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Overview

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) is an international assessment and research project designed to measure reading achievement at the fourth-grade level, as well as school and teacher practices related to instruction. Since 2001, PIRLS has been administered every 5 years, with the United States participating in all past assessments. In PIRLS, fourth-grade students complete a reading assessment and a questionnaire that addresses their attitudes toward reading and their reading habits. In addition, questionnaires are given to students’ teachers and school principals to gather information about students’ school experiences in developing reading literacy.

PIRLS complements what we learn from national assessments by providing valuable benchmark information on how U.S. students compare to students around the world. PIRLS allows educators, researchers, and policymakers to examine other education systems for practices that could have applications to the United States, and it contributes to ongoing discussions of ways to improve the quality of education of all students. PIRLS is sponsored by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) and conducted in the United States by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The most recent PIRLS data collection was in 2021. U.S. results for the 2021 administration are available on the NCES PIRLS 2021 results web page. The results from previous administrations can be obtained by clicking on the instructions on the banner on the same page. The sixth assessment cycle of PIRLS is scheduled to be conducted in 2026. For more information on PIRLS 2026, refer to the PIRLS 2026 brochure.


Transition to Digital Assessment

In 2016, for the first time, education systems participating in PIRLS could choose to administer an optional assessment: ePIRLS. In addition to paper-and-pencil items in PIRLS, students were asked to complete online informational reading tasks. Each task involved navigating to and obtaining information from two to three different simulated websites, totaling 5 to 10 web pages. Students were then asked to complete a series of comprehension questions based on these tasks.

In 2021, education systems were given the option of participating in an entirely digital assessment incorporating both PIRLS passages and ePIRLS tasks. Thirty-three education systems opted to administer the digital assessment, while 32 education systems administered the assessment on paper. Education systems administering the digital assessment also administered a paper-based bridge assessment to a smaller sample of students to examine if there was a mode effect—that is, whether the shift from a paper format to a digital format affected student performance. For more information on the bridge study, refer to the PIRLS 2021 International Methods and Procedures.