How the national phonics test is failing England and why it will fail Australia too

By Misty Adoniou

A national test of phonics skills will not improve faltering literacy standards in Australia. The test is being imported from England where it has been in place since 2011. It has failed to improve national standards in reading in England. Instead the phonics frenzy of testing and practicing nonsense words that has accompanied the implementation of the test appears to be narrowing classroom practice and damaging literacy standards.

The test itself is ill conceived and poorly structured. Should we wish to test the phonological awareness of our six year olds this test would be inadequate.

So how did we end up even considering the test for Australian children? The process that led to this test being recommended for all Australian six year olds was deeply flawed and is an unfortunate example of the growing influence of ultra-conservative think tanks on educational policy.

What is the phonics screening check?

The phonics screening check is a test devised in England. It is conducted one on one with Year 1 students (typically aged 6). The children are presented with 40 decodable words. Twenty are pseudo words that are indicated as such by an accompanying alien icon. The other 20 are real words, but ideally unknown to the students.

The rationale is that this is a test of pure phonic knowledge, not vocabulary or sight word knowledge. Students need to score 32 from 40 to pass the Check. Those who don’t pass are given intervention using a government mandated synthetic phonics program.

Why was the check recommended and who was involved?

Jennifer Buckingham from the conservative think tank, the Centre for Independent Studies, was appointed to chair the panel that was tasked with conducting an independent review of the need for Year 1 Literacy and Numeracy checks.

Dr Buckingham was a public advocate for England’s Phonic Screening Check before she was appointed to head the review and write the report. And she continued to publicly advocate for the Check whilst conducting the review, and before the review’s final report was released. So the report’s findings were not surprising.

What was surprising was the report’s lack of reference to any of the peer reviewed research studies that have been conducted on the Phonics Screening Check since its introduction in England.

A review of that research finds little value in the Phonics Screening Check.

The phonics check is not helping England; in fact England is going backwards

The Check is not improving reading comprehension scores in England. This year’s literacy test results are disturbing.

Scores on the phonics screening check do not correlate with scores in reading comprehension tests as measured by England’s national SAT reading tests in Year 2 and Year 6.

In 2016, 91% of Year 1 students passed the Phonics Screening Check. This was lauded as evidence the Check was working because it was forcing teachers to focus on phonics, and therefore students were passing the Check at higher rates than ever before.

In 2017 these ‘successful’ phonics-ready students sat their Year 2 Key Stage 1 reading comprehension test. To pass this reading comprehension test, children only had to score 25 from 40 questions. However, only 76% passed. And only 61% of low SES students passed the test.

It appears then that being poor has more to do with your reading comprehension achievement than knowing your sounds.

It also seems the phonics check hasn’t solved the gender puzzle in reading achievement, as girls consistently outperform boys on both the phonics check (by 7 percentage points in 2017) and the reading comprehension tests (by 9 percentage points in 2017).

Again in 2017, Year 6 children sat the Key Stage 2 Reading comprehension test. These are children who sat the Phonics Screening Check in 2011. Those who didn’t pass were placed in synthetic phonics programs mandated by the English Department of Education, until they passed the Check. Yet, this year, only 71% reached the minimum benchmark in their Year 6 reading comprehension test.

Thus, in 2017, more than 1 in 4 English children in Year 6 are not able to read with basic comprehension. The phonics inoculation they were given in their early years patently hasn’t worked, and there is trouble ahead as they move into high school. England should feel very nervous about the next round of PISA results.

The test fails to deliver on any of its claims

Buckingham’s report to the Minister describes the check as a ‘light-touch’ assessment. The research indicates that this is a problematic claim on two counts. It is too ‘light’ to identify and diagnose reading difficulties, but its prominence as a mandatory standardised assessment means its influence on literacy instruction has not been ‘light’.

As a short assessment, it assesses a limited range of phoneme/grapheme relationships, which limits its use as a phonics check. Recent research in England, which pointed this out, goes on to question the purpose and validity of the check.

