Westat Develops Interactive Skills Map to Analyze Adult Proficiency Levels; Tom Krenzke Quoted

5 mins read
Tom Krenzke
Tom Krenzke Westat

Westat has recently developed the interactive U.S. PIAAC Skills Map to enable researchers to analyze state- and county-level estimates of adult literacy and numeracy proficiency. The company has created the Skills Map for the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to provide researchers with data to better inform policymakers who plan and allocate resources and target educational interventions for specified populations, as well as to provide significant contributions to the areas of research and practice.

“The Skills Map answers the growing demand by policymakers for accurate data pertinent to their own state and counties,” says Tom Krenzke, vice president and associate director with Westat’s Statistics and Evaluation Sciences unit. “It also increases the level of information provided from the U.S. component of the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) Survey sponsored by NCES.”

PIAAC is an international survey sponsored by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that examines and assesses literacy, numeracy and digital problem-solving skills of adults ages 16 to 74 across participating countries.

This tool provides statistical comparisons of adult basic skills proficiency within two different areas at a time. The comparison enables state-to-state and county-to-county comparisons. Additionally, users can compare data from a state to a county or a state to the nation, allowing researchers to gain greater maneuverability when conducting studies. 

The interactive Skills Map creates a new cost-efficient way of producing data. To increase sample size, Westat combined information from surveys conducted from 2012 to 2017 and built a statistical model in conjunction with data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS has provided demographic characteristics for states and counties, including educational attainment, race/ethnicity, nativity, employment status, and poverty level. Westat used small area estimation to produce the state and county estimates. 

The Skills Map, was designed and developed by Westat’s Interaction Design (IxD) Studio. The studio manager, Angelica Paul, and solutions architect, Alex Schneider, met with NCES and other stakeholders early in the process to gather requirements and determine goals, and proposed a custom, 508-compliant solution that allows users to do state-to-state or county-to-county data comparisons. 

“Our team, using the data visualization library D3 and React framework, combined ingenuity with creativity to produce an innovative and effective solution. The framework is extensible and can be utilized to display any type of data. This kind of visualization product may be the future of how clients will be sharing data,” notes Paul. The IxD Studio conducted research on best-in-class mapping and data comparison solutions to create an inviting, modern, and responsive user experience. On the strategy to create the solution, Schneider responds: “By looking into the best that’s out there and using that as a basis to innovate, we were able to craft an easy-to-use, leading-edge tool and deliver it to the hands of everybody from policymakers to citizen researchers.”

The tool has led to a variety of published blogs and articles that have analyzed the literacy/numeracy skills levels in various states and counties. Westat maintains operability of the tool and has suggested a number of ways the Skills Map can be applied to current issues.

“For example, media outlets can use it to choose the language they use to report on issues like COVID-19 so they are better understood by people in their geographic reach,” explains Krenzke. “Some people might need a better explanation of what ‘flattening the curve’ means, and broadcasters may want to tailor their messages to the literacy level of adults in their broadcast area.”

In regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tool may assist employers who need to hire employees with specific skill sets. In addition, the tool can analyze COVID-19 mortality rates and correlate the data to literacy or numeracy proficiency skills.

“The Skills Map will undoubtedly have other applications, which makes this a very exciting tool, and new data will be available when we complete the next survey for NCES in 2022,” Krenzke concluded.

About Westat 

Westat offers innovative professional services to help clients improve outcomes in health, education, social policy, and transportation. We are dedicated to improving lives through research.

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