Education Week - April 25, 2018 - 12
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS > TRACKING NEWS AND IDEAS IN EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY
U.S. Students Surprise on New Exam of Online Reading
leave some 'elated'
By Benjamin Herold
U.S. 4th graders performed surprisingly well on a new international test of online reading ability,
outperforming their peers in 10 of
the 15 other educational systems
"We were actually elated," said
Peggy G. Carr, the associate commissioner for assessment at the
National Center for Education Statistics, during a discussion of the
results at the annual conference of
the American Educational Research
Association, held here this month.
"I think it's very clear that our
students are more savvy than many
of us have given them credit for,"
The findings come from the first
administration of ePIRLS, a new
version of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study. The
new assessment of online reading
ability was taken in 2016 by 85,000
4th graders around the world, including 4,100 students in 153 U.S.
public and private schools.
The ePIRLS exam asks students
to navigate a "simulated internet
environment"-including web pages,
tabs, and hyperlinks directing them
to a mix of text, photos, charts, and
interactive animations-in order to
find and understand relevant information.
The new assessment comes amid
much hand-wringing about students' ability to effectively read on
the internet, where concerns about
everything from digital distractions
to "fake news" are prevalent.
Outside experts expressed cautious optimism about the results.
But they also emphasized the exam's limitations, as well as disparities in achievements among different groups of students.
"ePIRLS provides an important
early attempt to evaluate online
reading of informational text for
learning," said Donald Leu, an education professor and the director of
the New Literacies Research Lab at
the University of Connecticut.
"It does not fully represent online
A Familiar Achievement Gap
The ePIRLS is a new supplement
to a broader international assessment of 4th graders' reading literacy.
The PIRLS assessment aims to
gauge how students are making the
transition from "learning to read"
to "reading to learn." The exam has
been administered every five years
Overall, the results of that exam
suggest that the general reading
ability of U.S. 4th graders has declined slightly, even as other coun
Fifty-six percent of U.S. 4th
graders scored "high" or above
on the 2016 ePIRLS exam, a new
international assessment of
online informational reading.
SOURCE: International Association for the
Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), 2016
12 | EDUCATION WEEK | April 25, 2018 | www.edweek.org
Three education systems
significantly outperformed the
U.S. on the 2016 ePIRLS exam of
online informational reading.
tries have improved.
The new ePIRLS exam is not intended to use computers to measure the same reading skills as the
traditional assessment. Instead, it
reflects the belief among literacy experts that reading online requires its
own unique set of skills.
Rather than identify the theme of
a literary passage, for example, the
ePIRLS asks students to integrate
information from across a mix of
web pages and interactive online
Problems on the test are structured as class projects. Students
interact with an avatar who guides
them through a series of tasks-for
example, searching curated web
pages for information about Mars,
then answering questions about
NASA's Rover explorer by navigating an interactive animation.
Overall, the average score for U.S.
4th graders on the exam was 557 out
of 1,000. About 18 percent of those
students scored "advanced" (625 or
better) on the exam, and 38 percent
Familiar achievement gaps also
showed up in the U.S. ePIRLS
On average, girls scored higher
than boys. Asian and white students
scored higher than their black and
Hispanic peers. And students in
lower-poverty schools scored better than students in higher-poverty
ePIRLS scale centerpoint
United Arab Emirates
The top performing international
school systems on the ePIRLS
exam were Singapore, Ireland, and
Test has Limitations
Researchers also found that 4th
graders seemed to enjoy taking the
"Students seem to be more engaged interacting with the [ePIRLS]
assessment" than with traditional
paper-and-pencil exams, said Carr
But while there was some cause
for enthusiasm, outside experts remained skeptical.
Leu of the University of Connecticut said the performance of U.S. students likely does not demonstrate "a
level of performance adequate to be
fully successful in learning during
Among the limitations of the
ePIRLS exam is that the online
texts students are asked to read are
pre-selected for them and presented
at an age-appropriate reading level,
effectively filtering out much of the
messiness and complexity of the actual internet.
In addition, Leu said, students are
not asked to use a search engine to
locate useful online information, nor
are they asked to evaluate the reliability of material that is available
on the open internet.
He described such skills as essential to real-life online reading.
Leu also noted that previous studies have shown that students of all
ages struggle with important skills
not measured by ePIRLS, including evaluating the reliability and
credibility of online information-a
growing concern in the age of misinformation, "fake news," and internet
hoaxes and conspiracy theories.
Jill Castek, an associate professor
of teaching, learning, and sociocultural studies at the University of
Arizona, said the achievement gaps
in ePIRLS results are a cause for
Of particular note, Castek said,
is that students who reported the
greatest access to digital devices
in their homes scored significantly
It's very clear that
our students are
more savvy than
many of us have given
them credit for."
PEGGY G. CARR
Associate Commissioner, National
Center for Education Statistics
higher on the exam than those
with lesser access.
The ways students reported using
computers in school also seems to
matter: Using devices to prepare
reports was associated with higher
achievement, while using devices
to read information on the internet
"I worry that looking only at [the
high-level] results makes it seem
like we're doing more in school to
support good online reading than
we really are," Castek said.
"And those things we are doing
well, we're not doing well with all
Both PIRLS and ePIRLS are
conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, based in the
Netherlands. The next administration is scheduled for 2021.
Beginning in 2019, the National
Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, commonly referred
to as the "nation's report card," will
begin incorporating some ePIRLSstyle tasks intended to measure students' online-reading skills.
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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - April 25, 2018
Education Week - April 25, 2018
Facing Hard Facts on College and Career
School Choice Proves Scarce in ESSA Plans
After a Shooting in Her Classroom, Teacher Re-evaluates School Safety
Pension Woes Have Teachers On Front Lines
News in Brief
Discipline Gaps—and Ways to Close Them —Get Scrutiny
Parents Lash Out at District Over Shooting
Arizona Teachers Set to Strike Over School Funding and Pay
Schools With Confederate Ties Slowly Shed Their Names
U.S. Students Surprise on New Exam Of Online Reading
NAEP: Gaps Widen Between High Fliers And Low Scorers
Ed. Dept. Policing ESSA Assessment Rule On Special Education
Federal Special Ed. Chief Aims to Foster Partnership
School Shootings Reverberate On Capitol Hill
Ian Rowe: What NAEP Scores Aren’t Telling Us
In Conversation John Urschel: From the NFL to MIT
Rebecca Kolins Givan & Pamela Whitefield: Teacher Pay Isn’t the Whole Story
Thomas Toch: 35 Years After ‘A Nation at Risk,’ Education Is Still Going in the Wrong Direction
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - Pension Woes Have Teachers On Front Lines
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - 2
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - Contents
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - Report Roundup
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - 5
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - Discipline Gaps—and Ways to Close Them —Get Scrutiny
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - Arizona Teachers Set to Strike Over School Funding and Pay
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - Schools With Confederate Ties Slowly Shed Their Names
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - 9
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - 10
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - 11
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - U.S. Students Surprise on New Exam Of Online Reading
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - NAEP: Gaps Widen Between High Fliers And Low Scorers
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - 14
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - 15
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - 16
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - Federal Special Ed. Chief Aims to Foster Partnership
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - School Shootings Reverberate On Capitol Hill
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - 19
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - 20
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - 21
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - In Conversation John Urschel: From the NFL to MIT
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - Rebecca Kolins Givan & Pamela Whitefield: Teacher Pay Isn’t the Whole Story
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - 24
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - 25
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - 26
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - 27
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - Letters
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - CW1
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - CW2
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - CW3
Education Week - April 25, 2018 - CW4