More on PIRLS international assessment of nations in reading

It’s utterly amazing:

Twelve minutes after twelve noon on December 12, 2012, (that is, 12:12 on 12/12/12 has come and gone, and somehow the sky still hasn’t fallen.

American fourth-grade students actually did quite well in comparison to about 50 nations in reading and literacy, according to the most recent PIRLS data. Here are two more graphs that I will share with you, which I took from pages 68 and 69 of that report.

PIRLS 4th grade benchmarks reading by nationThis graph is packed full of information!

First of all, notice that the USA is #7 out of all the 40+ nations when ranked by what percentage of students in each country attained scores deemed “advanced”.  We beat nations like Ireland, Israel, NZ, Canada, Taiwan, Denmark, Australia, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, France, Austria, and many more. That’s not bad.

Further, if you look at the middle, vertical blue line that I drew, you notice that the US has the sixth highest rate in the WORLD of students reaching the “high” benchmark as defined by PIRLS.

Finally, if you look at the median percentages, shown at the very bottom of the page and circled in blue by me, you see that the American rankings are way higher (farther to the right) than any of them.

My next graph shows how a few regions did. I’m going to take this with a bit more salt, however:

PIRLS 4th grade benchmarks for various regions


According to this table, Florida alone is #2 in the entire world. Is that really true? I don’t know; it doesn’t appear to be so highly ranked in reading on the NAEP; it’s tied for 12th place with Delaware, Kentucky, and Montana.

But I think it’s fair to say that American kids aren’t doing as poorly as many pundits and politicians keep saying.



Published in: on December 13, 2012 at 1:17 pm  Comments (6)  
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  1. Two years ago PISA gave a very different verdict. True, PISA looked at 15 year olds, but they were fourth graders once. What is odd is that Finland and the Asian Tigers seem to get roughly similar results, but the USA and Australia/NZ get dramatically different results. What does this tell us? I think an examination of these peculiarities would give us some very interesting insights into the validity of these tests. The suggestion has been made that USA kids are so good at test taking since NCLB that they can do well in any largely multiple choice, fill the gap test as long as they don’t have to apply what they know in any creative or novel way. Aussie and NZ kids, on the other hand, have only recently been subjected to this kind of testing and so are not very proficient at taking this sort of test. In Finland, the education is simp ly so good that their kids can take pretty much any kind of test in their stride. Whatever the the actual case may be, the discrepancies between these two tests is significant and it surprises me that there has been no real examination of this.


    • We also need to look at the tests themselves. What are they actually asking?


      • I have written about this and the differences are informative. TIMSS and PIRLS both are focused on testing the taught curriculum. PISA assesses the extent to which kids are able to apply it – their ability to transfer what they have learned. Sadly USA kids are not very good at the latter.


  2. […] Brandenburg, retired math teacher, analyzed the latest international reading test, and it is chock full of good […]


  3. […] If you look at the PIRLS comparisons of American and international students, our kids did rather well, as I showed here. […]


  4. […] Every year they score better than most of their foreign counterparts on international tests. […]


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