Ina V.S. Mullis and Michael O. Martin


In 2021, IEA’s PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) conducts its fifth reading assessment, providing data on 20 years of trends in comparative reading achievement across countries. Reading literacy is the foundation for student academic success and personal growth, and PIRLS is a valuable vehicle for studying whether new or revised policies impact achievement. The PIRLS 2021 Reading Assessment Framework and the instruments developed to assess this framework reflect IEA’s commitment to be forward thinking.

For 2021, PIRLS is focusing on converting to a digital format. Presenting PIRLS reading passages and items via computer will deliver an engaging and visually attractive experience that will motivate students and increase operational efficiency. Also, PIRLS 2021 can be administered in the same digitally based environment as ePIRLS 2021, the computer-based assessment of online reading in a simulated internet environment that was initiated in 2016.

PIRLS is based on a broad notion of what the ability to read means—a notion that includes reading for the pleasure it provides in allowing us to experience different worlds, other cultures, and a host of new ideas. It also encompasses reflecting on written texts and other sources of information as tools for attaining individual and societal goals, also known as “reading to do”.1This view is increasingly relevant in today’s society, where greater emphasis continues to be placed on students’ ability to use the information they gain from reading.2,3,4 Emphasis is shifting from demonstrating fluency and basic comprehension to demonstrating the ability to apply what is understood or comprehended to new situations or projects, see also PIRLS 2016 Encyclopedia.5,6,7

The PIRLS framework for assessing reading achievement was initially developed for the first assessment in 2001, using IEA’s 1991 Reading Literacy Study8,9,10 as the basis for the PIRLS definition of reading literacy and for establishing the aspects of reading comprehension to be assessed. Since then, the PIRLS assessment framework has been updated for each subsequent assessment cycle11,12,13,14 and now for PIRLS 2021.