What Is PIAAC?


The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) 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 Ressearch 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. 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

To visit each country's website, visit the country reports page.

To visit each country's website, visit the country reports page.

U.S. PIAAC Data Collections

In the United States, two rounds of data collection have been conducted for PIAAC, the first in 2011–12 and the second in 2013–14. The results from the first round were released in October 2013, and the results from the second round in March 2016. To view the resources available to learn about the latest data collection, please see the bottom of this page or visit the home page of the PIAAC Gateway.  

First Round of Data Collection in the United States

Household data

The first round of data collection in the United States (the U.S. PIAAC Main Study) was conducted from August 2011 through April 2012 with a nationally representative household sample of 5,000 adults between the ages of 16 and 65. Similar samples of adults were surveyed in each of 23 other participating countries in 2008–13 (the Round 1 countries in the table above) and in nine additional countries in 2012–16 (the Round 2 countries). In 2016–19, an additional six countries are administering PIAAC (the Round 3 countries).

Second Round of Data Collection in the United States

Household data

The United States supplemented the first round of PIAAC data with a second national data collection in 2013–14, known as the U.S. National Supplement (officially termed the National Supplement to the Main Study), using the same procedures, instruments, and assessments as in the first round. The U.S. National Supplement was administered to a sample of 3,660 U.S. adults in households in order to (a) enhance the U.S. PIAAC dataset by oversampling young adults (ages 16–34) and unemployed adults (ages 16–65) and (b) expand the sample to include older adults (ages 66–74). The expanded national sample (totaling about 8,700 adults living in households) supports more detailed national estimates for these subgroups and, in the case of older adults, supports estimates for new groups not represented in the first round of PIAAC.

Prison data

The National Supplement also included the U.S. PIAAC Prison Study, which was administered from February through June 2014 to a sample of 1,300 adult inmates (ages 16–74) detained in federal, state, and private prisons in the United States. The U.S. Prison Study includes same direct assessments of literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments as those administered to the U.S. PIAAC household participants. However, the Prison Study’s background questionnaire was modified and tailored specifically to address the experiences and needs of this subgroup. For example, incarcerated adults were asked about 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.

Future PIAAC Data Collections

Third Round of Data Collection in the United States 

In 2017, the United States will collect a third round of PIAAC data using the same procedures, instruments, and assessments as in the first and second rounds. The data from the third round will be combined with the first- and second-round data to support, the calculation of state- and county-level estimates. The results are expected to be released in the fall of 2018.

International PIAAC Cycle 2 Data Collection

In 2021, the next cycle of PIAAC will be conducted in the United States and more than 30 other countries. 

For more information on the PIAAC schedule, please visit the NCES PIAAC Schedule and Plans page.