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Selected findings from PIRLS and ePIRLS


U.S. PIRLS Performance

  • The U.S. overall average reading score was 549 (table 1). This score was higher than the PIRLS scale centerpoint, which is set at 500 points. The U.S. overall average reading score was lower than the averages for 12 education systems, higher than the averages for 30 education systems, and not significantly different from the averages for 15 education systems.
  • In 2016, some 16 percent of U.S. fourth-graders performed at or above the Advanced (625) benchmark, and 53 percent of fourth-graders performed at or above the High (550) benchmark (figure 1). The percentages of U.S. fourth-graders performing at or above the Advanced and High benchmarks were higher than the international median. Seven education systems (Singapore, the Russian Federation, Northern Ireland-GBR, Ireland, Poland, England-GBR, and Moscow City-RUS) had a higher percentage of fourth-graders performing at or above the Advanced benchmark than the United States. For the Low (400) benchmark, 96 percent of U.S. fourth-graders performed at or above the benchmark, and 24 education systems had a smaller percentage of students performing at or above the benchmark.
  • U.S. fourth-graders scored higher, on average, than the PIRLS scale centerpoint across all four reading subscales in 2016 (table 2). The U.S. average score for each subscale ranged from 543 to 557. Seven education systems scored higher on average than the United States on every subscale: the Russian Federation, Singapore, Ireland, Northern Ireland-GBR, Poland, Finland and Moscow City-RUS.
  • In 2016, among U.S. fourth-graders, females scored higher on average on the overall reading scale than males (553 vs. 545) (table 10). Compared to the U.S. overall average reading score, White and Asian fourth-graders scored higher on average, while Black and Hispanic fourth-graders scored lower on average.
  • U.S. fourth-graders in public schools with less than 50 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch scored higher on average than the U.S. overall average reading score, while fourth-graders in public schools with more than 75 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch scored lower on average than the U.S. overall average reading score (table 10).

Performance Over Time

  • The overall average reading scores increased in 11 education systems between the first administration of PIRLS (in 2001) and 2016 (figure 2). Since the last administration of PIRLS (in 2011) and 2016, overall average reading scores increased in 10 education systems. Overall average reading scale scores increased during both of these intervals for 6 education systems: the Russian Federation, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, Norway, and Quebec-CAN. In 5 education systems, the overall average reading score decreased since the last administration.
  • There was no measurable change in the U.S. overall average reading scale score between 2001 (542) and 2016 (549) (tables 8 and 10). Between 2011 and 2016, the overall average reading score for U.S. fourth-graders declined from 556 to 549. However, the U.S. overall average reading score in 2016 remained higher than the U.S. overall average reading score in 2006 (540) (figure 3).
  • At the 25th percentile, U.S. fourth-graders scored lower in 2016 (501) than in 2011 (510) (table 8). The average scores for U.S. fourth-graders at the other percentiles were not measurably different between 2011 and 2016.

U.S. ePIRLS Performance

  • In the new 2016 ePIRLS online assessment, the United States scored above the ePIRLS scale centerpoint, set at 500 (table 11). U.S. fourth-graders' ePIRLS online informational reading average score was 557, which was lower than the averages for 3 education systems, higher than the averages for 10 education systems, and not measurably different from the averages for 2 education systems.
  • In 2016, some 18 percent of U.S. fourth-graders scored at or above the Advanced benchmark in online informational reading, placing the U.S. above the international median, along with five other education systems (table 13). A larger percentage of fourth-graders in one country, Singapore (34 percent), met or exceeded the Advanced benchmark than the United States (18 percent). Additionally, 56 percent of U.S. fourth-graders scored at or above the High benchmark in online informational reading.
  • In 2016, among U.S. fourth-graders, females scored higher on average on the online informational reading scale than males (560 vs. 554) (table 15). Compared to the U.S. average online informational reading scale score (557), White and Asian fourth-graders scored higher on average, while Black and Hispanic fourth graders scored lower on average.
  • U.S. fourth-graders in public schools with less than 50 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch scored higher on average than the U.S. online informational reading average scale score, while fourth-graders in public schools with more than 75 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch scored lower on average than the U.S. online informational reading average scale score (table 15).