The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) is an international comparative survey of reading literacy of Grade 4 (9 year-old) learners. The study was established to provide countries with information about learners’ achievement in the core curriculum area of reading to complement the mathematics and science data provided by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science study (TIMSS). PIRLS is run under the auspices of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (the IEA). As an organisation, the IEA undertakes international studies that benchmark performance of school-going children in mathematics, science, civic education, information, communication, technology and reading, to name several, across more than 60 countries.
PIRLS takes the form of a cross-sectional survey at it is administered to a different sample of Grade 4 learners every five years, as well as a trend study that allows for comparisons to be made from one cycle to the next. As an international comparative study, PIRLS not only provides the participating education systems with the opportunity to assess reading literacy achievement, but also provides an opportunity for those repeat participating countries another cycle in which to establish 5-year trends in reading literacy achievement worldwide. As a trend study, PIRLS retains a selection of reading passages to allow for the repeat administration of that selection in future assessment cycles in order for comparisons to be made from one cycle of assessment to the next. Apart from measuring children’s reading literacy achievement, the PIRLS assessment also makes use of contextual questionnaires that are administered internationally to Grade 4 learners, Grade 4 teachers, school principals and Grade 4 learners’ parents to gauge reading attitudes and behaviours.
After absence from the PIRLS study undertaken in 2001, South Africa’s first participation in the survey took place in the 2006 cycle. The South African PIRLS 2006 study assessed a first population of Grade 4 learners, but also included a second population of Grade 5 learners as a national option within the study (Howie, Venter, van Staden, Zimmerman, Long, Scherman & Archer, 2009). Grade 4 learners achieved on average 253 points (SE=4.6). South African Grade 5 learners achieved the lowest score of the 45 participating education systems of 302 (SE=5.6). Average achievement for both these grades was well below the fixed international reference average of 500 points.
The PIRLS 2006 Summary report provides an overview of the main findings of the PIRLS 2006 study in South Africa. Chapter 1 provides a background and introduction to the study, while chapter 2 provides insights on reading curricula and language policies in South Africa. Chapter 3 details the research design and conceptual framework for PIRLS 2006, with chapter 4 and 5 paying attention to the overall results and results by international benchmarks. Chapters 6 to 11 provides a summary of contextual background results from the home, the school, the teacher and the learners themselves on issues of reading activities at home, teaching reading and learners’ reading self-concepts.