Updating the adult and literacy life skills survey: estimating change in skills distribution since 2006

1 Jun 2015

This paper firstly estimates the effect of population changes since 2006 on the skills distribution of the population. Secondly, the paper estimates the reach of adult literacy and numeracy programmes by skills levels in the adult population.


New Zealand is currently participating in the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). PIAAC includes an international survey of adult skills which will update information on the literacy and numeracy skills of the adult population – last surveyed in 2006 in the Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) Survey. The PIAAC survey results will be available in July 2016. This gives us an opportunity to trace the shift in skills in the eight years between the two surveys.

Our modelling finds that the changes in the age structure, education and other characteristics of the population since 2006 will have little to no overall effect on the distribution of skills. While there have been considerable shifts in the age structure and characteristics of the adult population, these are likely to cancel each other out in terms of effect on average numeracy and literacy skills. Shifts are more likely to be noticeable for specific sub groups.

From 2010 to 2013, around 275,000 adults were assessed for reading or numeracy or both on the Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool. Most of these people would have participated in, or had access to, literacy and numeracy provision, and in doing so, had the opportunity to improve their literacy and numeracy skills.

Analysis suggests that impact of this provision on the literacy and numeracy skills across the total adult population is likely to be noticeable but relatively small. The scores of the adults who have been assessed can be translated into ALL proficiency levels and compared with the projected distribution of skills in the total population. From this it is estimated that around 10% of the adult population with ALL level 1 document literacy skills were assessed in reading and 15% of the population with ALL level 2 scores. For numeracy, the figures are 11% for each level.

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