8 September 2023

France succeeds in stopping the fall in reading performance of its students, but remains far from the European average, according to the results of the Pirls 2021 survey (for Progress in International Reading Literacy Study), the international research program in school reading . This study, conducted every five years and unveiled this Tuesday, May 16, compares the level of reading and written comprehension of students around the world after four years of compulsory schooling – i.e. at CM1 level in France.

On the “glass half full” side, France is stabilizing after fifteen years of decline. Its score stands at 514 points against 511 in 2016. At the same time, the other countries of the European Union (EU) have seen their results drop by an average of 11 points. France is also reducing the gap with the EU average significantly, going from 28 points of difference in 2016 to 15 points of difference in 2021. It arrives above the symbolic international average of 500 points set by pirls.

On the “glass half empty” side, France is ranked 23e of the 37 countries that passed the test in due time, with a score similar to Malta and Serbia, far behind Singapore (587 points), Hong Kong (573 points), Finland or Poland (549 points). France meets again 16e out of the 19 EU countries taking part in the study and fails to return to its 2001 level (525 points) or to that of 2011 (520 points).

Progress driven by girls

The Pirls study, whose tests are taken by 400,000 students around the world in 2021 or 2022 – 5,300 in France – is one of the first to measure the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and the containments on student success. Thus, two thirds of students have seen their learning affected by the pandemic. The survey authors are conducting further research to assess the correlation between the number of weeks without school during the pandemic and grade level. The French strategy of leaving schools open, carried by the former Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, seems to have borne fruit since France is one of the eight countries – out of the 32 comparable between 2016 and 2021 – which stabilize their results, while 21 experienced a decline and only three saw their results improve.

On reading skills, Pirls assesses far beyond simple deciphering and is interested in reading comprehension. Why in CM1? This age is seen as crucial as students move from the ‘learning to read’ stage to the ‘reading to learn’ stage, notes Matthias von Davier, one of the study coordinators.

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