The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) is an international assessment administered every five years that measures trends in students' reading-literacy achievement and in policy and practices related to literacy. The target population for PIRLS is students in Grade 4, and the mean age at the time of testing is at least 9.5 years. This study is carried out under the auspices of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), a consortium of research institutions in 60 countries.


In the PIRLS context, reading skill is defined as “the ability to understand information presented in the written format required by society and favoured by the person, and the ability to use it.”

The purposes of the study are as follows:

  • to assess the reading skills of nine-year-olds (Grade 4 students);
  • to determine the contexts that influence reading development;
  • to understand how young children learn to read;
  • to improve teaching and learning methods in reading for all children; and
  • to assess and understand differences among education systems in order to improve teaching and learning methods in reading throughout the world.

PIRLS focuses on three aspects of reading skills:

  • the process of comprehension;
  • the purposes of reading; and
  • behaviours and attitudes toward reading.


The first PIRLS assessment took place in 2001. Thirty-five countries participated; Ontario and Quebec were the only Canadian provinces that participated. The second assessment was administered in 2006. Forty countries and five Canadian provinces participated: British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. The third assessment was in 2011, involving 45 countries and nine Canadian provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick-French, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The countries and provinces that participated in all three assessments (2001, 2006, and 2011) are now able to identify trends in their students' performance by comparing the results across 10 years. The next assessment is taking place in 2016.

PIRLS 2016 is the fourth in the series of Progress in International Reading Literacy Study assessments, providing trends in reading achievement over a 15-year period. Over 50 countries are participating in PIRLS 2016, and about 20 of them will be administering the ePIRLS, an innovative assessment of on-line reading, as well. In Canada, 8 provinces participated (British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador). International and Canadian reports will be released in 2018. The Canadian report will not only provide jurisdictional-level results on Grade 4 student achievement in reading, but will also relate these results to home, classroom, and school characteristics.

PIRLS is the only international program that assesses reading achievement of Canadian students in the early years of education.

PIRLS results

The results of the PIRLS assessment are valid at the Canadian and jurisdictional levels but are not included in a student's academic record. No results are attributed to individual students, and PIRLS data are used only for research purposes.
At the international level, Canadian students have generally performed very well in the previous PIRLS assessments. For example, in PIRLS 2011, Canadian students showed higher reading achievement than most participants. Students in only seven countries showed significantly higher performance than Canadian students: Hong Kong SAR, the Russian Federation, Finland, Singapore, Northern Ireland, the United States, and Denmark. All Canadian provinces achieved higher average scores than the international centrepoint of 500. 

Some texts and items administered to Grade 4 students across all participating countries in 2011 have been released to the public along with the scoring guide. These can be found in the PIRLS 2011 international report or in the PIRLS 2011 Canadian report.