a certification or license reported that it was very useful for “getting a job”, 81 percent reported that it was very useful for “keeping you marketable to employers or clients”, and 66 percent reported it that was very useful for “improving your work skills” (see figure). 

The ATES data will be available to researchers in the coming months. Check the NHES website for updates.