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Lynch School of Education

Colloquia Newsletter


center releases results of international literacy study

In early February, the TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center at the Lynch School of Education released the results of the 2006 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). Forty countries participated in the study, which measures achievement in reading comprehension among fourth graders and is conducted every five years. In each country, roughly 4,000 students are tested in 150 to 200 schools, based on strict sampling procedures to ensure a representative picture of the population.

The Russian Federation, Hong Kong SAR, and Singapore were the highest-achieving countries in 2006. Of the 26 countries that participated in PIRLS 2001 and have trend data, most of the top-performing countries showed considerable improvement in five years. The United States was not among those countries; its average scale score of 540 was a two-point drop from 2001.

“The data really show that if a country wants to improve its achievement, it can, although it takes a substantial effort,” said Dr. Ina Mullis, who codirects the TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center with Dr. Michael Martin.

That improvement can extend to demographic trends, and Mullis pointed to Germany as an example. “Germany was very alarmed in 2001 about the gap between boys’ and girls’ achievement,” she said. “They instituted particular policies to help boys get more interested in reading, and were the only country where the boys improved more relative to girls.”

The purpose of PIRLS and its companion Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), conducted every four years at the fourth- and eighth-grade levels, is to study and compare the approaches to education in different countries in three essential subjects: reading, math, and science.

“One really important thing about both studies is that we collect a lot of contextual information, like information about the curriculum, kinds of instruction, resources that are used, and supports that are available,” said Mullis. For instance, the most recent PIRLS cycle explored the impact of home environment on literacy, finding that students who come from homes where reading is encouraged and books are abundant perform at a high level, and that parents’ assessment of their children’s early literacy skills matched their fourth-grade performance.

Mullis and Martin are working on the next cycles of PIRLS and TIMSS. They traveled to Madrid in February to meet with representatives from 50 countries to plan for PIRLS 2011. They are also in the process of analyzing the results of TIMSS 2007. Two international reports for TIMSS 2007, one in math and one in science, are slated for release in December 2008.