Penn State researchers receive grant to study adult literacy skills in U.S.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Esther Prins, associate professor of education and co-director of the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy and the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy, and her research colleagues were the recipients of one of seven commissioned papers from American Institutes for Research/National Center for Education Statistics grant program. The grant will allow access to the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) data, specifically the Survey of Adult Skills.

Prins will collaborate with Shannon Monnat, assistant professor of rural sociology in the College of Agricultural Sciences; Carol Clymer, co-director of Goodling Institute; and Blaire Toso, research associate in the Goodling Institute; on their paper, “Literacy, numeracy, ICT skills, post-initial education and health status.”

Their research aims to explore how U.S. respondents’ health outcomes are shaped by literacy, numeracy, and information and communication technology (ICT) skills, and how this varies by race/ethnicity and educational attainment. The project will also identify which types of post-initial education have the strongest association with health and matter the most for the health outcomes of different racial/ethnic groups and individuals with different levels of educational attainment.

The Survey of Adult Skills is an international survey conducted in 33 countries as part of the PIAAC. It measures key cognitive and workplace skills needed for individuals to participate in society and for economies to prosper. The evidence from the survey will help countries better understand how education and training systems can nurture these skills. Educators, policy makers and labor economists will use this information to develop economic, education and social policies that will continue to enhance the skills of adults.

Prins said that gaining access to the database offers three distinct advantages to the group’s research.

“First, the grant will give us access to a rich database, set the stage for future research using PIAAC data and connect us with a network of researchers. Second, this is the most recent international assessment of adult skills; there are very few such databases, and the existing ones are outdated. Unlike previous assessments, this dataset assessed not only literacy and numeracy but also ICT skills. In addition, it includes health measures, which will allow us to examine the relationship between education, skills and health, including any variation by race/ethnicity. This database is much more comprehensive than previous international literacy assessments,” Prins said.

“Third, the grant will build on and extend the Goodling Institute’s emerging interest in health literacy among adults, particularly those with limited education and income. We currently have a practitioner’s guide on this topic, a journal article and two conference presentations based on a pilot study with parents in a Pennsylvania city. We hope that the grant will position us to do further research on health literacy.”

The purpose of the American Institutes for Research (AIR)/National Center for Education Statistics grant program is “to broaden the base of research based on exploration and use of the PIAAC dataset and its analytical tools.”

AIR plans to host an invitational PIAAC research conference in late 2014. The commissioned papers will be presented at this conference as well as published online by AIR. The grant helps establish a network of researchers using the PIAAC database.

Media Contacts: 

Esther Prins

Work Phone: 

Associate Professor of Education (Adult Education) and co-director for research, Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy and Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy

Last Updated January 09, 2015