Although a few individual provinces participated in PIRLS 2001 and 2006, PIRLS 2011 marks the first pan-Canadian participation in the assessment.

For the first time in PIRLS, Canada is publishing its own companion report, PIRLS 2011 – Canada in Context: Canadian Results from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, to be released at the same time as the international report. It provides further information on the reading skills of Grade 4 students and describes home and school supports for literacy in Canada. Results are reported at both the Canadian and international levels, with comparisons across Canadian provinces as well as with participating countries.

In total, 45 countries participated in this third cycle. Canada was represented by nine provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick (French-speaking students), Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. The level of participation varied across Canada, with three provinces participating as international benchmarking participants (Alberta, Ontario, Quebec) and four additional provinces oversampling (British Columbia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick (French), and Newfoundland and Labrador).

Overall, Canada had the largest sample of all participating countries so as to allow for provincial comparisons. This sample included approximately 23,000 Grade 4 students and 1,000 schools, with at least one intact class per school selected. Both English and French Grade 4 classes were randomly selected to write the assessment.

Canadian participation in PIRLS 2011 was coordinated by CMEC.

PIRLS 2011 defined reading literacy as:

…the ability to understand and use those written language forms required by society and/or valued by the individual. Young readers can construct meaning from a variety of texts. They read to learn, to participate in communities of readers in school and everyday life, and for enjoyment.

Three aspects of students' reading literacy were examined:

  • Purposes of reading (i.e., reading for literary experience and reading to acquire and use information);
  • Processes of comprehension (i.e., focusing and retrieving explicitly stated information; making straightforward inferences; interpreting and integrating ideas and information; and examining and evaluating content, language, and textual elements);
  • Reading behaviours and attitudes

During the test, students were asked to answer a number of multiple-choice and constructed-response questions in two 40-minute sessions and then complete a 30-minute questionnaire about personal reading habits. Parents, schools, and teachers were also asked to complete questionnaires about the reading experiences that young children have at home and at school.

Highlights of the 2011 PIRLS pan-Canadian results:

  • Only seven countries performed better than Canada in reading literacy: Hong Kong SAR, the Russian Federation, Finland, Singapore, Northern Ireland, the United States, and Denmark.
  • Generally, students enrolled in English majority-language school systems achieved higher results than those enrolled in French minority-language school systems.
  • Consistent with other large-scale studies, Canadian girls performed better than boys in reading.
  • More young Canadians reached the highest level of performance in reading than students in most other countries did.
  • Canadian parents showed a high level of involvement in early literacy-related activities with their children before they started school.
  • Canadian students with parents who like to read achieved higher scores than did students whose parents do not enjoy reading.
  • Canadian students are among those who like to read the most among participating countries. PIRLS results also confirmed that students' enjoyment of reading has a positive relationship to their reading scores.
  • According to PIRLS results for Canada, reading stories and novels every day is related to higher achievement in reading.
  • Generally, Canadian teachers devote more time to professional development activities than do teachers in most other countries.
  • According to teachers, many Grade 4 students do not come to school ready to learn and lack prerequisite knowledge and skills, sleep, and basic nutrition.
  • Canadian principals believe that their schools have fewer discipline and safety issues than there are in the other countries. However, bullying remains a serious concern for Grade 4 students.