This week we received a letter home about the Year One Phonic Screening Check, which eldest will be undertaking the week commencing 17th June 2013.
The Year One Phonics Screening Check, a statutory test which was adopted into the national curriculum last year, checks whether children can decode words to an expected standard, and aims to identify children who need support from school to improve their reading standard. The phonics check features forty test words, which are a mix of real and alien (nonsense) words between one and two syllables. Children have to read them and sound them out, and blend the unknown words. They are marked on whether they can sound out the word using the correct phonemes and graphemes.
The test, which lasts between five and ten minutes, takes place with a known teacher (typically their class teacher) and asks children to sound or blend the word, or say the word using the correct phonetical sound. The success threshold is thirty two words correctly sounded or blended out of forty.
There has been a bit of a buzz in the playground this week as the kids prepare to be tested for the phonics screening and also for the year two SATs. Opinions amongst parents seem to be quite divided. Some parents believe that kids should not be tested so young, and others suggest that testing on one day does not give an accurate indication of a child's progress in literacy. Some parents worry that a more able child may try to make sense of the nonsense words included in the phonics screening and end up failing the test, and others believe that the screening check will give an accurate indication of their child's progress as the child should be able to take the word at face value and differentiate between a real and alien word if they have been taught effectively.
Last year, official figures report that 58% of children reached the expected standard through testing. The year before when a pilot was held, only 32% of children reached the expected standard, which caused some concern amongst critics of the test.
Whatever the opinions, the phonics screening check is quite a new introduction into the curriculum, and so with only one years worth of published results to go on, it is perhaps not yet an accepted tried and tested method of defining a child's progress or ability. Additionally, as it is so new, it is only natural for some parents to be dubious or confused about the testing, or indeed, wonder why they had no prior knowledge of the test at all.
Most, if not all parents want their kids to do well at school and want to help them in any way they can. To this end, I have been reading on some parenting forums about parents who are hoping to "coach" their child for the test to ensure that they pass. Hopefully, if your child's school are worth their salt, they will have been preparing the children for the test all year, and so your child should have a good grasp of phonemes and graphemes (although they may not call them these) and the real and alien words, and so they don't need to be enrolled in a crash course in phonics with an outside tutor.
Hopefully, if your child's school is also worth their salt, through ongoing assessments of your child reading individually to a teacher, TA, or parent helper and regularly in a guided reading group, they will already have a pretty good understanding of your child's needs and reading ability, and won't need to rely on a forty word test as stipulated by the Department for Education, to tell them what they already know. I am a parent helper in my daughter's class and I listen to children read most weeks. I can see, without kids even having taken the test yet, that reading levels have improved week-on-week amongst those who may be identified as "needing extra help" when the test results are published - and that's just from a parents point of view, so I'm sure the teachers have an even better grasp of a child's ability in reading without kids necessarily needing to take a test to identify "nonsense words" such as "splok", when in fact, in my daughter's case, she would rather be off reading the kids version of Romeo and Juliet and fostering a love of literature.
However, having said all of this (and I guess, also completely back tracking in the interests of balance) parents taking an extra interest in phonics over the next couple of weeks, or offering a little extra help in the lead up to phonics screening week may not necessarily be a bad thing, and so there are some great resources online which can help parents to understand how the testing works, and help to prepare their child for the test.
This very comprehensive teacher's presentation on the phonics screening check explains how the test works in a simple, easy to understand way, and answers some frequently asked questions for parents.
There is a downloadable PDF of practice words for the phonics check on the "teach, educate share" website (requires free registration).
I also came across an interesting article on nonsense words - some of their pronunciations certainly challenged me and made me wonder whether us adults would pass the phonics test!
Websites such as the phonics play website and Family Learning can help kids to practice their phonics, as can testing them on the practice words.
For a visual view of the test, here is a training video produced by the Department of Education for teachers, which gives some indication of testing, and helps parents to understand how the testing works.
For those interested in the validity of the year one phonics screening check, author and childrens laureate Michael Rosen has some intriguing insights into children being screened on their knowledge of phonics on his personal blog:
Phonics Screening Check - what we learned
Phonics crap hits fan
Gibbs vs Rosen on Phonics
Rose vs Rosen on Phonics
What do you think of the year one phonics screening check? Are you worried about it? Did your child take the test last year?
I would love to hear from you on your thoughts about the test, and if your child is taking the test, try not to let them get too worried about it.