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

Presentations and Panel Discussions



Aboriginal Issues

TED Talk: What keeps you alive? - TED Talk by Moe Clark

The Institute opened with a video of a 2012 Ted Talk by Métis artist Moe Clark. In it, she shares her understanding of how her performance narrative integrates traditions of circle singing and spoken word to reflect the impact of history and culture on aboriginal people today.   This set a context for later sessions that explored international assessments (PIAAC and others) as reflections of aboriginal competencies. (TEDx).

Moe Clark gave a live performance at the end of the first day entitled "Art and Literacy Can't Be Separated". Drawing on her personal experience teaching “at-risk” youth, she talked about bringing stories into teaching, lifting literacy off the page/ screen and into the voice, and using story telling and spoken word poetry for community building. She performed a powerful composition of song and spoken word and some pieces written by aboriginal youth she has worked with in the Writers in the Community project.


Fallon`s Story - Fallon C

A young aboriginal woman offered personal testimony on how a culturally-sensitive training and support program helped her and other aboriginal women emerge from lives of personal difficulty.


Looking Forward to Exploring PIAAC Data on Māori Adult Literacy and Numeracy in Aotearoa New Zealand- PowerPoint presentation prepared by: Diana Coben, National Centre of Literacy & Numeracy for Adults and David Earle, Ministry of Education, New Zealand. Presented at the Institute by Christy Bresette, Council of Ministers of Education, Canada.

This presentation for Institute participants was prepared by a researcher and a policy maker involved in preparing New Zealand for the second round of PIAAC in 2014-15.  It focused on the possible uses of PIAAC data to identify and meet the needs of Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand, while cautioning how misuse of data from previous research has harmed Aboriginal peoples. It suggested some potential areas of common interest between Canada and NZ.

Powerpoint presented at the Institute with comment by Christy Bressette, Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, and member of the team writing the aboriginal report on PIAAC for Canada.




Learning, Literacy and the Life Cycle– William Thorn, Education Directorate, Organization for Economic Development and Development (OECD)

William Thorn looked at possible explanations for the decline in PIAAC scores by age group, including cognitive decline and skills atrophy, and how much it actually matters. Also looked at supply and demand for training across the life cycle, the effectiveness of literacy programs, and barriers to training.



Key feedback from the PIAAC/PISA conference in Australia– May 2014, Dave Tout, Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)

David Tout reported on highlights of the PIAAC/PISA conference in Australia, noting a greater knowledge of PIAAC in Canada and a greater interest in PISA in Australia. He underlined the imbalance between literacy and numeracy training and trainers and distinguished between numeracy and maths. He suggested future directions for research and advice to sustain the field in the face of budget cuts.


Canada - PIAAC Theme Reports

Christy Bressette, Council of Ministers of Education, Canada
Bruno Rainville, Employment and Social Development Canada
Edith Duclos, Employment and Social Development Canada
Li Xu, Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Andrea Long, Public Health Agency of Canada

Moderator: Katerina Sukovski, Council of Ministers of Education, Canada

Members of the writing teams in several federal government departments shared updates on their reports for five of the six theme reports: Aboriginal, Labour markets, Minority Language Communities, Immigrants, and Health and Social Dimensions.  The first of these is expected to be released in early 2015.



The Paula Principle: Women, Skills & Reward- Tom Schuller, Longview (UK)

Women tend to be as or more educated than men in an increasing number of OECD countries, yet the pay gap remains wide and unlikely to disappear anytime soon.  Women`s remuneration does not seem to match their competencies. Tom Schuller, who has coined the term “The Paula Principle” to describe this phenomenon, led a discussion on the issue.


International Perspectives

Large-Scale Assessments and Experience on the Ground: International Perspectives

Panelists from four countries discussed and compared how findings from large-scale assessments are being used to inform policy and practice.

David Mallows, National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literaccy and Numeracy (NRDC) looked at the Roma in Eastern Europe, and the Literacy Cubed project to question the assumptions that are made about the skills and motivations of excluded populations.

Anke Grotluschen, University of Hamburg, Germany, discussed how past research in her country may have contributed to creating stereotypes about people with low literacy that do not reflect the reality of their lives. 

Aune Valk, Ministry of Education and Research, Estonia, shared findings from PIAAC in Estonia and described her research on the skills of teachers in 17 participating countries. She suggested some simplications for teacher-training and professional development.

Jaleh Soroui, American Institute for Research, United States, described a consultative process undertaken in the past year in the U.S. to engage practitioners in considering how PIAAC can relate to their work.


