What Is PIAAC?



The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), also known as the Survey of Adult Skills, is a large-scale international household study conducted under the auspices of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that assesses the key cognitive and workplace skills that adults need to participate successfully in 21st century society and the global economy. In the United States, PIAAC is funded and led by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education.

The Importance of PIAAC

View the introductory video from the ETS/OECD PIAAC Research Conference, featuring interviews with Thomas Freidman, Andreas Schleicher, Irwin Kirsch, Angel Gurria, and others. 

PIAAC's Cognitive Assessment

PIAAC is designed to assess a broad range of abilities and competencies. Its cognitive assessment items are based on frameworks developed by internationally known experts in each subject or domain assessed in PIAAC:

  • Literacy
  • Reading (for those with low literacy skills)
  • Numeracy
  • Problem solving in technology-rich environments

All participating countries are required to administer the assessment in the literacy and numeracy domains, while the problem solving in technology-rich environments and the reading components are optional. The United States assesses participants in all four domains.

PIAAC's Background Questionnaire

One of the main components of PIAAC is its extensive background questionnaire (BQ), which collects information about a number of other skills and personal traits of the working-age population. Information from the BQ can help describe the relationship between the cognitive skills assessed in PIAAC and a number of key indicators, including demographic characteristics, educational attainment, employment status, and skills used at work and at home. Each country has the option of adding an additional 5 minutes of BQ items on a topic of its choosing. The United States added several items on health status and English language learners. In the United States, the PIAAC background questionnaire is administered either in English or Spanish.

Boost Skills for Jobs and Well-Being

The low-skilled are more likely than others to be unemployed, have bad health and earn much less, according to the first OECD Survey of Adult Skills (2012). Countries with greater inequality in skills proficiency also have higher income inequality.

PIAAC's Administration Modes

PIAAC is the first large-scale national assessment of adults administered in two modes: paper-and-pencil and computer. Participants with no familiarity with computers are routed to the paper-and-pencil assessment mode. The computer-based mode is adaptive, allowing participants to respond to items that are specifically targeted to their performance levels. The literacy and numeracy domains are offered in both the computer and paper-and-pencil modes. The reading components are offered only in the paper-and-pencil mode, and the problem solving in technology-rich environment component is administered only by computer.

For a more extensive description of the PIAAC assessment, please visit the NCES PIAAC website at http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/.

PIAAC Participating Countries

For links to participating countries' PIAAC websites or reports, visit our "Country Reports" page or OECD's "Country Specific Material" page. 

For links to participating countries' PIAAC websites or reports, visit our "Country Reports" page or OECD's "Country Specific Material" page.