American Adults Score Below Average on Worldwide Test Measuring Math, Reading and Problem-Solving

Daily Mail (London), October 8, 2013

It’s long been known that America’s school kids haven’t measured well compared with their international peers, but now there’s a new twist: its adults don’t either.

In math, reading and problem-solving using technology, American adults scored below the international average on a global test, according to results released on Tuesday.

Adults in Japan, Canada, Australia, Finland and multiple other countries scored significantly higher than the U.S. in all three areas. The findings were equally grim for many European countries.

Beyond basic reading and math, respondents were tested on activities such as calculating mileage reimbursement due to a salesman, sorting email and comparing food expiration dates on grocery store tags.


Not only did Americans score poorly compared to many international competitors, the findings reinforced just how large the gap is between the nation’s high- and low-skilled workers and how hard it is to move ahead when your parents haven’t.

In both reading and math, for example, those with college educated parents did better than those whose parents did not complete high school.

The study, called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, found that it was easier on average to overcome this and other barriers to literacy overseas than in the U.S.

Researchers tested about 157,000 people ages 16 to 65 in more than 20 countries and subnational regions.


The Education Department’s Center for Education Statistics participated.

In Europe, Italy and Spain, among the hardest hit by the recession and debt crisis, ranked at the bottom across generations.


But in the northern European countries that have fared better, the picture was brighter–and the study credits continuing education.

In Finland, Denmark, and the Netherlands, more than 60 percent of adults took part is either job training or continuing education. In Italy, by contrast, the rate was half that.


Among the other findings:

– Americans scored toward the bottom in the category of problem solving in a technology rich environment.

The top five scores in the areas were from Japan, Finland, Australia, Sweden and Norway, while the U.S. score was on par with England, Estonia, Ireland and Poland.


America’s school kids have historically scored low on international assessment tests compared to other countries, which is often blamed on the diversity of the population and the high number of immigrants.

Also, achievement tests have long shown that a large chunk of the U.S. student population lacks basic reading and math skills–most pronounced among low-income and minority students.

This test could suggest students leaving high school without certain basic skills aren’t obtaining them later on the job or in an education program.


Respondents were selected as part of a nationally represented sample. The test was primarily taken at home using a computer, but some respondents used a printed test booklet.

Also among the findings:

– Japan, Finland, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Flanders-Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, and Korea all scored significantly higher than the United States in all three areas on the test.

– The average scores in literacy range from 250 in Italy to 296 in Japan. The U.S. average score was 270. (500 was the highest score in all three areas.)

Average scores in 12 countries were higher than the average U.S. score.

– The average scores in math range from 246 in Spain to 288 in Japan. The U.S. average score was 253, below 18 other countries.

– The average scores on problem solving in technology-rich environments scale for adult ranged from 275 in Poland to 294 in Japan. The U.S. average score was 277, below 14 other countries.


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