Share This Page

Other countries outscore U.S. in adult tests in math, reading, problem solving

| Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

WASHINGTON — It's long been known that America's school kids haven't measured up to their international peers. Now, there's a new twist: Adults don't either.

In math, reading and problem solving using technology — all skills considered critical for global competitiveness and economic strength — American adults scored below the international average on a global test, according to results released Tuesday.

Adults in Japan, Canada, Australia, Finland and multiple other countries scored significantly higher than the United States in all three areas on the test. 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 reinforce the large gap between the nation's high- and low-skilled workers and how hard it is to move ahead when children's parents have not advanced.

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

The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies found the disparity in education is easier to overcome, as well as other barriers, overseas than in the United States.

Researchers tested about 166,000 people ages 16 to 65 in more than 20 countries and subnational regions. The test was developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, made up of mostly industrialized member countries. The Education Department's Center for Education Statistics participated.

The findings are equally grim for many European countries — Italy and Spain, among the hardest hit by the recession and debt crisis, ranked at the bottom across generations. Unemployment is well beyond 25 percent in Spain and more than 12 percent in Italy. Spain has cut education spending drastically, resulting in student street protests.

Those in northern European countries, though, have fared better and the picture is much brighter; the study credits continuing education. In Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands, more than 60 percent of adults took job training or continuing education. In Italy, the rate was half.

As the American economy sputters and many people live paycheck to paycheck, economists say a highly skilled workforce is key to economic recovery. The median hourly wage of workers scoring on the highest level in literacy is more than 60 percent higher than for workers scoring at the lowest level. Those with low literacy skills were more than twice as likely to be unemployed.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.