PIRLS 2016 Results

Achievement and test 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, and 2016) 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
  • ePIRLS Online Informational Reading

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.

Questionnaire and background scales

PIRLS 2016 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
    • Digital Devices in the Home
    • Parents Like Reading
    • Early Literacy Activities
    • Early Literacy Tasks
  • School resources
    • Schools Where Students Enter the Primary Grades with Literacy Skills
    • Reading Resource Shortages - Principal Reports
  • School climate
    • Parents’ Perceptions of Their Child’s School
    • School Emphasis on Academic Success – Principal Reports
    • School Emphasis on Academic Success – Teacher Reports
    • Teacher Job Satisfaction
    • Sense of School Belonging
  • School discipline and safety
    • School Discipline - Principal Reports
    • Safe and Orderly School - Teacher Reports
    • Student Bullying
  • Classrrom instruction
    • Classroom Instruction Limited by Student Attributes
  • Student engagement and attitudes
    • Students Engaged in Reading Lessons
    • Students Like Reading
    • Students Confident in Reading



  • Access and experience with digital devices
    • Home Resources for Learning
    • Digital Devices in the Home
    • Digital Resource Shortages - Principal Reports
    • Self-Efficacy for Computer Use


Overview of key study results

Student achievement

  • In PIRLS 2016, students in the Russian Federation and Singapore had the highest average reading achievement, followed by Hong Kong SAR, Ireland, Finland, Poland, and Northern Ireland.
  • Of the 50 countries participating at the fourth grade, 34 countries had higher average achievement than the scale center point of 500.
  • Fourth grade girls had higher average achievement than boys in all countries except Macao SAR and Portugal, where achievement was similar for boys and girls. The average advantage for girls was 19 points across the 50 countries.
  • Singapore was the top-performing country on ePIRLS followed by Norway and Ireland, but all participants proved to be good to excellent readers on ePIRLS


Performance at the international benchmarks

  • Across all countries, an average of 10% of students reached the Advanced International Benchmark:
    • Students reaching this level interpreted, integrated, and evaluated story plots and information in relatively complex texts.
    • More than one-fourth of the fourth grade students reached this benchmark in Singapore (29%) and the Russian Federation (26%).
  • About half of the PIRLS countries (24) had more than 96 percent of their students reaching basic reading literacy (Low Benchmark):
    • These students could locate and reproduce ideas and information from text and make straightforward inferences.
    • In five countries, essentially all the students (99%) reached this benchmark—the Russian Federation, Hong Kong SAR, Norway, Latvia, and the Netherlands.
  • On ePIRLS, on average 50 percent of the students reached the High International Benchmark, demonstrating the ability to integrate information across webpages and interactive features and evaluate how graphic elements support content.


Trend (2001-2016)

  • The trends of the past 15 years in reading achievement signal more improvements than downturns internationally in reading achievement at the fourth grade.
    • 20 countries have data for the period between 2001 and 2016:
      • 11 countries showed increases—including 4 with gains of more than 40 points (Hong Kong SAR, the Russian Federation, Singapore, and Slovenia).
      • In 7 of the 20 countries average achievement remained similar between 2001 and 2016.
      • In only 2 countries (France and the Netherlands) average achievement decreased.
    • 41 countries participated in both PIRLS 2011 and 2016:
      • 18 countries showed improvements.
      • 13 countries had similar achievement.
      • 10 countries showed declines.
  • Average achievement by gender (for the countries with trend data from previous PIRLS assessments):
    • In nearly all of the countries, girls have had higher achievement than boys, historically as well as in PIRLS 2016.
    • Portugal was the only country to close the gender gap in 2016, and this was in comparison to PIRLS 2011.
    • Several countries narrowed the gap in 2011 (France, Israel, Italy, and Spain), but then girls once again had higher achievement than boys in PIRLS 2016.



  • A supportive home environment and an early start are important influences in shaping a child’s reading literacy.
  • Home environment
    • Across countries, higher reading achievement was related to:
      • More home resources that support learning (books in the home, study supports, and educated parents with professional/technical occupations)
      • More digital devices in the home
      • Parents who like to read
    • PIRLS 2016 also found a decrease in parents’ positive attitudes toward reading since 2011 in 31 countries, and only 2 countries had an increase. On average in 2016,
      • Only 32 percent of the students’ parents liked to read a lot and
      • 17 percent reported they did not like to read.
  • Early start  - PIRLS reports two basic ways students get an early start in literacy learning:
    • Having parents who often engage them in early literacy activities.
    • Attending preprimary education



  • Across the countries, students had higher reading achievement on average if they attended schools
    • With more affluent than economically disadvantaged students
    • Where a higher proportion of their peers had early reading and writing skills when entering first grade
    • Where a greater percentage of students spoke the language of the PIRLS assessment as their first language
    • Where instruction was not affected by reading resource shortages
  • Higher reading achievement was also associated with
    • A higher degree of emphasis on academic success at the school level
    • The existence and size of a school library
    • Students reporting a higher sense of school belonging
    • Students attending schools with a safe environment


Teachers and instruction

  • For the most part, students have well qualified teachers and principals.
    • Over 25 percent of fourth grade students had teachers with a postgraduate degree and another 60 percent had teachers with a bachelor’s degree.
    • Seventy percent of students had teachers whose education emphasized language, 64 percent had teachers with an emphasis on pedagogy/teaching reading, and 32 percent had teachers with an emphasis on reading theory.
    • Forty-two percent of the students had very experienced teachers with 20 years or more of experience, and another 30 percent had teachers with between 10 and 20 years of experience.
  • On average, 27 percent of the available instructional time is devoted to language instruction, and 18 percent is devoted specifically to reading instruction.
  • Reading instruction often involves access to libraries and at least weekly computer-based activities.


Students’ attitude

  • A strong positive relationship within countries between student attitudes toward reading and their reading achievement was seen. Students who “Very Much Like” to read had a 37-point advantage compared to students who “Do Not Like” reading.
  • Children with greater confidence in their reading were typically better readers. The average advantage for the more confident readers as compared to those who were not confident was 90 points.
  • Students in the 14 countries who participated in ePIRLS
    • Reported a high degree of self-efficacy in computer use.
    • Demonstrated that they were able to navigate to the appropriate webpages, completing the assessment in the allotted time.


Student engagement

  • PIRLS 2016 showed a positive relationship between students’ reports about being engaged during their reading lessons and average reading achievement.
  • “Very engaged” students had higher achievement than “Somewhat engaged” and “Not engaged” students.