Using the PIAAC Databases for Interdisciplinary Research


PIAAC is the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies.

It assessed proficiency of adults, residing in over 30 countries, in three main information-processing skills considered essential for successful participation in the information-rich economies and societies of the 21st century: Literacy, Numeracy and Problem solving in technology-rich environments (PSTRE).

PIAAC assessed skills that are considered essential to effectively access, understand, analyze and use text-based information, and in some cases with mathematics, information in the form of representations of various types (e.g., pictures, graphical representations). The purpose was to gain a picture of the distribution of the adult population over the entire spectrum of proficiency in each of the domains assessed.

PIAAC administered an extensive background questionnaire, followed by a cognitive assessment delivered on computer to most participants. Participants not able to respond to the assessment on the computer were administered a paper and pencil assessment.

As part of the background questionnaire PIAAC collected a comprehensive set of information designed to support the major analytical objectives of PIAAC:

  • Determine the level and the distribution of proficiency in key information processing skills for important subgroups of the adult population
  • Better understand factors associated with the acquisition, development, maintenance and loss of proficiency over the life cycle
  • Better understand the relationship of proficiency in information-processing skills to economic and other social outcomes

To this effect, it collected background information in five main areas:

  • Basic demographic characteristics and background of respondents
  • Educational attainment and participation
  • Labor force status and employment
  • Social outcomes, and
  • Literacy and numeracy practices and the use of skills

Internationally, PIAAC was administered to non-institutionalized samples of adults ages 16-65 residing in the respective country at the time of data collection, irrespective of nationality, citizenship or language status. These are called “household samples.”

In addition, in the U.S., PIAAC was administered to a sample adults aged 66 – 75, and to a sample of 1,300 adult inmates (ages 16–74) detained in federal and state prisons in the United States.

The U.S. "household sample" was enhanced by oversampling young adults (ages 16-34) and unemployed adults (ages 16-65), and expanding the sample to include older adults (ages 66-74). The U.S. national sample, with about 8,700 participants, allows for accurate and reliable national estimates for the adult population of these groups.

The U.S. “prison sample”, collected in 2014, includes the results of the assessment of literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments skills administered to adult inmates. The background questionnaire administered to the household sample was modified and tailored specifically to address the experiences and needs of the prison sample. As an example, it includes items related to activities in prison, such as participation in academic programs and ESL classes; experiences with prison jobs; and involvement in nonacademic programs, such as employment readiness classes.

The workshops will focus on using the U.S. data either by itself, or in conjunction with the data from the other participating countries. Applications will be evaluated using this as one of the selection criteria.

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