A new study from SFI - The Danish National Centre for Social Research combines data from two large OECD surveys, PISA and PIAAC, in order to investigate how the reading skills of young people develop from they are 15 to 27 years old.
Almost 1,900 former PISA participants were also asked to take part in the PIAAC survey (The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies) which was conducted in Denmark in 2011-12.
Reading skills open doors
The report leaves no doubt that reading skills at school are a reliable indicator for young people's onward journey in the education system. Figures show that the better you are at reading at the age of 15, the more likely it is that you are a good reader at the age of 27. Moreover, the better you read, the more likely it is that you will have completed an education programme in the intervening years.
"This report highlights the value of PISA testing,” said Elsebeth Aller, Chief Consultant at the National Agency for Quality and Supervision in the Danish Minstry of Education. “For instance, the study has shown a strong correlation between young people’s reading capabilities and their educational progress later in life.”
Use it or lose it
The figures in the report clearly show that skills are not static. Skills are enhanced - or weakened - in line with the young people's onward journey: Those who have completed higher education belong to the group which has improved their reading skills most. Conversely, the young people who have claimed benefits from time to time since they left school have progressed less in terms of their reading skills.
Even though the good readers generally perform best in the education system, this does not mean that the weakest readers at school are the weakest readers as adults: About 20% of participants have improved their reading skills to such an extent that they rank higher in the field at the age of 27 than they did at school. Among the weakest readers at school, almost 50% have completed a vocational education and training programme and 20% have completed higher education.
Call for more research
So far Denmark is the first country to combine data from the two surveys, and therefore this study has received great international attention. The six Danish ministries which have initiated the study have great hopes for the data set to be used.
"We think Danish and international researchers will be very interested in the study results – both the PISA and PIAAC findings and the joint study which is now available. There is so much valuable material,” said Aller. “For instance, researchers working with these results will be able to to understand better what the decisive factors are in determining whether an education initiative is working or not.”
The Danish report on PISA-PIAAC can be found here. SFI will publish an English working paper based on the report in the autumn of 2014.