PIRLS 2016: Reading Literacy and the Classroom Publications
The IEA's fourth cycle of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, 'PIRLS 2016', was a collaborative project involving a large number of people working together, internationally and nationally during various phases; without the efforts of these people, the study would not have been so successful.
Author(s): Megan Chamberlain [Educational Measurement and Assessment, Ministry of Education]
Date Published: September 2019
Reading is an essential skill that provides the foundation for future wellbeing and success. As well as demonstrating fluency and basic comprehension, reading involves being able to reflect on texts and use them to gain knowledge. There is also an increasing emphasis in society on the ability to use and apply what has been read in new situations whether they be at school or in the workplace. Reading is not just something that is done at school for school; the reader is able to make sense of the world around them and participate fully in a range of settings—at home, at school, and in the wider community.
The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study
During late 2015 and early 2016, New Zealand and 49 other countries took part in the IEA’s Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) or PIRLS 2016. PIRLS is an international research study designed to measure trends in reading literacy achievement of middle-primary school students every five years. This was the fourth cycle, with the first study conducted in 2001, the second, during 2005 and 2006, and the third during 2010 and 2011.
PIRLS 2016 involved approximately 5,600 New Zealand Year 5 students from 188 schools, their teachers, and parents/caregivers. An overview of the key results pertaining to New Zealand was presented in report that was released to coincide with the announcement of the international results by the IEA and Boston College in December 2017.
New Zealand was one of 34 countries whose middle primary school students scored significantly higher, on average, than the PIRLS Scale Centrepoint (500). However, after a decade of relative stability, the results from PIRLS 2016 showed a slight weakening in New Zealand children’s reading achievement at this level. This was illustrated in:
- the small but statistically significant decrease in the mean reading score from 531 in PIRLS 2011 to 523 in PIRLS 2016
- a shift in the distribution of the scores, with the value of key percentiles such as the 25th and 75th lower in PIRLS 2016 than in PIRLS 2011
- proportionally fewer New Zealand children reaching the PIRLS international benchmarks, particularly the Advanced and High International Benchmarks
- a drop in New Zealand’s standing relative to the other 40 countries that took part in the two most recent cycles, from 22nd in PIRLS 2011 to 29th in PIRLS 2016.
The weaker performance was not limited to one reading area or aspect of children’s reading comprehension. Decreases were across the board, but most concerning was the decline in students’ reasoning performance—the ability to interpret, integrate, and evaluate ideas.
The first national reporting focused on student outcomes — achievement and their attitudes to and confidence in reading. The initial focus on students’ attitudes to reading did not provide any immediate insight for the weaker performance in PIRLS 2016. A second report focused on the school context for learning. Again, there was no additional insight: most of conditions were the same as in 2010 when PIRLS 2011 was implemented in New Zealand.
The focus of this third report is on describing the classroom settings in which New Zealand’s Year 5 students were learning in 2015, from both teacher and student perspectives, as well as the practices used by teachers to develop students’ reading comprehension. It is important to remember when interpreting information reported by teachers in PIRLS that it is not necessarily representative of the views and experiences of all Year 5 teachers; they were, however, the teachers of a representative sample of Year 5 students in a representative sample of New Zealand schools.
PIRLS 2016 shows that Year 5 students were often in composite (or multi-level) classes, and had access to a classroom library as well as computers and tablets during reading. They were taught by well-qualified, collaborative teachers.
- Achievement and social criteria had been used to assign Year 5 students at the beginning of the 2015 school year.
- A class typically had 27 students and it was likely to be composite (or multi-level), with 15 at Year 5.
- Most teachers of Year 5 students had a bachelor’s or bachelor’s honours degree, had specialised in language or reading pedagogy during their formal education, and had 5 to 20 years teaching experience.
- Teachers collaborating with colleagues within the school setting was more likely to occur than with professional colleagues external to the school.
- Almost all Year 5 students had access to a classroom library, and more likely than their international counterparts to have access to computers (or tablets) during reading.
