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Part 1 – Using tests to identify problems

Guidance is offered for assessing children who have transferred to a school and who show signs of having reading and writing problems. Information is provided about standardised reading and spelling tests.

 

Part 1: Using tests to identify problems

The previous section emphasised the prevention of reading and writing problems. This section offers suggestions for dealing with children who transfer from other schools at a later date and who are poor at reading and writing.

Start by using a standardised reading and spelling test to obtain the reading and spelling age of each child. I think it is sensible to do this for all children who transfer from other schools. It is useful to have this information and helps the teacher to provide reading books and spelling challenges appropriate for their ability.

However, the main purpose of testing is to identify the children in need of support so that intervention teaching can be organised quickly. If a child seems particularly intelligent, bear in mind that their results should be well above average. The children who score below their chronological age on reading tests are nearly always poor at decoding. Sometimes there is a comprehension problem as well; it makes sense to sort out the decoding problems first and then to concentrate more on comprehension. Usually, when children can read words easily, they tend to understand them. If they do not, give them simpler text to read. Comprehension improves through speaking, listening and reading. This section specifically sets out to deal with the decoding and encoding problems.

Group reading tests

There are many standardised reading tests on the market. Group reading tests are particularly good for testing several children (or in fact a whole class) at the same time. It saves a great deal of time. Usually the tests consist of about 30 sentences, such as The boy slept in a bunk (bed) or Their (journey) took them through the mountains. Each sentence has a word missing; the children have to identify the correct one from a choice of 5 or 6 given words, and put a ring round it [demonstration]. The first sentences are simple and gradually become more complicated. There is an element of comprehension involved in these tests as well as word reading. These tests provide a reading age, a quotient or both.

With quotients, the overall average is between 90 and 110, so children who score 100 are exactly average, those who score less than 90 are below average and those who score more than 110 are above average [demonstration]. From my experience, the children scoring above 100 are good readers who usually go on to do well in their secondary education. The children scoring between 90 and 100 are a slight cause for concern, even though they are generally considered average in the wider sense; they need watching. But a score between 70 and 90 indicates that there are definite problems and that support should be provided. There are no scores provided below the quotient of 70. Children scoring less than this are extremely poor readers – in fact they can hardly read at all.

Single word reading tests

Single-word reading tests have individual words that the children are expected to read. The first words are reasonably simple, such as up, hot, like, look and have, and become progressively harder, ending up with words like gradual, women, volcano, hospital and reliable [demonstration]. There is no context so it is impossible to deduce the word. It is a quick and easy test to administer but only one child can be tested at a time.

Spelling tests

Most spelling tests are single word tests; each word is dictated and the children write it down. Usually more than 30 words are tested. Sometimes sentences are provided and the child has to spell the missing word. Nowadays there are online tests, which are very useful, too. In fact, there are many different types of standardised tests. I have mentioned just a few of them.

Ideally it is sensible to select tests that provide a reading age and a spelling age. Most people, especially parents, find it easier to understand results in terms of age, rather than in quotients or percentiles. Teachers are usually aware when a child is not reading or spelling well enough. The tests provide useful evidence of just how far a child is behind.

What most of the tests do not do is identify why a child is having problems and what must be done to rectify it. Advice about this is provided below. Sometimes one-to-one intervention is necessary, especially if the child has failed for several years and has a poor attitude to reading. A quick, one-to-one crash course in their new school can be exceedingly effective. Once a child starts to understand that reading and writing is a code and that all (s)he has to do is to learn the missing bits, the child’s attitude often changes from negative to positive.

Identifying the problems

Usually it is more difficult to rectify problems if the children are older than seven. They often have big chips on their shoulders. They have been struggling and failing for a long time and – understandably – feel resentful. Nearly always, the children think that the fault lies with them and that they are not clever enough. This we know is just not true. Somewhere along the line, the teaching has gone wrong and there has been insufficient support. So what are the best ways of dealing with these children?

Supporting struggling children

In my view, I think it is best to be honest with the children and tell them the results of their reading and spelling tests. Then explain that you are going to assess their code-knowledge to find out why it is so difficult for them to read and write and to determine what will be done to sort out the difficulties. Nearly always, the problem is that the children do not know enough letter sounds and are weak at blending and segmenting.

  • Letter-Sound Knowledge - Steps 1 - 3

    Print the first sheet and ask the child to say the sounds for the letters, recording any that are not known. Some letters represent more than one sound, which the child should also know. The second and third sheets provide guidance for these alternative sounds.

  • Letter-Sound Knowledge - Steps 1 - 3 - print letters

    Print the first sheet and ask the child to say the sounds for the letters, recording any that are not known. Some letters represent more than one sound, which the child should also know. The second and third sheets provide guidance for these alternative sounds.

  • Letter-Sound Knowledge - Steps 4 - 5

    Print the first sheet and ask the child to say the sounds for the letters, recording any that are not known. Some letters represent more than one sound, which the child should also know. The second and third sheets provide guidance for these alternative sounds.

  • Letter-Sound Knowledge - Steps 4 - 5 - print letters

    Print the first sheet and ask the child to say the sounds for the letters, recording any that are not known. Some letters represent more than one sound, which the child should also know. The second and third sheets provide guidance for these alternative sounds.

  • Tricky Words - Steps 3 - 6

    Print this sheet and ask the children to read the tricky words, recording any that are not known. Use dictation to find out how well they can spell them.

  • Tricky Words - Steps 3 - 6 - print letters

    Print this sheet and ask the children to read the tricky words, recording any that are not known. Use dictation to find out how well they can spell them.

  • Suitable words for testing the skill of blending

    These words are not frequently read by young children, so they are suitable for testing how well a child can blend unknown words. The words start with letter sounds the children learnt initially and progress to the more unusual letter sounds in Step 5.