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US Adults Score Below International Average on Global Smarts Test

By David Ogul   |   Tuesday, 08 Oct 2013 06:48 PM

It isn’t difficult to find American adults complaining about how students are performing in schools these days. But a new study finds grownups aren’t so smart, either.

Researchers tested some 166,000 people ranging in age from 16 to 65 from two dozen countries in various skills, including math and literacy, and Americans didn’t fare well.

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In literacy skills, Americans' average score ranked the country No. 13, The Associated Press reported. The U.S. also scored below the international average in math and problem-solving using technology. Just 9 percent of American adults performed at the highest proficiency levels for math. One in eight Americans scored at the top level in reading.

The study is called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies. The test was developed by the Organization for Economic Development, a group of mostly modern countries.

Researchers found that besides scoring higher than American adults in basic reading and math, adults in Japan, Canada, Australia, and numerous other countries also performed better on activities such as figuring out mileage reimbursement, sorting email, and assessing food expiration dates on products in a grocery store.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement that if American adults don’t improve their education and skills, then “no matter how hard they work, these adults will be stuck, unable to support their families and contribute fully to our country,” the AP reported.

Other findings showed that at least 10 percent of adults in nearly all countries lacked such basic computer skills such as using a mouse; Japanese and Dutch adults with just a high school education outperformed Italian or Spanish university students of the same age; and social background has a significant impact on literacy skills.

USA Today reported the test was given to about 5,000 Americans between August of 2011 and April of 2012.

Harvard University professor Paul Peterson, who recently authored a book on education and international competitiveness, told USA Today that the results are “quite distressing.”

“Other countries have been catching up for some time,” he said. “At one time, we had a really significant lead, but those people are disappearing from the work force.”

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