PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) assesses the reading achievement of Fourth-class pupils. First conducted in 2001, PIRLS takes place every five years. Ireland participated for the first time in PIRLS in 2011. In 2016, Ireland participated again, and was also one of 14 countries to administer a new “add-on” assessment of digital literacy, called ePIRLS. The next cycle of PIRLS takes place in 2021, following a field trial in spring 2020.
The 2021 assessment will be paper-based in some countries, and fully computer-based in others. For countries administering the test on computer, the ePIRLS assessment will now be integrated into the main PIRLS assessment. A paper-based bridging study in these countries will be used to identify and adjust for any mode effects.
Ireland had planned to administer PIRLS on computer in 2021. However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ireland will instead opt for paper-based testing. This is mainly due to the fact that paper-based testing does not entail the transfer of equipment or personnel between schools, and thus minimises risk and reduces the logistical burden for school communities at this very challenging time. Unfortunately, the decision to opt for paper-based testing also means that Ireland cannot participate in the ePIRLS component of the test in this cycle. The results for PIRLS 2021 will be published at the end of 2022.
PIRLS is a project of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), and is managed at an international level by the International Study Center in Boston College. Within each participating country, a National Research Centre manages the study. In Ireland, this role is filled by the Educational Research Centre. The Centre is supported in this work by a National Advisory Committee, chaired by the Department of Education and Skills, and with representatives from the main education stakeholders.
A major purpose of PIRLS is to provide background information that can be used to improve teaching and learning. For example, the study collects detailed information about curriculum and curriculum implementation, instructional practices, and school resources. The assessment is based on comprehensive frameworks developed collaboratively with the participating countries. The frameworks specify in some detail the knowledge, skills, and understandings to be assessed.
All international publications on PIRLS can be found at http://timssandpirls.bc.edu/.
The IEA is also responsible for TIMSS (Trends in Mathematics and Science Study). In 2011, the cycles for PIRLS and TIMSS coincided for the first time, giving countries the opportunity to take part in one or both assessments. Of the 49 countries took part in PIRLS in 2011, 34 – including Ireland – also took part in TIMSS.
In 2018, thematic reports on PIRLS 2016 followed: an analysis of Irish pupils’ performance on the paper and digital components of the assessment (Eivers & Delaney, 2018), and characteristics associated with paper and online reading (Gilleece & Eivers, 2018).
The initial Irish report on the 2011 TIMSS and PIRLS cycles was published in December 2012 (Eivers & Clerkin, 2012) and a volume of thematic analyses of the Irish TIMSS and PIRLS data was published in 2013 (Eivers & Clerkin, 2013).