America Idles On International Reading Test

Reforms aimed at enhancing reading proficiency appear to have catapulted Russia, Hong Kong, and Singapore to the top of global literacy rankings, while the performance of the United States remains stagnant. Despite spending more time on reading lessons than their international counterparts, American 4th graders failed to show any progress. Nevertheless, they outperformed children from 22 out of the 39 other participating nations in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). Ina V.S. Mullis, co-director of the assessment along with Michael O. Martin at Boston College, stated that the United States had a respectable showing as it was only outperformed by seven countries, and the results indicate some stability.

The 2006 PIRLS evaluated the reading comprehension skills of over 215,000 4th graders worldwide. Administered by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement in Amsterdam, the test was first conducted in 2001. The United States achieved an average combined score of 540 out of 1,000 for literary and informational reading, which remains statistically unchanged since 2001. This lack of progress left some American officials disheartened, especially considering the slight improvements in 4th grade reading achievement shown in the National Assessment of Educational Progress earlier that year.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings acknowledged the increasing competition that comes with a globalized world and expressed the need for the United States to do more than simply keep up.

The combined score for literary and informational reading comprehension demonstrates the range of achievement among 4th graders worldwide. Here are the scores for different jurisdictions:

– Russia: 565

– Hong Kong: 564

– Alberta, Canada: 560

– British Columbia, Canada: 558

– Singapore: 558

– Luxembourg: 557

– Ontario, Canada: 555

– Hungary: 551

– Italy: 551

– Sweden: 549

– Germany: 548

– Belgium (Flemish): 547

– Bulgaria: 547

– Netherlands: 547

– Denmark: 546

– Nova Scotia, Canada: 542

– Latvia: 541

– United States: 540

– England: 539

– Austria: 538

– Lithuania: 537

– Chinese Taipei: 535

– Quebec, Canada: 533

– New Zealand: 532

– Slovak Republic: 531

– Scotland: 527

– France: 522

– Slovenia: 522

– Poland: 519

– Spain: 513

– Israel: 512

– Iceland: 511

– Belgium (French): 500

– Moldova: 500

– Norway: 498

– Romania: 489

– Georgia: 471

– Macedonia: 442

– Trinidad and Tobago: 436

– Iran: 421

– Indonesia: 405

– Qatar: 353

– Kuwait: 330

– Morocco: 323

– South Africa: 302

– PIRLS scale average: 500

Over 95 percent of American students scored at least 400 points on the test, meeting the "low" international benchmark, which reflects their ability to recall details from literary and informational texts. Nearly half of the students reached the "high" benchmark, which requires understanding abstract messages, making inferences, and explaining ideas from the passages. Twelve percent of American 4th graders were deemed "advanced" for their ability to interpret complex information and character traits.

As with national assessments in the United States, students attending schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged students scored lower than their peers in better-off schools. American 4th graders in schools with no low-income students achieved scores nearly 100 points higher than those in schools where all students are eligible for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. The achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and their white peers also persisted. White 4th graders achieved an average score of 560 points, compared to 503 for African-American students and 518 for Hispanic children.

In conclusion, Russia emerged as the top performer in the PIRLS assessment, while the United States showed no sign of improvement.

Females in almost every nation surpassed males in performance. The disparity was most notable in Kuwait, where girls achieved an average score that was 67 points higher than boys. In the United States, girls outperformed boys by an average of 10 points.

Valuable Insights

As part of the study, schools from approximately 150 countries, as well as the parents of the test-takers, provided detailed questionnaires regarding instructional methods, classroom characteristics, and students’ exposure to reading materials. For instance, American schools reported that nearly 70 percent of fourth-grade students received over six hours of reading instruction per week, whereas this was only true for 25 percent of students internationally. Among the other nations, 44 percent of fourth graders had less than three hours of reading classes per week, while only 10 percent of U.S. students fell into this category.

The study also includes a comprehensive compendium of reading standards and teaching practices for each country, enabling further examination of factors that contribute to higher reading achievement, according to Mr. Martin, the co-director of the assessment. He stated that the results demonstrate that efforts to improve can yield positive results. "Most importantly, these findings indicate that countries can make changes and enhance their education systems, whether it involves substantial structural reforms or instructional initiatives," Mr. Martin remarked. "Moreover, many of the participating nations can gain insights into the curriculum, instructional methods, teacher training, preschool education, and even parental involvement of other countries in order to bring about improvement."

Jim Hull, the education policy analyst for the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va., believes that there are likely lessons for schools in the United States as well. The progress observed in certain countries allows us to fulfill the intended purpose of international reports and comparisons: to identify the specific strategies employed by these countries that have led to these gains. "Hopefully, we can learn from these nations," he added.


  • tenleylancaster

    Tenley Lancaster is a 34-year-old educational blogger and student. She enjoys writing about topics related to education, including but not limited to student motivation, learning styles, and effective study techniques. Tenley has also written for various websites and magazines, and is currently working on her first book. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, and traveling.