Get your school ahead of the curve with phonics-based assessments

As more states embrace the evidence and success of early phonics instruction this is the time to get your school ahead of the curve. One of the most effective actions you can take as part of your school’s early literacy program is to get informed with regular assessments for students in Foundation and Year 1. These checks will also provide a good indicator of your school’s performance ahead of the mandatory Phonics Screening Checks in NSW and SA.

Pinpoint where support is needed

Literacy is a foundational skill that has enormous flow-on effects in
terms of student outcomes. The aim of assessment and monitoring of
progress in early years is not to rank students or establish a hierarchy
of performance, but to inform teachers and schools of their group’s
progress and where to direct additional efforts, and particularly, to
gently identify and support any child who needs help, at the earliest
moment possible.

For students that need extra help, the earlier an intervention can take place, the better. The further a child falls behind, the harder it is to make up that ground. The impact can compound and spiral beyond a reading difficulty affecting performance and engagement with other curriculum areas, impacting confidence and other areas of learning for years to come. Left unchecked, this can be very damaging in the long term to a child’s opportunities.

Multiple checks are better than one

The NSW and SA Phonics Screening Checks (PSC) are now mandated for students in Year 1. With evidence pointing to the PSC’s effectiveness in identifying children in need of further support in early literacy, other Australian states are expected to also embrace the approach, which helps teachers respond to the information gathered and intervene early enough before reading problems become entrenched.

By establishing a program of regular testing in Foundation and Year 1, your staff will access informative snapshots to help them monitor progress, tailor teaching, move ahead with confidence or identify areas for additional revision, and to enlist special additional support where needed. This is an effective and responsive way to maximise the reading progress of your students and should form part of a school’s strong initial literacy instruction approach. Giving teachers time, tools and training to implement a school-wide program of assessment will set you on a course for success.

The challenges of spotting reading difficulties

Children can be good at masking their struggles. By memorising texts, seeking pictorial clues, guessing at words, or simply avoiding the task, a child can sometimes manage to escape detection as a struggling reader unless a strong system is in place. This is one of the reasons why testing using non-words is important. Assessing non-words will demonstrate a reader’s ability to ‘sound out’ unfamiliar words by assembling their component letter combinations (a process known as phonological recoding). If a child struggles here, it indicates they haven’t yet grasped the key skill of decoding and may need some additional help in this area.

Two tests for young readers

MultiLit offers two tests for early learners in Kindy/Reception/Prep and Year 1: the Wheldall Assessment of Reading Lists (WARL) and the new Wheldall Assessment of Reading Nonwords (WARN). The two tools work side-by-side, assessing a child’s ability to decode (reading lists of regular words) and recode (reading lists of non-words).

Developed by MultiLit’s leading education research unit, each test is quick and simple to administer and consists of a student reading words on a list in a one-minute timeframe. The test provides one-on-one opportunities for teachers to check in with each student, to ensure they detect early reading difficulties, monitor progress over the course of the school year, and remediate any difficulties. These two assessments also perform a vital role when used alongside MultiLit’s InitiaLit–Foundation, InitiaLit–1 and MiniLit programs.

Why test non-words?

MultiLit’s newest assessment tool, WARN, limits a child’s ability to mask their struggle with early phonics skills. Because the words are unfamiliar and made-up, the assessment specifically calls on the student to recognise letters and their associated sounds to demonstrate their recoding skills. The test may equally be used as a valuable predictor of students’ success in the Phonics Screening Check.

To help schools more effectively monitor students’ progress, WARN will be included with all new purchases of InitiaLit–Foundation – our best-practice whole-class instruction program, and MiniLit Sage – our forthcoming evidence-based intervention support program for young readers.

For enquiries about our new assessment tools or for more information, please contact Emily Garlan.