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PIRLS 2006

Progress in International Reading Literacy Study 2006

The IEA Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2006 was the second, after PIRLS 2001, in a cycle of internationally comparative reading assessments carried out every five years. The study was designed to measure trends in children's reading literacy achievement and policies and practices related to literacy.

PIRLS 2006 assessed a range of reading comprehension strategies for two major reading purposes: literary and informational. The student test of reading comprehension addressed four processes:

  • retrieval of explicitly stated information;
  • making straightforward inferences;
  • interpreting and integrating ideas and information;
  • examination and evaluation of content, language, and textual elements.

The student questionnaire collected information about students' attitudes toward reading and their reading habits. In addition, parent, teacher, and school questionnaires gathered information about students' home and school experiences in developing reading literacy, and a special questionnaire collected information about the national context, including reading goals and curricula. The main data collection for PIRLS 2006 took place in 2005–2006.

Target population

PIRLS 2006 assessed students enrolled in the fourth grade.

Participating education systems

Austria, Belgium (Flemish), Belgium (French), Bulgaria, Canada (Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec), Chinese Taipei, Denmark, England, France, Georgia, Germany, Hong Kong SAR, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Moldova, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Russian Federation, Scotland, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, and United States.

Of the participants in PIRLS 2006, 26 countries and 2 Canadian provinces also participated in PIRLS 2001.

Key findings

Students' reading achievement

The Russian Federation, Hong Kong SAR, and Singapore were the three top performing countries in PIRLS 2006. Luxembourg, Italy, Hungary, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium (Flemish), Bulgaria, and Denmark also had higher achievement than the majority of other participants.

Singapore and the Russian Federation had the greatest percentages of high achieving students, with nearly one fifth of students reaching the Advanced International Benchmark (e.g., could provide and support interpretations, integrate information across texts, and understand literary and organizational features). However, about half of the participants had 7% or fewer of their students reaching the highest benchmark.

Several of the highest-achieving countries in 2006 showed significant improvement since 2001, including the three top performing countries. Slovenia, Slovak Republic, Italy, Germany, and Hungary also showed significant gains in achievement.

Gender differences

As in PIRLS 2001, in PIRLS 2006 girls had higher reading achievement than boys in all countries. The difference was statistically significant in all but two countries.

Students' attitudes

Students with the most positive attitudes toward reading generally had the highest reading achievement. However, only about half of the students across the PIRLS 2006 countries agreed with statements about enjoying reading and appreciating books.

In general, students around the world reported a good deal of reading for fun, with 40% on average reading every day or almost every day, and 28% at least weekly. However, almost one third of students reported reading for fun no more than twice a month.

Curriculum and instruction

Internationally, there was a positive relationship between fourth grade students' reading achievement and the amount of time spent in preprimary education. According to parents' reports, about 81% of students, on average, had attended more than one year of preprimary education, although there was considerable variation across countries.

Primary schools around the world placed considerable emphasis on the reading curriculum and instruction. On average, almost 75% of students attended schools that placed more emphasis on reading than on other school subjects. Many schools had initiatives to encourage students to read and programs to help teachers improve reading instruction.

According to school principals and teachers, textbooks were the foundation of reading instruction, supplemented by other materials. Both teachers and students agreed that independent silent reading was a frequent classroom activity. Most students were asked to answer questions about what they had read, either orally or in worksheets. On average, the percentage of students whose teachers asked them to read literary texts at least once a week was greater than the percentage asked to read informational texts.

Home activities fostering literacy

Reading achievement was highest for students whose parents enjoyed reading and read frequently, and who came from homes with many children's books. There was also a positive relationship between students' reading achievement at the fourth grade and parents having engaged their children in early literacy activities before starting school, such as reading books, telling stories, singing songs, playing with alphabet toys, and playing word games.

In both PIRLS 2001 and PIRLS 2006, parents' assessments of their children's early literacy skills corresponded well with reading achievement at the fourth grade. According to parents, about one third of children, on average, entered school with basic literacy skills, which represented an increase in 17 countries since PIRLS 2001.

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

Major publications

Foy, P., & Kennedy, A.M. (Eds.). (2008). PIRLS 2006 user guide for the international database. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Kennedy, A.M., Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., & Trong, K.L. (Eds.). (2007). PIRLS 2006 encyclopedia: A guide to reading education in the forty PIRLS 2006 countries. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Martin, M.O., Mullis, I.V.S., & Kennedy, A.M. (Eds.). (2007). PIRLS 2006 technical report. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Mullis, I.V.S., Kennedy, A.M., Martin, M.O., & Sainsbury, M. (2006). PIRLS 2006 assessment framework and specifications: Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (2nd ed.). Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Mullis, I.V.S., Kennedy, A.M., Martin, M.O., & Sainsbury, M. (2006). PIRLS 2006 Marcos teóricos y especificaciones de evaluación: Estudio Internacional de Progreso en Comprensión Lectora [PIRLS 2006 assessment framework and specifications: Progress in International Reading Literacy Study] (2nd ed.). INECSE.

Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., Kennedy, A.M., & Foy, P. (2007). PIRLS 2006 international report: IEA's Progress in International Reading Literacy Study in primary schools in 40 countries. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Schwippert, K., & Lenkeit, J. (Eds.). (2012). Progress in reading literacy in national and international context: The impact of PIRLS 2006 in 12 countries. Münster: Waxmann.

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