As a partial assessment of only one reading skill it cannot give a diagnosis of a reading difficulty, and it can offer no direction for subsequent interventions.

Indeed the check has been found to be no more accurate than a teacher’s judgement in identifying struggling readers.

In short, the check doesn’t tell teachers anything they didn’t know already. And it doesn’t tell them what kind of instructional intervention their identified strugglers need.

Heavy-handed effect in England

The phonics screening check has had a very heavy-handed effect on literacy instruction in England. The UK Literacy Association claims it has failed a generation of able readers in the UK.

Students who don’t pass the check are required to re-sit the test after yearlong participation in the government mandated synthetic phonics program. These programs relentlessly drill the children in out-of-context phonic decoding to prepare them to read the unknown or alien words in the check. The deliberate focus on these non-meaningful words has shifted the focus of literacy instruction away from meaning, despite the fact that evidence suggests that the ability to read pseudo words is not a good predictor of later reading comprehension

England now has the farcical situation where literacy time is spent teaching struggling Year 1 and Year 2 readers to decode pseudo words to pass a test.

As a consequence of the over emphasis on synthetic phonic decoding skills, other reading skills have been sidelined. The very purpose of reading, comprehension, has dropped off the instructional agenda as schools focus on ensuring their students pass the phonics screening check.

Flawed reasoning behind recommending the test 

The report provided to the Minister by the panel headed by Buckingham claims the check is required because early reading assessments currently used in every state and territory in Australia are inadequate. The report provides a table of ‘necessary’ components of a phonics check, although it is not made clear what research has been drawn upon to come up with those components.

Notwithstanding this limitation, analysis of the English Phonics Screening Check shows it does not even meet these, the panel’s own requirements for a valid phonics check. Indeed the existing Northern Territory Foundations of Early Literacy Assessment (FELA) meets more of the panel’s criteria than the proposed Check does.

The Check contains both real and pseudo words. The real words are ideally not in the children’s existing vocabulary. The rationale for the inclusion of pseudo and unfamiliar real words is to ensure the children are relying solely on their phonic knowledge rather than prior familiarity with the word. Thus the check is supposed to be a pure assessment of phonic knowledge.

It does not do that. The test itself is flawed.

Detailed analysis of the flaws in the test

An analysis of 10 of the 40 words in the 2017 English Phonics Screening Check is provided below. The analysis confirms research findings that the Check is neither a pure test of phonic knowledge, nor an accurate assessment of phonic skills.

Scoring real word decoding in the 2017 Check

To achieve a correct answer on the 20 unfamiliar real words in the check, a student must correctly read the ‘real’ word, and not use any other plausible phonic decoding for that word. This makes the Check a vocabulary test rather than a phonics test.

For example, ‘groups’ must be read so the ‘ou’ is pronounced as /oo/. If the children decode this word with the ‘ou’ pronounced as /ow/ as in ‘house’, or /u/ as in ‘tough’, they are marked wrong.

As such, the child is marked on their existing knowledge of the word and its pronunciation. The children who used other accurate phonic possibilities for the letters ‘ou’ are marked incorrect, and we are left with inaccurate information about their phonic knowledge.

Similarly ‘chum’ must be read with the ‘ch’ pronounced as /ch/ in chip, not /k/ as in Chris or /sh/ as in chef.

‘Blot’ must be decoded to rhyme with ’hot’. If the ‘o’ is pronounced as the ‘o’ in ‘so’ or ‘go’ the student is marked wrong.

The ‘oa’ in ‘goal’ must be pronounced to rhyme with ‘foal’. If the student breaks the word into go – al, using the pattern found in ‘boa’, they are marked as wrong.

These examples show the children are being marked on their vocabulary knowledge, not their ability to use phonic knowledge. They are being marked wrong, despite plausible phonic decoding, and as such we have not gathered accurate information about their phonic strengths and weaknesses.

Scoring pseudo word decoding in the 2017 Check

To achieve a correct score for the pseudo words, the students must decode the word using only the phonemes identified in the marking guidelines.

