PIRLS 2006 examined reading skills among fourth-grade pupils in 40 countries. 215,000 pupils – 4,000 of whom were from Denmark – read both an informative and a fictional text. Their answers to a range of questions revealed their ability to understand, use and assess these texts. A wide range of information from parents and teachers regarding conditions at school and at home was included in the study, which put Denmark in joint eighth place. The results were published by the Danish School of Education on Wednesday 28 November 2007.
In PIRLS 2006 Danish pupils took a large leap up the scale in comparison with a similar study in 1991, which placed them at the bottom alongside pupils from Trinidad-Tobago and Venezuela. Today Denmark is doing just as well as some of the countries with which we normally compare ourselves – for instance Italy, the US, Germany, the Netherlands and not least the other Nordic countries. And Denmark is doing even better than countries like the UK and New Zealand. Finland did not participate in the study. There were only a few countries that performed significantly better, whereas there were many which had much poorer readers than Denmark.
One thing is the average, but another is the difference in competence level in individual countries, which is often very large. Even though Russia topped the list with the highest national average, 30% of Danish classes were better readers than the Russian average. But 10% of the Danish classes were poorer readers than the international average.
However, PIRLS 2006 did not in itself give an answer as to whether the Danish results were better than in 1991. For one thing, it examined fourth-grade pupils and not third-grade pupils as in 1991. And for another, an entirely new reading test was used. As a result, the researchers at the Danish School of Education completed an additional study in which a large number of third-grade and fourth-grade pupils from schools that participated in PIRLS were also evaluated using the old IEA reading test from 1991.
There was a significant improvement for Danish pupils, with the average reading standards improving by the equivalent of one year group since 1991. But 25% of fourth-grade pupils still only read at a third-grade level, so it is important to maintain focus on helping those who are falling behind.
Even though there were still many poor readers, the difference between the best and the poorest in Denmark was even greater 15 years previously. Even the poorest readers can read better today than they could back then.
The pupils were also asked how much they read for pleasure. Almost half of the Danish pupils read for pleasure every day. However, the girls still scored higher than the boys in terms of reading competences.