Other countries outscore U.S. in adult tests in math, reading, problem solving
By The Associated Press
Published: 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.
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