For example, the pseudo word ‘braits’ is only marked correct when the ‘ai’ is pronounced as /ay/ as in ‘rains’. If the child decodes the word using the /a/ in ‘plaits’, or the /e/ in ‘said’, they are marked incorrect.

Given ‘braits’ is not a real word it is unclear why only one phonological interpretation is allowable. And it is unclear what we have learned about the child’s phonological skills, given they were marked wrong when their decoding was correct.

The pseudo word ‘zued’ is only marked correct if the ‘ue’ is pronounced as /oo/ as in ’too’, ‘to’ or ‘two’. If the students use any other pronunciation of ‘ue’ as heard in ‘duet’, ‘cruel’, ‘suede’ or ‘cue’ they are marked incorrect.

The ‘ue’ pattern is assessed yet again in the pseudo word ‘splue’. Once again the only decoding effort marked as correct is the /oo/ as in ’too’, ‘to’ or ‘two’.

The ‘ue’ digraph is being tested twice in 40 words, and with only the one pronunciation marked as correct. It leaves unanswered how the ‘ue’ in ‘cue’, ‘league’, ‘duet’, ‘cruel’, and ‘suede’ might be assessed.

‘Tay’ is designated a pseudo word in the 2017 test, which I’m sure the Scots would be surprised to hear given it is the name of Scotland’s longest river. Another reason for Scottish independence perhaps?

To score correctly on this word the students must rhyme it with ‘pay’.

However it turns out ‘tay’ is also a real word in the vocabulary of a Turkish 6 year old. It is the Turkish word for a baby horse – pronounced like the English word ‘tie’ to rhyme with ‘aye’.

It is also a real word in the vocabulary of a Vietnamese 6 year old. It is the Vietnamese word for hand – also pronounced like the English word ‘tie’ to rhyme with ‘aye’.

What information has been gained, or missed, about these children’s linguistic competence by marking their decoding as incorrect?

Scoring two syllable words in the 2017 Check

There are 36 one syllable decodable words in the Check, and 4 two-syllable words. The two syllable words are particularly problematic when using a synthetic left to right decoding method, which is the theoretical basis of the Check, and the accompanying mandated instructional interventions.

‘Model’ was one of those four two-syllable words in 2017.

If the word is decoded left to right using synthetic decoding processes we are likely to read the word as ‘mo’ to rhyme with ‘so’ and ‘del’ to rhyme with ‘hell’. As a consequence we end up with a word that sounds like the way we pronounce the word ‘modal’. If a child decodes the word in this manner, they will be marked wrong in the check.

It is necessary to have the word ‘model’ in your vocabulary to pronounce it correctly, to know which syllable takes the emphasis, and to know that that the second vowel is reduced to a schwa sound.

‘Reptiles’ is also on the 2017 test. Using the left to right approach taught in synthetic phonics programmes this word can be plausibly broken up as follows: rep – til – es. This would be marked wrong in the Check. Marking such an attempt as incorrect would fail to take account of the phonic knowledge the student has. Consider, in contrast, if the word had been ‘similes’. If the child had broken the word into si – miles, they would have been marked as incorrect The only way a child would know to break the words into rep – tiles, or sim -il -es, is if they have the word already in their vocabulary.

So the check is failing in even what it is purporting to do, that is measure phonological processing.

England should pull the plug on this test

The Phonics Check has failed to deliver the desired improvements in reading comprehension in England. It was worth a shot, but it is time to pull the plug.

It has failed because it attends to only one early reading skill, and thus distorts reading instruction in the early years to the detriment of reading comprehension in the later years.

It has failed because the Check is faulty, and ill constructed. It is unable to successfully assess the one skill it seeks to assess, phonological processing, and as such cannot even provide accurate diagnostic information to teachers.

Facing our literacy challenges in Australia

Australia can avoid falling into the same trap. Like England, we clearly have literacy challenges in the upper years of primary and secondary school. Our NAPLAN results for Year 7 and 9 make this very evident. But these are not challenges with the basic skills of phonological decoding of simple words and nonsense stories of Pip and Nip. These are challenges with depth of vocabulary and the capacity to deal with the complex syntactic structures of written texts across the disciplines.

