PIRLS 2021 International Results in Reading
Performance at International Benchmarks
Percentages of Students Reaching the International Benchmarks
This section presents the PIRLS 2021 reading achievement results through the lens of the reading comprehension skills and strategies demonstrated by the students reaching each of the four International Benchmarks. The descriptions of students’ reading competencies at the four benchmarks, together with the percentages of students reaching the successive benchmarks, provide a profile of reading achievement in each country.
Exhibit 4.1 presents the percentages of students reaching each of the PIRLS 2021 International Benchmarks of Reading Achievement for the 43 countries and 5 benchmarking entities that assessed their fourth grade students at the end of the school year. The countries are presented in descending order according to the percentage of students reaching the Advanced International Benchmark, with the results shown graphically and the percentage reaching each benchmark provided.
The Advanced International Benchmark is a very high target and, as has been shown in previous PIRLS assessments, only small percentages of students reach the advanced level. Remarkably, Singapore had more than one-third (35%) of its fourth grade students reaching the advanced level. Then, after a gap, Hong Kong SAR and the Russian Federation each had 21 percent followed by England (18%), Bulgaria (16%), and Sweden (15%). The median percent reaching the Advanced International Benchmark was 7, so of the countries that assessed students at the end of the fourth grade year, half had 7 percent or fewer students reaching the advanced level.
The fourth grade students reaching the High International Benchmark are relatively competent readers, able to interpret, integrate, and evaluate a variety of text and visual elements in medium and difficult reading materials. The median cumulative percentage (including the percentage reaching the Advanced Benchmark) of students reaching the High Benchmark was 36 percent. However, the range was very large, from a high of 71 percent to a low of 5 percent. In 10 countries, fewer than 20 percent of the fourth grade students reached the High International Benchmark. Similarly, although at least three-fourths of the fourth grade students reached the Intermediate International Benchmark in half the countries (cumulative median percentage of 75), the results ranged from 92 to 9 percent.
On a very positive note, the median percentage of fourth grade students reaching the Low International Benchmark was 94 percent indicating close to universal basic literacy at the fourth grade in the majority of the PIRLS 2021 countries. In all but 10 of the countries, at least 85 percent of the fourth grade students reached the Low International Benchmark.
Exhibit 4.2 shows the percentages of students reaching the PIRLS 2021 International Benchmarks for all 57 countries and 8 benchmarking entities, including the 14 Northern Hemisphere countries that necessarily delayed assessing the fourth grade cohort of students until after the summer at the beginning of fifth grade (shown in pink). As described earlier, the students in these 14 countries were 6 months older on average than the students in the other countries, which may have contributed to higher average achievement (see previous subsection: Impacts of Modifying the Assessment Schedule on Students’ Achievement). Exhibit 4.2 shows that, in addition to the 6 countries in Exhibit 4.1 that had 15 percent or more of their students reaching the Advanced International Benchmark, 4 of these 14 countries also had 15 percent or more of their students reaching the advanced level—Ireland (27%), Northern Ireland (23%), United States (18%), and Croatia (15%). Looking at the Low International Benchmark, 9 of the 14 countries had at least 85 percent of their students reaching this level of basic literacy.