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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. 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.

Since 2001, PIRLS has been administered every 5 years, with the United States participating in all past assessments. 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 2016. U.S. results for the 2016 administration are available on the PIRLS and ePIRLS Results page.

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. Continuing the transition to a digital assessment, in 2021 education systems will have the option of participating in an entirely digital assessment, which will be referred to as digitalPIRLS, or participating in the paperPIRLS option. Education systems participating in paperPIRLS will administer the traditional PIRLS items, which are based on literary and informational passages. Education systems participating in digitalPIRLS will administer an integrated assessment, which will include both the traditional PIRLS assessment in digital format as well as the interactive ePIRLS items. More than 50 education systems are expected to participate in PIRLS 2021. For more information on PIRLS 2021, refer to the PIRLS 2021 frameworks.