EPI's weekly illustration of education data trends — October 12, 2018

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Numeracy Proficiency of US Adults (ages 16-65), 2012/14


This the second of two EPIGraphs focused on data from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), which measures skills in literacy and numeracy. This EPIGraph looks at the numeracy data based on US adults between the ages of 16 and 65 years of age. The scale runs from 0 to 500 and the average adult numeracy score is 257 (denoted by the red line in the graphic below). This chart and analysis is not to discuss whether the average literacy is too low or just right. It does provide a comparison point, however. The data in this chart track the literacy chart almost precisely.

There are four categories in this analysis and all have relative levels of interest. Overall, adults with higher levels of education have higher proficiency levels of numeracy. As well, adults whose parents went to college had higher levels of numeracy. Neither of these two findings is surprising. Of interest herein is the variance in numeracy score by age and race/ethnic group. With regard to the former, and with the exception of the youngest grouping, older groups had lower numeracy scores than younger groups. Why is this? Is it because a higher percentage of younger groups have more postsecondary education, which we know is associated with higher numeracy rates? Is it because we actually do a better job for more students in K12 than older cohorts? Both are likely. Why the youngest group dips lower is less understood, but one could surmise that the relatively lower level of education could impact that group's average numeracy score. As well, the variance of Black and Hispanic adults compared to White adults continues to be disappointing with a 50 to 60-point gap. These data clearly illustrate that there remain legitimate, entrenched, and systematic barriers that deny people of color access to education and other activities and situations that impact numeracy scales.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.



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