​Johnny Can’t Read—or Sort Emails? US Ranks Dead Last in Tech Skills


It’s a tantalizing deal: buy one, get the second for half the price.

Unfortunately, most adults with high school credentials can’t figure out the total for both items, according to Peggy Carr, the acting commissioner of the government's National Center for Education Statistics. Her comments to WAMC public radio came in response to a new study (PDF) from Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies, which measures how adults around the world, grouped according to age and educational attainment, perform on literacy, numeracy and technology tasks.

U.S. mediocrity on math and literacy international tests should come as no surprise; we are reminded every time PISA results come out. What is shocking is that the country that’s home to Apple, Google and other Silicon Valley stalwarts ranked dead last—behind Poland— on technology skills.

A sample technology task asked test-takers to sort five email responses to a party invitation into existing folders to organize who can or cannot attend.

Across all three skills, Japan and Finland scored the highest. Relative to the 20 countries in the study, US adults scored closest to the international average (but just below!) on literacy skills. Americans also placed fifth-to-last on the numeracy test. The US results come from more than 8,000 adults who supposedly reflect the general population.

The report confirmed assumptions about the relationship between education, employment and skills. Across the world, those with postsecondary degrees are more likely to score on the highest proficiency level across all three skills. There’s also this troubling stat: many more white Americans reached the top proficiency level than their peers of non-white backgrounds.

“The study suggests a relationship between educational attainment, workforce skills, and economic participation,” Carr told The U.S. News and World Report.

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