The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) today announced the release of a new analysis of the states and counties with the highest and lowest levels of adult literacy and numeracy skills. The data show that Alaska, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Vermont are among the top five states for both literacy and numeracy proficiency (as measured by average score), while the District of Columbia is in the top five in literacy and North Dakota is in the top five in numeracy. The same five states are at the lowest end for both literacy and numeracy: Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas.
Out of all 3,141 counties in the United States, the top five counties are the same for literacy and numeracy: Delaware County, Ohio; Douglas County, Colorado; Falls Church, Virginia; Hamilton County, Indiana; and Los Alamos County, New Mexico. Four counties are in the bottom five for both literacy and numeracy: Hudspeth County, Texas; Kenedy County, Texas; Starr County, Texas; and Zapata County, Texas. For literacy, Zavala County, Texas is in the bottom five; and for numeracy, Willacy County, Texas is in the bottom five.
“As we adjust and respond to the changing economic and educational landscapes in the COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 world, reliable data are critical for understanding where the skilled workforce is, where more training is needed, and which areas are likely to take longer to recover,” said NCES Commissioner Lynn Woodworth. “With these latest data, policymakers, business leaders, and educators are able to better understand the status and needs of their local communities.”
The analysis uses data from the U.S. Skills Map: State and County Indicators of Adult Literacy and Numeracy, a new online tool that provides the most comprehensive snapshot available of these key workforce skills in every state and county in America. With the Skills Map, users can easily access the most up-to-date data about the literacy and numeracy proficiency of adults ages 16–74 in states and counties across the United States, as well as view side-by-side comparisons of performance for individual states and counties. In addition to viewing average scores and the proportion of adults performing at the lowest, middle, and highest proficiency levels, users can access selected state- and county-level demographic information such as educational attainment, race/ethnicity, employment status, and poverty level to better interpret the results produced for each state or county.
The tool provides local-level, federal data on numeracy for the first time and more extensive literacy data than have previously been available. The data presented in the tool are based on results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), an international study of adults that measures the basic cognitive and workplace skills needed for successful participation in an advanced economy.
Literacy, assessed in English in the United States, refers to the ability to understand, evaluate, use, and engage with written texts in everyday contexts—from locating contact information on a website to reading simple passages. Numeracy refers to the ability to use, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas in a range of situations in adult life—from estimating how much gas is in a 24-gallon tank if the gas gauge reads three-quarters full to identifying expiration dates for food.
“We already knew that, nationally, roughly one in five U.S. adults lacked basic literacy skills and nearly one in three lacked basic numeracy skills,” said Peggy G. Carr, the associate commissioner for assessments at NCES. “We designed a new, sophisticated approach to give policymakers, business stakeholders, adult education providers, and others detailed, comparable local data for these key workforce skills, which will be key to economic recovery in every corner of America.”
The data in the tool are generated by a technique called small area estimation. The statistical models used to calculate the small area estimation relied on combined PIAAC data from 2012, 2014, and 2017 in conjunction with 2013–2017 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) to produce reliable estimates. The estimates are predictions of how the adults in a given state or county would have performed had they taken the PIAAC assessments.