PIRLS 2016: Schools and School Climate for Learning

Publication Details

PIRLS is an international research study designed to measure trends in the reading literacy achievement of middle primary school students every five years. PIRLS 2016 was the fourth cycle and was implemented in late 2015 and early 2016. The first study conducted in 2001, the second, during 2005 and 2006, and the third during 2010 and 2011.

Author(s): Megan Chamberlain [Ministry of Education]

Date Published: May 2019

Executive Summary

Literacy is a fundamental human right and the foundation for lifelong learning. It is fully essential to social and human development in its ability to transform lives.”[1]

It is generally accepted that being able to read is a key 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 or 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[2] Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) or PIRLS 2016. PIRLS is an international research study designed to measure trends in the 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 principals and teachers, and parents/caregivers. An overview of the key results for New Zealand was presented in the report entitled PIRLS 2016 New Zealand’s Achievement, which was released to coincide with the announcement of the international results by the IEA and Boston College in December 2017.[3]

New Zealand was one of 34 countries where its middle primary school students generally scored significantly higher than the PIRLS Scale Centrepoint (500).[4] 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[5] 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[6] 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 reporting focused on student outcomes — achievement and their attitudes to and their confidence in reading. Students’ attitudes to reading did not provide any immediate insight for the change since PIRLS 2011.

The focus of this second report is on describing the school context in which Year 5 students were learning in 2015, to see if this provides more insight on the decline.

PIRLS 2016 shows that New Zealand Year 5 students generally had higher reading achievement if they attended schools . . .

. . . where more of their peers were from either economically mixed or advantaged backgrounds than disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Reading achievement generally increased as the proportion of the student body from an economically affluent background increased; it decreased as the proportion of the student body from an economically disadvantaged background increased.
  • The difference in reading achievement between schools with students from economically affluent backgrounds and those with students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds was, in general, high compared with many other countries.[7]
  • There was a small but significant decrease in the mean achievement of studentsattending schools where students were from predominately affluent backgrounds from 2010 to 2015.
  • Students in deciles 1 and 2 schools recorded the lowest mean achievement; students in deciles 9 and 10 schools recorded the highest mean achievement.
  • Students attending deciles 9 and 10 schools in 2015 generally had significantly weaker performance than the decile 9 and 10 cohort in 2010. There was no significant change in achievement for students attending schools in other decile groupings.
  • Just under 50 percent of Year 5 students in deciles 1 and 2 schools reached the PIRLS Intermediate International Benchmark compared with just under 90 percent of their peers in deciles 9 and 10 schools.
  • Proportionally fewer students attending deciles 9 and 10 schools reached the higher international benchmarks in 2015 (57%) than in 2010 (63%). There were no statistical changes in the decile 1 to 8 schools.
. . . where the student body of their school started school with essential early literacy skills.
  • Students’ reading achievement tended to be higher in schools where proportionately more of the student body had early literacy skills at school entry than in schools where few of the student body began with these skills.
  • The student body of lower decile schools, particularly deciles 1 and 2 schools, was less likely to have early literacy skills when beginning primary than the intake entering higher decile schools.
  • Schools in 2015 were more likely to have a student body that had started with the early literacy skills compared with schools in 2010, particularly deciles 5 to 8 schools.
  • Students’ reading achievement tended to be higher in schools where proportionately more of the student body had two oral literacy-readiness skills[8] at school entry than in schools where few had these skills.
  • The student body of deciles 1 to 4 schools were less likely to have the oral literacy-readiness skills when beginning primary school than the intakes into deciles 5 to 10 schools.  The student body in deciles 9 and 10 schools were less likely to have had these skills at school entry than the student body starting in deciles 7 and 8 schools.
. . . where schools had an emphasis on academic success.
  • New Zealand principals and teachers typically held strong views on academic success in their schools as determined through their understanding of curricular goals and curriculum implementation, expectations of their students, and the role of parents to support their children.
  • Year 5 students attending schools where their principals reported a very high emphasis on academic success scored more than 50 scale score points higher, on average, than their peers in schools where there was a medium emphasis.
. . . where schools had a relatively stable student enrolment.
  • Year 5 students who attended schools where the student retention rate was at least 85 percent generally had higher reading achievement than their peers attending schools where the retention rate was less than 85 percent.
  • Higher decile schools generally had a higher retention rate than lower decile schools. However, the range in retention rates was as wide in higher decile schools as it was in lower decile schools.
. . . where students attended safe schools and had a sense of belonging.
  • Students in schools where their principals reported hardly any discipline problems generally had higher achievement than their peers in schools where principals had to deal with minor discipline problems.
  • Principals and teachers in lower decile schools tended to be a little less positive than their counterparts in mid-range and higher decile schools about the disciplinary climate in their schools.
  • Students taught by teachers who felt they were in very safe teaching environments generally had higher achievement than their peers who were being taught by teachers who held less positive views.
  • New Zealand students had a relatively high sense of school belonging compared to their peers in many other countries. The pattern held across schools irrespective of their decile. Pacific and Asian children were more likely than their Māori and Pākehā/European peers to have this view.
  • Year 5 students were more likely to have experienced bullying behaviours than their international peers. Students in lower decile schools were more likely to report they experienced these behaviours than students in higher decile schools.
  • The relationship between gender (i.e., being a boy) and reading achievement was stronger than the relationship between students’ experiences of bullying and their sense of school belonging, after taking into account their ethnic identity and school decile.

Final comment

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’s children’s reading performance. Furthermore, relative to the other 40 countries that took part in the two most recent cycles, New Zealand’s standing in PIRLS 2011 dropped from 22nd to 29th.

This second report presents the school-related contextual factors investigated in PIRLS 2016. It identifies some key factors associated with higher (or lower) achievement. The analyses shows that there was still a significant number of schools that faced challenges associated with the composition of their student body being from predominately economically disadvantaged backgrounds and not having the necessary early literacy or oral language skills when beginning school.  Aside from this, there was also a weakening of reading achievement in schools that had a predominately ‘affluent’ student body, and among children from higher socio-economic households.

The PIRLS results confirm the importance of a positive school climate. Schools that have a stable student body and hardly any discipline problems, teachers who teach in schools where they feel safe, and students who have a strong sense of school belonging and who do not experience negative behaviours such as bullying are key conditions associated with higher reading achievement. This report goes some way in identifying the influences that are important. Understanding how they interact is key, but this was beyond the scope of the reporting presented here.

Finally, it is recommended that the findings presented here are not viewed in isolation and are read in conjunction with the national report PIRLS 2016: New Zealand’s Achievement released in 2017, and the international publications that were also released in late 2017.

Footnotes

  1. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2013).
  2. International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA).
  3. See PIRLS 2016: New Zealand's Achievement on the Ministry of Education’s Education Counts website.
  4. This is the reference point for comparing country means. It remains constant over time.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. A comparison of students in schools with more than 25% of the student body from economically affluent homes and 25% or less of the student body from disadvantaged homes with schools with more than 25% of students coming from economically disadvantaged homes and 25% or less coming from economically affluent homes and ‘schools with neither more affluent nor more disadvantaged students’.
  8. Used age-appropriate vocabulary and able to retell or tell their own story.

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