Summer Institute 2014: Exploring PIAAC Data - Enriching research, supporting practice

Institut d'été 2014: le 25-27 juin



SRDC has released the results of the UPSKILL: Essentials to Excel Project, which they presented at Summer Institute 2014. 

The purpose of the project was to measure the benefits of a workplace essential skills training program in the accommodations industry, and provide insights on how to most effectively engage employers and implement Essential Skills training, as well as the conditions that are more likely to lead to success. The study found that a well-designed program of Essential Skills training can produce attractive returns on investment for employers as well as benefits for employees and government. Interestingly, the greatest impacts of training on skills and job performance were found among those with lower scores on the pre-training skill tests.

Slides of presentations will be available soon; videos of presentations are now available on Vimeo.




On Day 3 of Summer Institute 2014


Day 2 of Summer Institute 2014 featured: a panel on numeracy in PISA and PIAAC that strongly expressed the need to make numeracy a priority and look at how current math instruction often fails learners; a couple of workplace literacy projects that show possible ways forward for workplace literacy and essential skills delivery; a preview of the Canadian PIAAC reports on the themes of Aboriginal, Labour markets, Minority Language Communities, Immigrants, and Health and Social Dimensions; a presentation on PIAAC and the Maori of Aotearoa New Zealand; and a presentation on why women `s pay and employment status doesn`t seem to match their skill levels.


Highlights of Day One included a performance from spoken word artist Moe Clark, personal testimony from a young woman about the help she recieved from the Courage to Soar program for aboriginal women who have experienced domestic violence, and presentations on literacy and learning through the life cycle and on the profile of low-skilled readers in Canada.




About this Institute

This event was the third in a series of bilingual institutes to explore the meaning and uses of international adult literacy and skills surveys, from IALS to PIAAC. 

In June 2014, we turned our attention to broadening and defining a research agenda using data from PIAAC and related surveys, creating space for more dialogue between researchers, policy-makers and providers that allows researchers to draw questions from experience in the field, practitioners to translate research findings into meaningful interventions, and both to inform more responsive policy.  In collaboration with four international research centres, from the US, UK, NZ, and Australia, we engaged researchers from Canada and abroad, in fields that have not previously used skills surveys to inform their studies.

Following the results from PIAAC in October 2013, results were released from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).  PISA tests the ability of 15-year olds in almost 70 countries “to apply knowledge and skills in key subject areas and to analyse, reason and communicate effectively as they examine, interpret and solve problems.”  It focuses on reading, mathematics (numeracy) and science, and is intended to help evaluate school systems.

Until now, agencies and researchers have not generally made connections between PISA and PIAAC.  However, the OECD’s October 8 PIAAC report explicitly suggested that the results of the two surveys should be examined together as they link to a broader skill strategy.   

If we envisage a future when lifelong learning is an accepted model, then schools will lay foundations for the continuous learning that will define our lives. 



Guest Experts

We have confirmed participation from:


Acclaimed for his thinking and writing on adult and lifelong learning, social capital and democracy, Tom Schuller will share his perspective on how evidence from assessments such as PIAAC and PISA may fit with, differ from, or distort evidence from other sources.  He will also draw on his most recent work, The Paula Principle: how and why women work below their level of competence,


Art Graesser, Professor, Department of Psychology and the Institute for Intelligent Systems at the University of Memphis and Honorary Research Fellow at Oxford, has research interests that include question asking and answering, tutoring, text comprehension, reading, education, memory, artificial intelligence, and human-computer interaction.  He has helped design, develop, and test software in learning, language, and discourse technologies such as AutoTutor. Art is a member of the PIAAC expert group on PS-TRE as well as the expert group of PISA 2012 in Problem Solving and chair of the expert group of PISA 2015 in Collaborative Problem Solving.  He is a co-Principal Investigator on the Center for the Study of Adult Literacy (CSAL-US).  Art will discuss the evidence from large-scale surveys and from his diverse research projects, highlighting those that are focused on developing and improving instruction.


William Thorn, a Senior Analyst in the Education Directorate of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development at OECD since 2007, manages their Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).  William previously held senior positions in the Departments of Education and Employment in the Australian federal public service.  He has managed units responsible for research into education and the labour market, programme evaluation, statistical collections and analysis, tertiary education funding policy and the Commonwealth government’s role in the testing and monitoring of basic skills such as literacy and numeracy in Australian schools. 


Dave Tout, Senior Research Fellow and Manager, Vocational, Adult and Workplace Education, ACER, has had over 40 years experience in the education sector, with most of those being in the VET sector, and has worked within a range of programs in schools, TAFEs, community providers, universities, AMES and industry. He has had wide experience not only in teaching and training, but also in working at a state, national and international level in research, curriculum, assessment and materials development. Dave joined ACER in 2008 and has worked on a number of projects at ACER including the online Adult Literacy and Numeracy Assessment Tool for the Tertiary Education Commission in New Zealand; the development of online literacy and numeracy assessment tools for both disengaged young people and for adults; and also helped manage and implement the mathematical literacy item development component of the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) where mathematical literacy was the major domain to be assessed. Dave was a member of the Numeracy Expert group for the numeracy components of both the international Adult Literacy and Lifeskills (ALL) survey and the 2011-12 Programme in Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) surveys.


Jeff Evans is a member of the Numeracy Expert Group for PIAAC. He is a long-standing member of Adults Learning Mathematics Research Forum, founded in the 1990s in the UK. His research interests include adults’ numeracy, mathematical thinking and emotion, research methodologies in the social sciences and education, and images of mathematics in popular culture. His perspective comes from a lifelong commitment to numeracy, mathematics and statistics teaching to adults, and from a focus on methodology.



With the focus on research and practice, we are pleased to have four international research centres as partner-sponsors:

We continue a fruitful collaboration with our francophone partners who support the Institutes as increasingly seamless bilingual events:


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