Different reading situations require readers to construct meaning in different ways. Therefore, PIRLS assesses four broad-based processes of comprehension typically used by fourth grade readers: focus on and retrieve explicitly stated information; make straightforward inferences; interpret and integrate ideas and information; and evaluate and critique content and textual elements. Transcending these processes are the metacognitive processes and strategies that allow readers to examine their understanding and adjust their approach.80,81,82,83,84,85 In addition, the knowledge and background experiences that readers bring to reading equip them with an understanding of language, texts, and the world, through which they filter their comprehension of the material.86,87,88,89,90,91

Construction of meaning in online environments requires a blending of new digital literacies with the reading comprehension processes required for traditional offline (i.e., print) reading. ePIRLS assesses students’ reading achievement when the conceptualization of the PIRLS passages is expanded to include a series of interconnected web pages with many different kinds of visual information, such as photos, graphs, charts, and maps, in addition to dynamic features such as videos, animations, and pop-up windows.

In PIRLS and ePIRLS, the four comprehension processes are used as a foundation for developing the comprehension questions which are based on each reading passage (or set of passages) or task. Across the passages, the variety of questions measuring the range of comprehension processes enables students to demonstrate a range of abilities and skills in constructing meaning from written texts.

In thinking about assessment questions, there is, of course, a substantial interaction between the length and complexity of the text and the sophistication of the comprehension processes required by the reading task. Initially, it may seem that locating and extracting explicitly stated information would be less difficult than, for example, making interpretations across an entire text and integrating those interpretations with external ideas and experiences. However, texts and tasks can vary with regard to length, syntactic complexity, abstractness of ideas, organizational structure, and cognitive demand. Thus, the nature of the text impacts the complexity of the questions asked, across and within the four types of comprehension processes.