What PISA can – and can’t – tell us about adults’ skills

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

Can PISA results predict the quality of a country’s labour force one decade later? To find out, we compared some of the results from the PISA 2000  and PISA 2003 tests with results from the 2012 Survey of Adult Skills (a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, or PIAAC). As we explain in this month’s PISA in Focus, we found that those countries where 15-year-old students achieved high scores in PISA were also the countries whose populations of young adults scored at high levels of proficiency in literacy and numeracy a decade after they had participated in PISA.

While, in general, countries tend to maintain the same level of performance in literacy and numeracy as they had achieved in reading and mathematics a decade earlier, PISA results don’t tell the whole story. For example, in Ireland, 15-year-olds performed well above the average score in reading in PISA 2000, but the same cohort scored below average in the Survey of Adult Skills 12 years later. In Italy and Spain, 15-year-olds scored close to the average in reading in PISA 2000, but the same cohort scored well below average in literacy in the 2012 adult survey.

These results tell us that, not only is it important to give all students an opportunity to achieve at high levels during compulsory education, but that the skills acquired in school have to be used later on, or else they’ll be lost (Learning beyond Fifteen: Ten Years after PISA; OECD Skills Strategy). That means that adult education and training systems, employers and labour market policies all have a role to play in making sure that the skills available in a country are used effectively, and in improving the proficiency of those young people who leave school before they have acquired basic skills in literacy and numeracy – which are now a pre-requisite for enjoying full participation in 21st-century societies.

PISA 2012 Findings
PISA in Focus No. 45: Do Countries with High Mean Performance in PISA Maintain their Lead as Students Age?
PISA in Focus No. 45: (French version)
For more on OECD work on skills go to: http://skills.oecd.org/  
Photo credit: Head and Brain Gears in Progress / @Shutterstock

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