Six Subject Survey: Reading Comprehension

The IEA Study of Reading Comprehension adopted, as measures of verbal ability, a test of reading comprehension, a brief test of reading speed, and a brief test of word knowledge.

Areas of inquiry for possible predictors of achievement in reading included:

  • out-of-school environment (including home environment, language in home, and exposure to mass media);
  • availability of reading materials;
  • educational practices and school background (including instructional practices, resources and procedures for individualization of instruction, and size and type of school);
  • interests and attitudes of students;
  • acquired study and reading habits;
  • presence of eye, hearing, and speech deficits.

The instruments included a reading comprehension test for students, and questionnaires for students, teachers, and school principals. The study was carried out as part of the Six Subject Survey, which also investigated achievement in civic educationEnglish as a foreign languageFrench as a foreign languageliterature education, and science. The data were collected in 1970–1971.

Target population

The target populations for the study were 10-year-old students, 14-year-old students, and students in the final year of secondary school.

Participating education systems

Belgium (Flemish), Belgium (French), Chile, England, Finland, Hungary, India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden, and United States.

Key findings

Student achievement

Among 10-year-old students, the countries that showed the highest level of reading comprehension were Sweden and Italy. Among 14-years-olds, New Zealand and Italy had the highest performance. By the final year of secondary school, there were much larger differences between countries with the highest performance level—New Zealand, Scotland, and England—and those with the lowest.

There were also very substantial differences in reading achievement between students in economically developed countries and those in developing countries. Within the developed countries, the differences were small at all school levels.

Gender differences

There were only small differences between boys and girls in their average levels of reading achievement, with girls performing marginally better than boys. Girls and boys differed in their reading attitudes, with girls expressing greater interest in reading books for pleasure, and boys showing greater interest in reading magazines for information.

Home and school factors

The differences in reading achievement between students and schools within countries were largely related to students' home background. Where the population of the school was drawn from homes in which the parents were well educated, economically advantaged, and able to provide an environment with reading materials and communication media, the school showed a generally superior level of reading achievement.

School-based factors such as teaching methods played only a minor part in accounting for differences in reading achievement. There were few signs that schools provided instruction in reading beyond the initial school grades.

Major publications

Bloom, B.S. (1969). Cross-national study of educational attainment: Stage I of the I.E.A. investigation in six subject areas (Vols. 1–2). Washington, DC: Office of Education (DHEW).

Passow, A.H., Noah, H.J., Eckstein, M.A., & Mallea, J.R. (1976). The national case study: An empirical comparative study of twenty-one educational systems. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.

Peaker, G.F. (1975). An empirical study of education in twenty-one countries: A technical report. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.

Thorndike, R.L. (1973). Reading comprehension education in fifteen countries: An empirical study. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.

Walker, D.A. (1976). The IEA Six Subject Survey: An empirical study of education in twenty-one countries. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.