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September 2011

From the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

New International Survey Assesses Adult Competencies

How is this assessment different from previous assessments?

PIAAC is unique from previous international and adult assessments in a number of innovations:

  • It will be the first large-scale assessment administered on laptop computers to respondents in their homes. Those who cannot take the assessment on a computer will be administered a paper-and-pencil version of the assessment.
  • The laptop version is an adaptive assessment: participants will respond to a series of items targeted to their performance levels.
  • It is conducted in each country through an integrated computer system that combines a computer-assisted personal interview with computer-administered cognitive instruments.
  • It introduces items on a computer to measure participants' problem solving skills. All of the problem solving items are presented in common "technology-rich environments" (e.g., electronic files and folders, e-mail, web pages, spreadsheets).

NCES has begun conducting a new international assessment of adult competencies in U.S. households. The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)—a cyclical, large-scale assessment under the auspices of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development—assesses and compares the basic skills and competencies of adults around the world. The assessment focuses on cognitive and workplace skills needed for successful participation in 21st-century society and the global economy. PIAAC measures:

PIAAC builds on knowledge and experiences gained from previous international adult assessments such as the International Adult Literacy Survey and the Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey. It enhances and expands on these previous assessments' frameworks and, at the same time, improves upon their design and methodologies.

A minimum of 5,000 individuals between the ages of 16 and 65 in each of the 26 participating countries are expected to take the assessment's first administration, which is currently underway. PIAAC's initial results will be released in 2013. Data collection is being conducted in multiple languages in numerous countries. In the United States, the background questions will be in both English and Spanish; however, the assessment will be conducted in English only.

More information about the overall PIAAC study can be found at the OECD website. Information about the study in the United States can be found at

NCES conducts several international surveys and assessments. Information about these studies—including PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study)—and tools for data analysis can be found at