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PIRLS 2001

Progress in International Reading Literacy Study 2001

The IEA Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2001 was the first in a five-year cycle of assessments to measure trends in children's reading literacy achievement, and policy and practices related to literacy. The study examined three aspects of reading literacy: processes of comprehension, purposes for reading, and reading literacy behavior and attitudes.

The first two aspects formed the basis of the written test of reading comprehension. The PIRLS framework called on students to demonstrate their understanding of a wide variety of texts classified under two major purposes of reading: acquiring and using information, and gaining literary experience. Within these purposes, students were asked to engage in a full repertoire of reading skills and strategies, including focusing on and retrieving specific information, making straightforward inferences, interpreting and integrating ideas, and examining and evaluating text features. The third aspect, behavior and attitudes, was addressed by the student questionnaire. This questionnaire and the parent, teacher, and school questionnaires gathered information about home and school factors associated with the development of reading literacy.

In addition, nine countries that participated in the 1991 Reading Literacy Study administered the 1991 test again to provide trends in their students' reading literacy achievement over the period 1991–2001. The main data collection occurred in 2001.

Target population

PIRLS 2001 assessed students enrolled in the fourth grade.

Participating education systems

Argentina, Belize, Bulgaria, Canada (Ontario and Quebec), Colombia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong SAR, Hungary, Iceland, Iran, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Romania, Russian Federation, Scotland, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Turkey, and United States.

Key findings

Students' reading achievement

Sweden was the top-performing country in PIRLS 2001, followed by the Netherlands, England, and Bulgaria. Sweden and England had the highest achievement in reading for literary purposes; in reading for informational purposes, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Bulgaria were the top performers.

Gender differences

In all countries, girls had significantly higher average achievement than boys. Within all countries, students had generally positive attitudes toward reading (girls more so than boys), and students with the most positive attitudes had the highest average achievement. More girls than boys reported reading stories or novels weekly, while comparable percentages of girls and boys read weekly for information.

Home activities fostering literacy

In every country, there was a positive relationship between reading achievement at the fourth grade and early literacy activities before starting school, such as reading books, telling stories, and playing word games. In every country, students from homes with many children's books (more than 100) had higher reading achievement than those from homes with few children's books (10 or less). Students with the highest reading achievement had parents who liked reading.

Curriculum and instruction

According to school principals in each country, reading was emphasized more than any other area of the primary school curriculum. Internationally, teachers reported spending an average of seven hours per week on language instruction.

Both students and teachers reported that reading was a regular classroom activity. The reading of fiction was much more widespread than the reading of non-fiction texts. For the majority of students, daily instruction based on a textbook or reading series was accompanied by at least weekly exercises in workbooks or worksheets. Teachers also reported that the most commonly used classroom activities were asking students to identify the main idea, and explain or support their understanding of what they had read. Students with the highest reading achievement reported frequent independent reading (daily) and less frequent reading aloud (monthly).

For more information, please contact the TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center.

Major publications

Campbell, J.R., Kelly, D.L., Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., & Sainsbury, M. (2001). Framework and specifications for PIRLS assessment 2001 (2nd ed.). Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Gonzalez, E.J., & Kennedy, A.M. (Eds.). (2003). PIRLS 2001 user guide for the international database. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Martin, M.O., Mullis, I.V.S., Gonzalez, E.J., & Kennedy, A.M. (2003). Trends in children's reading literacy achievement 1991–2001: IEA's repeat in nine countries of the 1991 Reading Literacy Study. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Martin, M.O., Mullis, I.V.S., & Kennedy, A.M. (Eds.). (2003). PIRLS 2001 technical report. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., & Gonzalez, E.J. (2004). International achievement in the processes of reading comprehension: Results from PIRLS 2001 in 35 countries. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., Gonzalez, E.J., & Kennedy, A.M. (2003). PIRLS 2001 international report: IEA's study of reading literacy achievement in primary schools in 35 countries. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., Kennedy, A.M., & Flaherty, C.L. (Eds.). (2002). PIRLS 2001 encyclopedia: A reference guide to reading education in the countries participating in IEA's Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Schwippert, K. (Ed.). (2007). Progress in reading literacy: The impact of PIRLS 2001 in 13 countries. Münster: Waxmann.

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