In 23 Advanced Economies: U.S. Adults Rank 21st in Math Skills

October 18, 2013 - 4:31 PM

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a classroom. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) on Friday released the initial results of an international survey of adult skills in literacy and mathematics, revealing that Americans rank 21st in “numeracy” and are tied for 15th in literacy among adults in 23 advanced economies.

American adults also scored below the average in both numeracy and literacy for all respondents in all 23 advanced economies.

Japan and Finland ranked first and second in both categories and Italy and Spain took the bottom two spots in both.

The international survey--the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)--was developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The data from Russia was not included in the initial results, the NCES said, "because they were released too late for publication."

“Numeracy” was defined by the survey as “the ability to access, use, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas, to engage in and manage mathematical demands of a range of situations in adult life.”

“Literacy” was defined as “understanding, evaluating, using and engaging with written text to participate in society to achieve one’s goals and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.”

The survey tested a sample of approximately 5,000 Americans ages 16 to 65, using a test that was scored on a scale of 0-500.

In numeracy, American adults achieved an average score of 253 out of 500, nosing out Italian adults who averaged 247 and Spanish adults who averaged 246.

Japanese adults led the field in numeracy, averaging 288 out of 500. They were followed by the Fins, who averaged 282; and the Belgians and the Dutch, who both averaged 280.

In literacy, American adults achieved an average of 270 out of 500. That put Americans well ahead of Italy and Spain, whose adults scored 250 and 252, respectively, but far behind Japan and Finland, whose adults scored 296 and 288 respectively.

The NCES report said that among the American survey sample there were 112 people who were unable to complete even the survey’s initial background questionnaire “because of a literacy-related barrier: either the inability to communicate in English or Spanish (the two languages in which the background questionnaire was administered) or a mental disability.”

How 23 Advanced Economies Ranked in Numeracy:

1. Japan............................288

2. Finland..........................282

3. Flanders-Belgium........280

3. Netherlands..................280

5. Sweden........................279

6. Norway..........................278

6. Denmark.......................278

8. Slovak Republic...........276

8. Czech Republic...........276

10. Austria........................275

11. Estonia........................273

12. Germany.....................272

International average..269

13. Australia.....................268

14. Canada......................265

14, Cyprus......................265

16. Republic of Korea...263

17. United Kingdom.......262

18. Poland......................260

19. Ireland.......................256

20. France.......................254

21. United States..........253

22. Italy............................247

23. Spain.........................246

How 23 Advanced Economies Ranked in Literacy:

1. Japan...........................296

2. Finland.........................288

3. Netherlands.................284

4. Australia.......................280

5. Sweden........................279

6. Norway..........................278

7. Estonia..........................276

8. Flanders-Belgium.........275

9. Czech Republic............274

9. Slovak Republic............274

11. Canada........................273

International average....273

12. Republic of Korea......273

13. United Kingdom.........272

14. Denmark.....................271

15. Germany.....................270

15. United States...........270

17. Austria........................269

17. Cyprus........................269

19. Poland........................267

19. Ireland.........................267

21. France.........................262

22. Spain...........................252

23. Italy..............................250

In the numeracy rankings the difference in the average scores of the adults in Ireland, France and the United States were not statistically significant. In the literacy rankings the difference in the average scores of the adults in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany, the United States, Austria and Cyprus were not statistically significant.