In addition to the following questions about PIRLS, more FAQs about international assessments are available at: http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/international/faqs.asp.
PIRLS is a cooperative effort involving representatives from every education system participating in the study. Prior to each administration of PIRLS, the framework is reviewed and updated to reflect changes in the curriculum and instruction of participating education systems, while maintaining the ability to measure change over time. Extensive input is received from experts in reading education, assessment, and curriculum, as well as representatives from national education centers around the world.
In order for educators, policymakers, and other stakeholders to better understand the results from PIRLS, many assessment items are released for public use after each administration. To replace these items, countries submit items for review by subject-matter specialists, and additional items are written by a committee in consultation with item-writing specialists in various countries to ensure that the content, as explicated in the frameworks, is covered adequately. Items are reviewed by a committee and field-tested in most of the participating education systems. Results from the field test are used to evaluate item difficulty, how well items discriminate between high- and low-performing students, evidence of bias toward or against individual countries or in favor of boys or girls, etc. In 2011, 60 new items were selected for inclusion in the international assessment and added to 75 existing items. PIRLS is administered as a pencil-and-paper assessment and includes both multiple choice and constructed response items. The item pool contains a selection of literary passages drawn from children's storybooks and informational texts. Literary passages include realistic stories and traditional tales, while informational texts include chronological and nonchronological articles, biographical articles, and informational leaflets.
For more information on the test development and administration, see the PIRLS 2011 Methods and Procedures.