PIRLS 2011 Results

Achievement scales

The PIRLS international achievement scales were developed based on item response theory and population models using plausible values, with each student respondent being assigned 5 plausible values on each of the achievement scales.

Scale scores range from 0 to 1000.

Each international scale was established by PIRLS 2001 to have a midpoint of 500 located at the mean of the combined achievement distribution across all countries and 100 scale score points corresponding to one standard deviation of the combined distribution.

In order to measure trends over time, the results of all subsequent PIRLS assessments (2006, 2011) were converted to this metric.

  • Overall achievement (Reading)
  • Purposes for Reading
    • Literary Experience
    • Acquire and Use Information
  • Processes of Comprehension
    • Retrieving and Straightforward Inferencing
    • Interpreting, Integrating, and Evaluating

Overall achievement results were reported in terms of the percentages of students reaching the following four international benchmarks:

  • Advanced International Benchmark (625)
  • High International Benchmark (550)
  • Intermediate International Benchmark (475)
  • Low International Benchmark (400)

The descriptions of the competencies of students reaching each of these benchmarks were determined by means of a scale-anchoring process.

Background scales

PIRLS 2011 created a variety of background questionnaire scales to report the context questionnaire data.

Scales were calculated using item response theory (IRT), specifically a Rasch partial credit model.

In addition, categorical variables were created using these scales by classifying respondents into one of three groups: High, Middle, and Low. Cut-off points for categorization were determined on a scale-by-scale basis.

  • Home environment support
    • Home Resources for Learning
    • Parents Like Reading (PLR)
    • Early Literacy Activities Before Beginning Primary School
    • Could Do Early Literacy Tasks When Began Primary School (ELT)
  • School resources
    • Instruction Affected by Reading Resource Shortages (RRS)
    • Teacher Working Conditions (TWC)
  • School climate
    • School Emphasis on Academic Success–Principal Reports
    • School Emphasis on Academic Success–Teacher Reports
    • Safe and Orderly Schools
    • School Discipline and Safety
    • Students Bullied at School
  • Students’ attitudes
    • Students Like Reading
    • Students Motivated to Read
    • Students Confident in Reading
  • Instruction
    • Emphasis in Early Grades on Reading Skills and Strategies
    • Teacher Career Satisfaction
    • Collaborate to Improve Teaching
    • Instruction to Engage Students in Learning
    • Students Engaged in Reading Lessons
Overview of key study results


  • The top-performing countries in PIRLS 2011 were Hong Kong SAR, the Russian Federation, Finland, and Singapore.
  • Of the 45 countries participating at the fourth grade, only 12 countries had average achievement below the PIRLS scale center point of 500.
  • The majority of the PIRLS 2011 countries were able to educate 95 percent of their fourth-grade students to a basic level (Low Benchmark).


Trend (2001–2011)

  • Compared to 2001, 10 countries raised their levels of reading achievement in 2011, and 13 countries have improved since 2006.
  • There has been little reduction in the reading achievement gender gap over the decade: Across the 45 countries participating, girls had a 16-point advantage, on average, compared to boys.



  • A supportive home environment and an early start are important influences in shaping a child’s reading literacy.



  • Higher average performance was associated with schools where a greater percentage of students:
    • Were from relatively affluent socioeconomic backgrounds
    • Spoke the language of the PIRLS assessment as their first language
    • Entered school with early literacy skills
  • Successful schools:
    • Tend to be well-resourced
    • Emphasize academic success
    • Have safe and orderly environments


Teachers and teaching

  • Higher average reading achievement was associated with teachers having specialized education in language, reading, or reading pedagogy.
  • Teacher career satisfaction is positively related to average reading achievement.


Students’ attitude

  • A strong positive relationship within countries between student attitudes toward reading and their reading achievement was seen.
  • Children with greater self-efficacy or high self-esteem with respect to themselves as readers typically were better readers.


Student engagement

  • Engaged students had higher achievement than somewhat engaged and not engaged students.
  • Students often had slightly higher average reading achievement if their teachers used engaging instruction.