It is crucial the State and Territory Ministers of Education are not distracted from these real challenges by placing false hope in a Phonics Screening Check. It is time to dump the idea.


Misty Adoniou PhD is Associate Professor in Language, Literacy and TESL at the University of Canberra. She was a primary school teacher for 10 years before moving to Greece and teaching and consulting in the area of English Language Teaching for 7 years. She has received numerous Teaching Awards including the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence, and was the Lead Writer of the Federal Government’s Teachers’ Resource for English Additional Language/Dialect (EAL/D) learners. She sits on a number of national and international advisory boards as a literacy expert.


Misty Adoniou with UK Professors Greg Brooks (member of the Rose Report Panel), Terry Wrigley, and Henrietta Dombey have contributed to a book edited by distinguished researcher Margaret Clark (OBE) published this month outlining how England came to adopt the Phonics Screening Check and providing more detail of its impact on teaching and learning as well as its costs.

Margaret Clark (Ed) (2017) Reading the Evidence : Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning. Glendale Education, Birmingham available on Amazon

47 thoughts on “How the national phonics test is failing England and why it will fail Australia too

  1. Sara Peden says:

    People from all over the Commonwealth / English speaking world are dealing with these issues. When I read the hyperbolic “growing influence of ultra-conservative” think tanks” I’m tempted not to read any further. I’m a school psychologist who knows about the role of phonological/phonemic awareness and phonics in teaching children to read (and thereby contribute to breaking cycles of poverty). I’m no ultra-conservative think tank. I’m a expert in the field who reads research critically. I have the background and capability to evaluate research methods, understand the data analysis, identify weaknesses and situate the results of studies within a wider body of knowledge about reading and reading instruction. I think that progressive educators may have political motivations for devaluing the science of reading/reading instruction. It isn’t conservatives doing that. Why is it okay to deny the science of reading and reading instruction? Those who do that with climate change are derided. Why is it different in another critical area, providing every child with the tools for lifelong success?

  2. Misty Adoniou says:

    Thanks Sara for taking the time to comment. You are right, it is crucial that we take account of all the evidence and all the data available to us as we seek to make the best policy decisions. What was your response to the statistics and research data that was presented in this article?

  3. Sara Peden says:

    I thought that the commentary and data/statistics used were misleading in light of the overall body of evidence with respect to how to teach children to read.

    I don’t think that your analysis accounts for the fact that phonics includes not only the straightforward phoneme / grapheme relationships but the complex rules of when certain letter combinations make certain sounds in the context of English words.

    Most of the criticisms were missing the point of how screening assessments work (they aren’t meant to be diagnostic and they will always create some balance of false positives and false negatives. That is where policy decisions are needed to decide what to use as cut scores etc. (based at least to some extent on what resources are available to intervene). To the extent that screening is not the function of the “Phonics check” – that’s a problem. A “check” on overall teacher practice should be secondary to the function of screening.

    It is really clear to me that anti-measurement, anti-testing, progressive pedagogies are heavily influencing the commentary in the article. If psychometric/edu-metric expertise was behind the article, and people were really looking to do what will help the most children learn to read, any of the legitimate concerns raised would lead to the conclusion “there are a few items that may need to be looked at. With those one or two adjustments, this phonics screening could be a powerful tool to ensure almost all children learn to read.”

    The fact that all the arguments are basically straw-man arguments, is disconcerting. I am sure that no-one involved in the analysis can have a strong background in educational measurement. Will you state unequivocally that you would be happy to adopt a psycho-metrically sound phonics screening measure? If so, then please do so. If not, then please argue your real point, that you don’t want a phonics measure at all.

    You will not find it easy to provide scientific evidence that supports more progressive (whole language derived) approaches to reading instruction as effective over and above approaches that begin with a solid foundation in phonics and the structure/morphology of words and the English language.

