PIRLS. Progress in International Reading Literacy Study

Overview of PIRLS

PIRLS provides internationally comparative data on how well children read by assessing students’ reading achievement. PIRLS collects considerable background information on how education systems provide educational opportunities to their students, as well as the factors that influence how students use these opportunities. These background data include information about the following: national curriculum policies in reading; how the education system is organized to facilitate learning; students’ home environment for learning; school climate and resources; and how instruction actually occurs in classrooms.

Additional PIRLS initiatives

PIRLS Literacy

The PIRLS Literacy assessment (earlier known as prePIRLS) is equivalent to PIRLS in scope and reflects the same conception of reading as PIRLS. Its purpose is to extend the effective measurement of reading literacy at the lower end of the achievement scale. Countries whose fourth-grade students are still developing fundamental reading skills can participate in the PIRLS Literacy assessment and still have their results reported on the PIRLS achievement scale. The reading passages and questions in common between the PIRLS Literacy and the PIRLS assessments will enable the two assessments to be linked, and their results to be compared.


Initiated in 2016, ePIRLS is a computer-based reading assessment of students’ ability to acquire and use information when reading online. The assessment encompasses an engaging, simulated internet environment with authentic school-like assignments about science and social studies topics. The ePIRLS online reading achievement scale enables countries to examine their fourth-graders’ online reading performance relative to their performance on the PIRLS reading achievement scales.

Target population

The PIRLS target population is the grade that represents four years of schooling, counting from the first year of ISCED Level 1, which corresponds to the fourth grade in most countries. To better match the assessment to the achievement level of students, countries have the option of administering PIRLS or PIRLS Literacy at the fifth or sixth grade.


PIRLS is directed by the TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center at Boston College, United States, in close cooperation with the IEA. Statistics Canada monitors and implements sampling activities, the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) in England and the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) provide support for item development, and Educational Testing Service (ETS) in the United States consults on psychometrics. The international coordination of the study is carried out in cooperation with the national research coordinators of participating countries.

Progress in International Reading Literacy Study 2016

PIRLS 2016 is the fourth cycle of the IEA Progress in International Reading Literacy Study. Like the previous PIRLS cycles (conducted in 2001, 2006, and 2011), the study will also collect extensive information about home supports for literacy, curriculum and curriculum implementation, instructional practices, and school resources in each participating country.


2013–2014:  Framework and instrument development

2015:              Field test (March–April 2015) and main survey for the southern hemisphere
                        countries (October–December 2015)

2016:              Main survey for the northern hemisphere countries (March–June 2016)

2017:              Reporting (the international report will be released on 5 December 2017)

2018:              Release of the international database and user guide (February 2018)

Participating countries

Argentina (Buenos Aires), Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belgium (Flemish), Belgium (French), Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada (with Ontario and Quebec as benchmarking systems), Chile, Chinese Taipei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, England, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Hong Kong SAR, Hungary, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lithuania, Malta, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain (with Andalusia as a benchmarking system), Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates (with Abu Dhabi and Dubai as benchmarking systems), and United States.

For more information, including in-depth reports and analyses, please visit the PIRLS website.

Major publications

Mullis, I.V.S., & Martin, M.O. (Eds.). (2015). PIRLS 2016 assessment framework (2nd ed.). Chestnut Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Boston College.

Mullis, I. V. S., Martin, M. O., Goh, S., & Prendergast, C. (Eds.). (2017). PIRLS 2016 Encyclopedia: Education policy and curriculum in reading. Chestnut Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Boston College. Retrieved from: http://timssandpirls.bc.edu/pirls2016/encyclopedia/.