Phonics Assessments

 Hello! I have so many blog posts that that are half done so my goal this summer is to get them all finished to share with you all! This first one is part of a series focusing on phonics. At the end of this post, I'll put the links to the other phonics posts, too.

This post is all about interpreting your phonics assessments to best meet the needs of your students. We can learn so much from a simple one-minute assessment.

Side note: I've talked to several teachers who have adopted a leveled guided reading program as their main reading instruction, so they mostly use DRA's for assessing student's reading. Phonics assessments are still SO important, no matter what assessments are mandated at your school. I actually do both so I learn a ton about every student. These are especially important in K-1 for identifying students at-risk for reading difficulties and dyslexia, but it is also important for all students.

I start with CVC nonsense words for beginning readers. This post mainly focuses on that, but the same ideas apply to advanced phonics skills. 

While a student is reading the nonsense words, I take note of the sounds they make for each letter, their ability to blend phonemes, their automaticity with identifying sounds, and their rate for reading each word (do they go sound by sound or onset-rime and then blend or are they reading the whole word). 

The picture above shows you some of the notes I take. 
  • The one in the green shows c-u-j, which means that the student sounding it out sound by sound. I'll put c-uj to show if a student decodes with onset and rime. 
  • The one in the blue shows that the student just read the whole word without going sound by sound. When it is correctly read, I simply put a check. When it is read incorrectly, I'll write the whole word the way the child read it. This shows that the child did not decode sound by sound, but rather read it as a whole word (but read it incorrectly).
  • The green also shows what it looks like when the student says the correct sound, but then blends the sounds together incorrectly. For example, "m-u-p/pup" means that the student said the correct sounds for the letters, but then read pup instead of mup

I ask myself these questions to help identify a student's area of need.

This flow chart is another basically saying the same thing as above, just in a more visual way. ;)

Here are a few examples:

You can download this Free CVC word phonics assessment with the rubric by clicking here or the picture below.  

(Want more? Coming soon: I'll be sharing phonics assessments for several phonics skills! I'm getting my newsletter going so this will be free with my subscribers. )

How does a nonsense word assessment help you identify a reader who may have dyslexia?

This quick snapshot measures a student's ability to blends sounds together (which requires phonemic awareness), their alphabetic knowledge, and rapid naming ability (how quickly and automatically they can identify letters and their sounds. Deficits in any or all of these skills can be signs of dyslexia.

Poor phonological processing is a distinguishing feature for students with dyslexia. Lack of phonological awareness can be a predictor of reading disabilities.  In order to read nonsense words, students must have phonological awareness. When they blend the sounds together to read the word, they are demonstrating phonological awareness. When they cannot do that, they are showing you a weakness in phonological processing. This simple, quick assessment cannot identify dyslexia on its own, but it does give you a quick snapshot of who needs extra intervention and it certainly can get your teacher feelers up!

Why nonsense words instead of real words? There are some students who lack phonemic awareness, but actually have a good memory for letters and words. In these cases, a teacher may not notice they have issues because they could be "sight reading" (they have enough words memorized that they can get through simple texts along with picture clues and context). It will catch up to them though! We want to make sure they get the intervention they need early on. I have heard many teachers say, "I don't know why they are struggling. They know all their letters and sounds but just can't sound out words!" I have had students who memorize many of the common CVC words, but then when you show them a nonsense word, they are unable to actually decode it. With this assessment, we are truly evaluating whether or not a student can decode. 

Some students have the opposite problem. They have strong phonemic awareness, but they really struggle to remember letters, their sounds and later, sight words. These students have  Orthographic Dyslexia.These are your students who can't remember a sound associated with a letter or who take a very long time mastering all the letters in the alphabet.  They also have a hard time with spelling. They spell completely phonetically and can't seem to remember the spelling of even the most common sight words. Later in first grade, they may be able to sound out most words quite well, but usually very slowly. This assessment helps you to see those children who may be showing early signs of orthographic dyslexia.

Providing Intervention:
So what should you do when one of your students is struggling in one or more of these areas? I have a few blog posts that may help.