    When you say “It has failed because it attends to only one early reading skill, and thus distorts reading instruction in the early years to the detriment of reading comprehension in the later years.” it is notable that there is no evidence accompanying that statement.

    Please argue the real issue. If you think that attending to phonics “distorts reading instruction” let’s have that argument. The second half of the sentence “to the detriment of reading comprehension in later years” is so contrary to the science that it looks like it must be a deliberate avoidance of the evidence. If we are just going to argue that phonics is necessary, albeit not sufficient, science will win.

  4. Misty Adoniou says:

    Thanks Sara.
    I appreciate the time you have put into your response, but you appear to be refuting arguments that I have not made.

    The article specifically critiques the existing English Phonics Screening Check which is the check that will be imported and used in all Year 1 classrooms in Australia.
    The cut off score for passing the check is 32 from 40.

    In answer to your question – I have no qualms about assessing children’s early reading skills. All of them. In fact in the article I pointed out the Northern Territory’s FELA is a screening check that is much more comprehensive and informative than the English one.

    And I couldn’t agree more – a solid foundation in phonics and the structure/morphology of words and the English language is crucial to literacy success. I wrote a book about it, in fact. Spelling it out – how words work and how to teach them, for Cambridge University Press. The English check however, does not attend to these additional features.

    It is possible to support phonics instruction whilst simultaneously critiquing the validity of the English screening check.

    Emeritus Professor Greg Brooks, co author of the 2006 Torgerson review into phonics for the Rose Review, and phonics advocate, says in a book published just last week,
    ‘I remain firmly of the view that imposing the Year 1 phonics test on 5 and 6 year olds is an abomination – why has all moral sense of the fitness of things educational deserted those who advocate it?’
    pg 79 in Reading the Evidence: Synthetic phonics and literacy learning Edited by Margaret Clark OBE.

  5. Sara Peden says:

    So I am glad you support phonics instruction along with morphology and etymology.

    At the same time, if I understand you correctly, you object to phonics screening using this particular measure (the English Phonics Screening Check). You like a different screen that is more comprehensive.

    So, I am now just trying to understand if it is the particular test (English Phonics Screening Check) or if you are against any screening of phonics knowledge at the end of Year 1?

    i.e. if there were a phonics screening test, consisting of words and pseudo-words, where you liked all the items and were confident that the cut-score would identify almost all children who were likely to have decoding difficulties unless they are provided with more intensive intervention, would you be in favour of that screening measure?

    Or is the objection that the only thing for which “screening” is being done, is phonics?

    By the way – I think that the part of the real issue is that people in this debate are using “testing” and “screening” as though they were interchangeable. From a measurement perspective they are not the same. The validity of a test depends on the purpose for which it is chosen.

    Would you help me to understand what the intended purpose is of the English Phonics Screening Check and is it your understanding that the same purpose is why Australia may adopt the Check?

  6. Misty Adoniou says:

    The objection is twofold.
    1. The only thing being screened for is phonics
    2. This particular screen is not even performing that function well.

    The Australian government was prompted to introduce the check because of sliding results in the PISA tests of 15 year olds in 2012 and 2015.

  7. Sara Peden says:

    So I’m glad to hear that it is being used for what it was designed, i.e., Screening. The purpose of screening is different than testing for formative, diagnostic or summative purposes. By definition a screen is to choose some manner of very quickly finding most students who are likely to have a problem, at the least cost.

    Screens will, by definition, have false positives (identifying children as potentially having a problem, when they don’t), and false negatives (failing to identify a child who ends up having reading difficulty). If you are in favour of a screen that takes 5 minutes or less to do, what would you use other than phonics, at the end of Year 1?

    What I haven’t heard much about is what procedures would be in place, in Australia, to use the results? If the results are to be used as screener results should be used, then most of the objections should fall away. In England, I understand that the results lead to intervention to ensure that the student has every opportunity to learn phonics even if they are the student that takes more hours of instruction than is typical for most children.