Low-Skilled Readers

Low-Skilled Readers in Canada: Results for Level 1 and Below- Steve Reder, Portland State University

Analysis of PIAAC results for the 3.5 million Canadians at or below Level 1 suggests a possible new approach to adult reading instruction for this population. Attach “Improving Instruction for Canada's Low-Skilled Adult Readers: Connecting PIAAC Reading Components, Reading Practices, and Reading Proficiency. “Low-skilled” is defined as at or below Level 1 in PIAAC (about 15% of adult Canadians aged 16-65, approx. 3.5 million). One finding is that even at the same skill levels, French speakers reported less engagement in reading activities than English speakers. English and French speakers are defined by the language they chose to take the assessment in.

Donald Lurette of RESDAC responded to this presentation drawing on his experience working in Francophone communities in Canada.




Numeracy and mathematics for adults: Reflections from PISA and PIAAC

Dave Tout, Australian Council for Educational Research
Jeff Evans, Emeritus Reader in Adults’ Mathematical Learning, Middlesex University, London, UK

Moderator: Tom Ciancone, Adult Education Consultant, Hamilton, ON
(retired numeracy instructor, trainer, curriculum writer, “sometime” researcher)

Based on the PISA and PIAAC assessments of numeracy/mathematical literacy, this session reflected on implications related to the teaching and learning of numeracy for youth and adults and how they relate to people’s daily lives. What insights do the frameworks, results and research to date offer about performance, the potential impact on policies and practices, and what further research questions can we pose? Tout quoted American Lynn  A.  Steen on “quantitative literacy”
   ...numeracy  is  not  the  same  as  mathematics,  nor  is  it  an  alternative  to  mathematics. Today's  students  need  both   mathematics  and  numeracy.  Whereas  mathematics  asks  students  to  rise  above  context,  quantitative  literacy  is  anchored  in  real  data  that  reflect  engagement  with  life's  diverse  contexts  and  situations.


Policy and Research

Canadian lessons from PIAAC and PISA: Provincial/territorial analysis- Discussion with policy people

Diane Gordon- Manager, Recognition of Prior Learning and Labour Mobility Nova Scotia

Miriam McLaughlin- Consultant, New Brunswick Department of Post-Secondary Education Training and Labour

Regina Ramos-Urbano- Provincial Coordinator, Adult Learning Technology (Manitoba)

Moderator: Brigid Hayes, consultant

The provinces and territories were partners with federal departments in preparing for and running PIAAC in Canada, and ordered oversampling for certain target populations for policy purposes. Institute participants working with several provincial governments shared “unofficial” reactions to the recently released PIAAC data and what they mean for their provinces.


How do the design and findings of interrnational assessments influence policy and practoce? How much should they?

Art Graesser, University of Memphis
Tom Schuller, Longview (UK)
Hervé Dignard, Institut de coopération pour l`éducation des adultes

Moderator : Normand Lévesque, RESDAC

Art Graesser discussed possible uses of PISA and PIAAC data in making the case for policy interventions. Tom Schuller spoke of the need to think more creatively about how research information is to be interpreted/used, and noted that the OECD is developing a longitudinal survey on cognitive and “non-cognitive” skills. Hervé Dignard stated that we need to look at informal learning as well as formal training programs as a response to literacy problems.


How should results from PISA and PIAAC be used to inform policy and practice? How can we balance the influence with other research and knowledge from the field?

Art Graesser (University of Memphis) on PS-TRE
Jeff Evans (Middlesex University) on numeracy
David Mallows (NRDC) on reading
Hervé Dignard (ICÉA) on literacy

Moderator: Genevieve Dorais-Beauregard, CDÉACF

The panelists discussed ways to use PIAAC data, in conjunction with other research findings, to inform policy in a constructive way. For example, the  creation of a new domain, Problem-Solving in a Technology-Rich Environment (PS-TRE), has brought attention to the needs of people with low PS-TRE skills in the US, a neglected group.



UPSKILL and on-the-ground experience: Context in workplace LES training

David Gyarmati, Social Research and Development Canada.

UPSKILL, the largest demonstration research project ever designed to evaluate the outcomes of LES training in the workplace, found enough measurable gain for workers, firms and government to make a business case for investment. Context was identified as a significant predictor of success. Findings suggest several critical factors in implementing a successful workplace program. Although returns on investment can be high, they are not guaranteed; so it is important for policy-makers, providers and employers to know the factors for success.

Randy Lindsay, FutureWorx, Paul Brinkhurst, FutureWorx

Futurworx, providing pre-employment training for 30 years in Nova Scotia, has seen an evolution in the demand to develop a broader set of skills for their clients. Their embedded approach requires highly trained instructors and the engagement of employers and other support workers. What does their experience tell us about the similarities or differences in context for programs inside workplaces and pre-employment?



Synthesis of Day 1- Maurice Taylor, University of Ottawa

Synthesis of Day 2- Phillipe Landry, COFA




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