Phonics test does not assess the skills it is supposed to measure

The TES is reporting that the government’s phonics tests, taken by hundreds of thousands of primary pupils each year, are failing to test the skills they claim to measure.

The academics conducted a detailed analysis of the words that pupils were asked to read in the phonics tests, and of the test mark scheme. This showed that children were able to pass the assessment with only basic phonics knowledge – rather than the full understanding of the phonics curriculum that the curriculum calls for.

They also found that, while the test was presented as a measure of pupils’ ability to sound out written letters and create words, in fact, pupils needed vocabulary knowledge to work out how to pronounce 40 per cent of the words. This meant that the test measured vocabulary, as well as phonics.

Speaking at the annual British Educational Research Association conference tomorrow, the academics will call on the phonics curriculum to include only the small number of common sound and letter combinations occurring in English. Children should then move on quickly to reading real books and building up the vocabulary necessary for decoding less phonetically predictable words, they will say.

“This is not an anti-phonics argument,” Dr Solity said, in advance of his presentation. “It is absolutely clear that children need to be taught phonics.”

But, he added, disadvantaged children would benefit from more time devoted to building their vocabularies, rather than learning obscure sound combinations, as they tend to be exposed to fewer words at home than other children.

More at: Phonics test does not assess the skills it is supposed to measure

Do you feel the assessment needs to be made harder so a full knowledge of the curriculum is needed? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter. ~ Sophie

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  1. Nairb1

    Presenting evidence to the government. Forget it. Gibb says phonics is the key to reading. He’s the expert on everything.
    Coincidentally I’m currently working with a small number of schools where reading results, as measured by KS1 and KS2 national tests are less good than expected. All of the schools are saying that the problem is not technical reading skills, it’s vocabulary. This is particularly the case in more disadvantaged areas where vocabulary at home is more restricted.

  2. Nairb1 The switch from opinion and anecdote-based thinking to evidence-based thinking is so profound that we should assume that most people cannot make the shift.
    Sometimes this sort of shift is called a ‘paradigm shift’ and is known to take a generation to make.  As well as ministers, there are real problems with academics where ‘progress is made funeral by funeral’.

  3. Nairb1 When Gibb first talked about phonics, he used evidence (see link below) which did indeed say phonics was the best way of teaching reading.  But he used it to claim ‘synthetic’ phonics was the best way.  That’s not what the evidence said: it said any ‘systematic’ method of teaching phonics did the trick.  This included analytical phonics.
    Gibb constantly mixed up ‘synthetic’ with ‘systematic’, sometimes using both terms singly or together.  This shows a complete lack of understanding.  Now he just says ‘phonics’.

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