What Determines the Range of Reading Attainment in a Country?

Chris Whetton , Liz Twist

06 October 2003

This paper attempts to identify factors affecting the range of reading attainment in countries, based on an analysis of data from the 35 countries involved in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), details of which are outlined. Results are illustrated figuratively and discussed in terms of distribution and percentiles of reading achievement, or, as an alternative approach, the percentages of pupils reaching PIRLS international benchmarks, as well as standardised results from European and English-speaking countries. Reasons for the differences between European Countries with lower ranges of attainment but maintaining position for low achievers and those English-speaking countries with wider performance ranges but worse performance at lower percentiles are explored. These identify social and educational factors as well as the orthographic nature of languages involved. Conclusions relate to the possible effect of relative orthographic complexity on attainment achievement and also the impact on outcomes of the actual testing language itself.