New Zealand teachers were teaching classes with Year 5 students of varying reading ability, with some students in need of additional assistance.
- There was an average of one Year 5 student per class who had difficulty understanding spoken English or te reo Māori (the languages of the PIRLS assessment).
- An average of two Year 5 students per class needed ‘remedial’ reading assistance of which one was receiving it.
- An average of four Year 5 students per class were judged by their teacher to be advanced readers.
New Zealand teachers were generally well-placed implementing effective practices to develop their Year 5 students’ reading comprehension. They did stand out from their ‘English-language’ counterparts in how often they used some organisation and instructional practices.
- When organising a class for reading instruction, New Zealand teachers’ preference was to use same ability grouping. Only Northern Irish teachers use this approach as often. Teaching reading as a whole-class activity rarely or never occurred.
- Silent reading was a very common activity in New Zealand classrooms – it recorded the highest percentage of students who were asked daily to read silently on their own (88%). It was also common in the United States, Canada, and Australia but less common in the other English-language countries such as England, Ireland, and Singapore.
- New Zealand teachers were more likely to teach their Year 5 students critiquing skills when reading digitally than many of their international colleagues, including those in most of the English-language countries.
- New Zealand teachers rarely asked their Year 5 students to read aloud (in any setting), and were the least among the English-language countries.
- In New Zealand classrooms, there was a little more emphasis on teaching decoding sounds and words than teaching new vocabulary (systematically) compared with the emphases in other English-language countries’ classrooms.
- Year 5 students were less likely to read longer fiction chapter books as part of their reading instruction compared with their counterparts in other English-language countries.
- Year 5 students were generally a little less engaged during their reading than their international peers. They were also more likely to consider reading to be ‘boring’ in 2015 than their 2010 counterparts.
PIRLS 2016 shows that New Zealand Year 5 students generally had higher reading achievement . . .
. . . when their teachers had an emphasis on academic success.
- Compared with their international peers, New Zealand teachers generally held strong views on academic success in their schools.
- Most Year 5 students were taught by teachers who had either a high or very high emphasis on academic success. These students scored more than 30 score points on average than their Year 5 peers who were taught by teachers with a medium emphasis.
. . . when their teachers’ instruction was not impeded by limiting attributes of the students in the class.
- Overall, New Zealand teachers’ instruction tended to be either very little or only somewhat impacted by their student needs, and about the same as their international colleagues, on average.
- The two single factors most likely to be identified as impacting on teachers’ class instruction were students’ lack of prior knowledge and students being absent from class (or school).
. . . when they were rarely absent from school.
- Compared with many of their international peers, Year 5 students were more likely to report that they were often (at least monthly) absent from school.
- Asian or Pākehā/European were more likely to report they were rarely (never or almost never) absent than their Pacific and Māori peers.
- Reading achievement was, on average, higher for Year 5 students who reported they were rarely absent, regardless of their socio-economic circumstances or ethnic identity.
. . . if they liked reading.
- Year 5 students’ views of reading were relatively positive when compared with their international peers.
- Year 5 girls tended to be more positive than Year 5 boys, with Pacific and Asian students more positive about reading than their Pākehā/European and Māori peers.
- Liking reading, however, only contributed to a two score point increase in reading achievement, after taking into account student demographic and socio-economic factors, language of the assessment, and language spoken in the home.
. . . were confident as readers.
- Year 5 students’ self confidence in their reading ability was relatively low internationally; they were the least confident among the English-language countries.
- Year 5 boys, Māori and Pacific students were a little over-represented as not being confident.
- Having confidence as a reader had a much stronger, positive relationship with achievement than simply just liking reading – a one point increase on the confidence scale corresponded to a 20 score point increase after taking into account student demographic and socio-economic factors, language of the assessment, and language spoken in the home.
Opportunity-to-learn, as measured by the amount of instructional time Year 5 students had for reading was about the same in 2015 as in 2010. Students being absent from class or school did, however, impact on this opportunity for learning.