    If the screening system is set up properly, then either there are exit points along the way during the more intensive intervention. Or, an even better approach is to refer, for more comprehensive diagnostic reading assessment, any child who is is identified during the screen as being at-risk for not developing adequate reading decoding (note-there is no need to use the label “failed”).

    I guess what I’m trying to emphasize is that this conversation would likely be advanced further with more discussion of validity. If the participants were all talking about what they understand the “real” purpose to be (screening not testing) – then I think it is likely that more would agree that it makes sense to have a screen at the end of Year 1.

    It makes sense to know what you are going to do with the results of the screen. It makes sense to use the results for what they are designed to do/good at, and to NOT use the results for purposes that they were not designed for/aren’t good at. So, a phonics screen is to identify children at risk for decoding problems. That’s good as long as people aren’t talking about it as though it is measuring reading at the end of year 1. You’re in favour of teaching phonics because you know it’s important. It’s still a puzzle to me why you aren’t in favour of a screen at the end of Year 1 to catch students who are at-risk and make sure that they get what they need.

    Seems to me effort would be better spent on making sure that there is a darn good plan in place for exactly what the procedures are following the screen. What will be done to mitigate the risks for individuals given the known fact of false positives and false negatives. Where are the safety nets/double-checks, down the line?

  8. Sara Peden says:

    I haven’t used the screening test in question (but am now familiar with its structure). I should point out that I have now seen “10 minutes” as estimated time to administer rather than “5” which I’d seen earlier. 10 makes sense. for students still at a stage where they need some time for each word. Can anybody with extensive experience give us a knowledgeable answer as to a time range it takes to administer?

  9. Rob Francis says:

    I believe in the importance of teaching synthetic phonics. However, to test for it is another question. I do not support this.

    Quality teaching will always result in quality assessment by teachers.

  10. Berys Dixon says:

    2. Yes, Rob but the truth of the matter is that teachers themselves are lacking the knowledge of how to teach phonics effectively. The vast majority of them don’t even know what synthetic phonics is. Google this term into the search bar of the Victorian curriculum and you’ll get nothing. The phonics test, which takes about 5 minutes, will hopefully alert teachers to the fact that there is no quality teaching of this part of the reading process in their classrooms. At the moment, here in Victoria, we have a curriculum which repeatedly tells teachers to direct children to look at the picture and first letter of a word and guess! That’s not reading. And by the way, I’ve tested children with the phonics check. They really enjoyed it even though they had not been taught with synthetic phonics and couldn’t reach the benchmark.

  11. Sara Peden says:

    So are you contending that every child is getting quality teaching of phonics which results in quality assessment by teachers? If not, why wouldn’t a screen (ias opposed to a test) make sense? If you are providing quality teaching, maybe it isn’t about you? I would say that if even a small percentage of teachers didn’t know how to teach phonics well it would be worth having a check, wouldn’t you? Right now, since many haven’t had opportunity to do the deep learning that it takes to teach phonics really effectively, I think it naive to believe that every teacher can provide quality teaching of phonics resulting in quality assessment of phonics. Many teachers in my country would say point-blank that they can’t because they haven’t got the content knowledge. They provide quality teaching and assessment in things that they have the content knowledge for. It isn’t as though you can determine quality of teaching absent the content.

  12. Has anyone checked out the reading/spelling strategies advocated in the SSP approach currently used in some schools? It addresses the importance of comprehension at the same time as teaching phonics in a speech to written language approach. I am seeing great progress in my school.

  13. Beryl Exley says:

    Thanks Misty, clear and purposeful, as per usual. I support the teaching of phonics as one part of a multi-part strategy for developing accurate, fluent and critical readers. What I don’t support is:
    1. a misplaced emphasis on the teaching and testing of synthetic phonics;
    2. a national program of testing that presupposes becoming a reader can be matched to a student’s chronological age or a year level;
    3. a normalised public measure of ‘pass’ and ‘fail’ that does not take into account different starting points for young children’s journeys in becoming a reader; and
    4. the public devaluing of the professionalism of teachers to make decisions about the form and timing of literacy assessments for the children in the early years.

