Throughout the world, reading literacy is directly related to the reasons people read; broadly, these reasons include reading for pleasure and personal interest, learning, and participation in society. The early reading of most young students often includes reading of narrative texts that tell a story (e.g., storybooks or picture books) or informational texts that tell students about the world around them and answer questions. As young students develop their literacy abilities and are increasingly required to read in order to learn across the curriculum, reading to acquire information from books and other print materials becomes more important.62,63,64,65

Aligned with these reading purposes, PIRLS assessments focus on reading for literary experience and reading to acquire and use information. Because both purposes for reading are important for young students, PIRLS contains an equal proportion of material assessing each purpose. However, because much online reading is done for the purpose of acquiring information, the ePIRLS tasks specifically focus on reading to acquire and use information.

The ePIRLS assessment tasks assess reading for information. The tasks simulate websites from the internet from which students gather information, using links and tabs to navigate through texts and graphics, to accomplish school-based research projects. The approach is based on using websites from the actual internet as the basis for creating a closed internet environment, through which fourth grade students can accomplish an online study of a science or social studies topic, similar to the types of projects or reports they might be asked to complete for school.

The PIRLS passages are classified by their primary purposes, and the accompanying questions address these purposes for reading. That is, passages classified as literary have questions addressing theme, plot events, characters, and setting, and those classified as informational are accompanied by questions about the information contained in the passages. Although the passages distinguish between purposes for reading, the comprehension processes readers use are more similar than different for both purposes; therefore, the comprehension processes are evaluated across all passages, including the ePIRLS internet-like tasks.

Each purpose for reading often is associated with certain types of texts. For example, reading for literary experience often is accomplished through reading fiction, while reading to acquire and use information generally is associated with informative articles and instructional texts. However, the purposes for reading do not align strictly with text types. For example, biographies or autobiographies can be primarily informational or literary, but include characteristics of both purposes.

Texts often differ in the way in which ideas are organized and presented, eliciting a variety of ways to construct meaning.66,67 Text organization and format can vary to a great degree, ranging from sequential ordering of written material to snippets of words and phrases arranged with pictorial and tabular data. The content, organization, and style that may be typical of a particular text genre have implications for the reader’s approach to understanding the text.68,69,70,71,72,73

As noted, it is in the interaction between reader and text that meanings are constructed and purposes are achieved. In selecting texts for the PIRLS assessments, the aim is to present a wide range of text types within each purpose for reading. The goal is to create a reading experience for students participating in each assessment that, as much as possible, is similar to authentic reading experiences they may have in and outside of school.