Which country has the best readers?
The best readers are from here. Source: Shutterstock

Hint: It’s not the United States.

New international rankings released Tuesday show the reading skills among fourth-graders worldwide based on their performance on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), which is conducted every five years.

The US fell from fifth in the world in 2011 to 13th spot, despite its traditionally good showing in the study. In 2011, average scores in the US was 556 out of 1,000. For 2016, the average scores declined to only 549 out of 1,000, a score that is behind 12 education systems by “statistically significant margins”, raising concerns about the ability of American children to compete with international peers.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tweeted the need for the US to “do better” for its students:

“Our students can’t move ahead – in school or in life – if they’re falling behind in reading. We must do better for students, parents & educators. We must #RethinkSchool”

The top 10 best-performing countries out of the 50 countries assessed are as follows:

Ranking Country Score
1 Moscow City 612
2 Russia 581
3 Singapore* 576
4 Hong Kong* 569
5 Ireland 567
6 Finland 566
=7 Poland 565
=7 Northern Ireland 565
=8 Norway 559
=8 Taipei 559
=8 England 559
9 Latvia 558
10 Sweden 555

* These educational systems had sampling challenges

Source: International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (via Washington Post)

The PIRLS study is conducted by the Netherlands-based IEA international education charity. This year, 319,000 children aged nine to 10 in 50 countries were assessed on their ability to understand literary and informational texts.

The US isn’t the only country with failing literacy despite its high economic development and advanced technological infrastructure – for example, 98 percent of American students had a library in their classroom, compared to just 14 percent in Egypt. Yet, Canada, France and several other developed countries joined the US by faring worse compared with five years ago in the 2016 PIRLS study.

France – ranked at 34th place this year – fared the worst in Europe after two successive steady decline since the study began in 2001. French schoolchildren scored 25 points below the average for children participating in other European Union countries. While they could do pretty well in answering simple questions about texts – eg. names of major characters – they had trouble with questions involving interpretation, using information from an informative text to build reasoning.

South Africa finished at the bottom with 320 points, with 78 percent of Grade 4 learners unable to read.

According to Business Livegirls outdo boys in 48 countries, the study found, with an average difference of 19 points, and matched their reading abilities in two — Portugal and Macau. In mostly Muslim countries as well as in secular South Africa, boys’ reading skills were found to lag particularly behind girls.

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