  14. Robyn Frencham says:

    I really appreciated your detailed analysis of the UK Phonics Test. To support teachers in the quality teaching of reading requires far more than a simplistic synthetic phonics approach. I would love to see these millions of dollars spent on providing professional learning support for teachers across the country. Thanks Misty.

  15. Dr Debra Edwards says:

    An important issue and yes we need to separate the teaching and testing issues. It is important to consider the call for phonics testing within the current political and social environment. Not to consider the evidence from the U.K.
    experience with the same screening test that is proposed for Australia is a disservice to the same children the test is supposed to be assisting. Let’s look at the evidence from the U.K. as to the whether or not this particular testing approach has resulted in improved outcomes for those students struggling with reading, rather than deconstructing the way that Misty presents her argument.

  16. Suzi says:

    Hi Misty

    Thank you for your well-researched and detailed article. It all makes sense and as a teacher for over twenty years, I couldn’t agree more with what you say about teachers instinctively knowing that children are experiencing problems with phonics/ phonemic awareness. I also agree that a test such as this is not going to solve the reading problems some children have. Your excellent examples demonstrate the flawed nature of the test. My issue is that I know that not all teachers teach phonics/ phonemic awareness skills explicitly and systematically. I understand and accept the importance of comprehension, but as the research clearly shows, these skills are vital to the development of reading skills, I guess what I am saying is that whilst I understand the importance of a balanced reading program, I also understand the importance of systematic teaching of phonics and phonemic awareness, which I think has now been seen as even less important due to the negative publicity for it. What role do you see phonics and phonemic awareness as playing in the development of reading skills given the research that has been published regarding its effectiveness? I am from NSW where L3 is prevalent in many schools. From discussions and observations, the focus swings very heavily towards meaning and phonics and phonemic awareness is not a priority. This is a problem and perhaps is contributing to the perception that teachers are not teaching phonics and phonemic awareness properly. I do also understand that some children don’t require this explicitness – they just absorb it due to their home experiences (my daughter was one of these children), but the majority of children require explicit teaching of phonics and phonemic awareness. The issue I believe is firstly ensuring that teachers are focussing in all five aspects of reading effective reading instruction, phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension and then convincing the public and government that this is indeed occurring in schools.

  17. Misty Adoniou says:

    Hi Suzi, I think the explicit teaching of phonics is absolutely necessary, particularly for writing. I also think the explicit teaching of morphology and etymology is crucial. And whilst we are at it, I think we need to teach children grammar so that they can manipulate their sentences in powerfully persuasive, informative and imaginative ways 🙂

    But back to phonological knowledge:
    I believe teachers and children need to know the historical reason for why the words ‘what, where, when and why’ start with ‘wh’, and not simply explain it away as a silent ‘h’. I believe they need to know that ‘sixty’ isn’t s -i -x – t – y but six – ty and the ‘ty’ on the end of sixty is a German suffix that means multiples of ten, and ‘teen’ means the addition of ten. I believe they need to know that the ‘s’ on the end of – he walks – is a third person suffix, whilst on the end of – i take my dog for walks – it is a suffix marking the plural. I believe they need know that the ‘w’ in ‘two’ can be heard in, and explained by, the related words of twin, twelve and twenty. I believe they should know that the ‘ed’ on the end of jumped is the suffix that marks the simple past tense (even though it sounds like a ‘t’),

    . In short, I believe they should be taught the why of phonics not just the what. When we teach phonics in this meaningful manner – rather than simply as an auditory skill – then we build conceptual knowledge, vocabulary knowledge, spelling knowledge and comprehension skills, alongside sound phonological knowledge.

    I think the problem has been that people have considered phonics as separate to comprehension – as one commenter here has suggested. But they are not, the graphemes of English are inextricably linked to the morphemes of English. It makes sense to teach them that way.

    So – I’m with you 🙂 we need to ensure that teachers are focussing on all aspects of reading instruction.

    I expect everybody agrees on that. What seems to be the sticking point is whether the phonics check will be a positive contribution to that aim.

