A new report finds that America is a terribly unequal place when it comes to math and technological literacy. The Education Testing Service released a report on a new global test of basic 21st century skills [PDF]. The most striking finding is that America had the highest gap between the top and bottom performers of any nation assessed (which included much of Europe and Asia).

The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) gives a representative sample of adults from each country a computerized test, asking questions on the interpretation of statistics and ability to use technology.

“As a country, we need to address the question of whether we can afford … to write off nearly half of our younger-adult population as not having the skills needed to effectively engage as full and active participants in their own future and that of our nation,” warned the report’s authors.

Here are screenshots of some questions that a disturbing number of Americans could not answer.

Part of the test asks users to perform basic statistics interpretation. The first question below asks users to calculate the price of a sale item. The second one asks them to interpret a simple graph.



In addition to numbers, literacy, and reading, the PIAAC looks at whether an adult can navigate the web. In the example below, a simple browser simulation is set up and checks whether the user can successfully find information on job openings.


The bottom 10 percent of American test takers were among the lowest in the world. The test results raise serious concern about the bottom half of the population being able to effectively find employment and participate in society.

Readers can take a version of the test here.

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