- The proportion of time New Zealand schools allocated for language instruction (including reading) was higher than the international average. Across countries there was no obvious relationship between instructional time and reading achievement.
- The apparent impact of self-confidence (d = 0.59) and regular attendance at school (d = 0.43) on students’ reading achievement were stronger than students’ liking of reading (d = ‒0.10), after accounting for demographic and socio-economic factors, language of the assessment, and language spoken in the home.
New Zealand has taken part in all four cycles of PIRLS. After a period of relative stability, the results from PIRLS 2016 show a slight weakening of New Zealand children’s reading performance. Furthermore, relative to the other 40 countries that took part in the two most recent cycles, New Zealand’s standing dropped from 22nd in PIRLS 2011 to 29th in PIRLS 2016.
This third report presents the classroom-related factors investigated in PIRLS 2016. It identifies some key factors associated with higher (or lower) achievement. The analyses highlight that teachers are faced with challenges such as students not being confident or engaged, not having the pre-requisite skills needed to meet the reading demands required to access the curriculum, or who are often absent from class. Students’ own reports on how often they were absent and the negative relationship this has with their reading achievement is also discussed.
It is important to remember that by the end of Year 5, students’ reading experiences at school have generally been influenced by more than one teacher. Reading achievement is likely to reflect the cumulative impact of those five years at school as well as home influences, not just the experiences of 2015. An overview of ‘self-reported’ practices and activities teachers used in their reading instruction as it was in 2015 is presented, and New Zealand appears to be on the whole well-placed with implementing known effective literacy practices. However, there are some areas where teaching practice is quite different from countries and jurisdictions where children are also learning in English. Understanding how New Zealand children’s exposure to (or not) particular practices, in conjunction with their early reading experiences, is impacting on their reading comprehension, is needed if the downward achievement trend ‒ actual and relative ‒ is to be addressed.
While this report was being written, the OECD’s Measuring innovation in education 2019: What has changed in the classroom?, was released, and in their conclusion the authors note that little ‘innovation’ was observed in the teaching of reading in New Zealand from 2005 to 2015. It is also worth noting that the frequency of New Zealand teachers’ use of some practices, such as grouping by ability and teaching decoding strategies, were highlighted back in PIRLS 2001.
Finally, it is recommended that the findings presented here are not viewed in isolation and are read in conjunction with the national reports:
- PIRLS 2016: New Zealand's Achievement
- PIRLS 2016: Schools and School Climate for Learning
- Reading literacy instruction in the English-language countries: similarities and differences
- International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA).
- This is the fourth year of formal schooling, unless the average age of the country’s students is less than 9.5 years.
- See PIRLS 2016: New Zealand’s Achievement on the Ministry of Education’s Education Counts website
- This is the reference point for comparing country means. It remains constant over time.
- The use of significant is to be understood in terms of statistical significance at the 5% level. See Glossary of Terms and Technical Notes for more details.
- The 25th percentile is the achievement score on the scale where 25% of students score a lower value and 75% of students score higher. The 75th percentile is the achievement score on the scale where 75% of students score a lower value and 25% of students score a higher value. The 50th percentile is equivalent to the median.
- This also means that the proportions or percentages reflect the students taught by teachers who indicated a particular response or characteristic. For example, 82 percent of Year 5 students were taught by teachers who had a bachelor’s or bachelor honours degree.
- An approach to looking at the strength of the relationship between the variables in question and reading achievement using quasi effect sizes.
- A more in-depth commentary is outlined Reading literacy instruction in the English-language countries: similarities and differences (Chamberlain, with Forkert, 2019).
- Lafontaine, Dupont, and Schillings, P. (2018, November).
- Vincent-Lancrin, Urgel, Kar, and Jacotin (2019, p. 283).
- In the OECD publication the authors refer to 2006 to 2016 to reflect when Northern Hemisphere countries implemented PIRLS.
- Caygill and Chamberlain (2004, pp. 67–69).
For queries about the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) please email the: PIRLS Mailbox