PISA: defining literacy

PISA assesses reading literacy, as opposed to reading. Reading is often interpreted, in a general, non-academic context, as reading aloud or simply converting text into sounds. PISA conceives of reading literacy as a broader set of competencies that allows readers to engage with written information, presented in one or more texts, for a specific purpose. (RAND Reading Study Group and Snow, 2002; Perfetti, Landi and Oakhill, 2005).

To engage with what they read, readers must understand the text and integrate this with their pre-existing knowledge. They must examine the author’s (or authors’) point of view and decide whether the text is reliable and truthful, and whether it is relevant to their goals or purpose. (Bråten, Strømsø and Britt, 2009).

PISA also recognises that reading is a daily activity for most people, and that education systems need to prepare students to be able to adapt to the variety of scenarios in which they will need to read as adults. These scenarios range from their own personal goals and development initiatives, to their experiences in further and continuing education, and to their interactions at work, with public entities, in online communities and with society at large. It is not enough to be a proficient reader; students should also be motivated to read and be able to read for a variety of purposes. (Britt, Rouet and Durik, 2017; van den Broek et al., 2011).

All of these considerations are reflected in the PISA 2018 definition of reading literacy:

Reading literacy is understanding, using, evaluating, reflecting on and engaging with texts in order to achieve one’s goals, to develop one’s knowledge and potential, and to participate in society.

PISA 2018: Complete Results, Vol 1 (p. 34)

I think this works. I think of literacy in the deep sense of being able to read with fluency and with critical understanding, and to write both to communicate and to think. I think PISA’s definition blunts the skeptical edge of “critical” with “evaluating” but is better for the addition of “reflection” and a range of purposes.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...