    For my money, we’d be far better off providing professional learning to teachers so that they understand the wonderful ways in which English words work, and what effective instruction might look like so they can pass that insight and enthusiasm onto their students.

  18. Lisa Barnett says:

    Well said! In my experience (23+ years) teaching as you have described above has been nothing short of a game-changer. I teach the lowest performing students and they are making some of the highest gains. Phonics is not all it is cracked up to be. It is an isolated skill set that fails nearly as often as it works— a statistic that is not worthy of teaching.

    26 letters of the alphabet make up tens of thousands of words which are merely messages of our thinking sent in the form of text. Language conveys our thoughts to others. Uncovering morphology and making meaningful connections through etymology and phonology is a brilliant way of learning literacy skills. Phonology makes much more sense through the lens of critical thinking than isolating alphabet letters. Students absorb so much more and learn how to discern true facts by collecting evidence in the language.

    Thank you for braving the waters to shed light on these screeners.

  19. martin says:

    Hi Misty ,I agree with your last comment here. Teachers should be given professional training in Synthetic phonics by accredited experts in the subject.
    By doing so they would then be able to analytically interpret the results of the check.
    This should also be taught in teacher training courses.
    You have to realise that guessing is the method you have if you don’t have a method .

    A picture may represent a thousand words but the little scratches on a page convey the words and abstract thoughts of a Shakespeare or Einstein . Predicting the next words of original thought by people of this ilk or less is a tad difficult. Reading their words as they wrote them is the only way to fathom their thoughts and those of any author of fact or fiction .
    Guessing word from pictures is called interpreting pictures not reading..
    The phonics check is designed to check whether kids are guessing or reading and of course reading is what we all want them to be able to do.

  20. Steven Ince says:

    Why dont you ask some parents of children who have experienced this process, or better yet, the children who are now in their teens who actually went through the process?
    Perhaps just looking at some data and trying to link phonics and comprehension results is a flawed strategy as they’re actually two different things.
    If you dont think 60 amd 70% is a good enough result, when English isn’t even a first language for ALOT of those children then maybe you shouldn’t seek modern methods of teaching and you should continue with your very own ‘sucessful’ methods.
    I’m sorry, but I think primary teaching has come a long way in the last 10 years and you shouldn’t take the efforts and decision made by 1000s of head teachers and 10s of thousands teachers lightly

  21. A gentle reminder to those who want their comment to get through: please do not add personal insults to our author. Your comment will not be published no matter how well you put your point.

  22. Berys Dixon says:

    I’ve just had a look at the phonics check and yes, Misty, I agree that ‘groups’ was a tricky one. However every other word was fine and the criticisms of them do not hold up to scrutiny. For example, in chum-‘ch’ never makes a ‘k’ sound when followed by a ‘u’. Also the ‘o’ in blot would never be pronounced as ‘oe’. For this to happen it would need another vowel –‘oa’ or an ‘e’ added at the end of the word. These are basic tenets of the English alphabetic code. So if a child did pronounce them in the way you suggest it would definitely signal a problem with decoding. Also, a child who sounds out reptiles as ..rep -til-es should be marked wrong as it shows he has not yet learned the split digraph i-e.
    And one last thing, if the children who passed the Phonics Check failed in comprehension then at least the teacher can rule out a lack of decoding skills as the reason.

  23. Unfortunately, this post contains numerous incorrect and/or unsupported statements..

    For my methodical critique, readers can go to this page and click on the highlighted text to see the annotations

  24. Tempe says:

    Thanks for your excellent and through response, Jennifer.

  25. Misty Adoniou says:

    Hi Berys
    The wonderful thing about the English alphabetic code is you can never say never about anything, because it has such a brilliant and fascinating history. So much of our code is carried over from the languages we borrow our words from. . ‘Ch’ can say ‘k’ when followed by u in any of our words from Greek e.g bacchus marsh, or the bronchus which is part of our trachea. ‘Ot’ can say o in any of our words borrowed from French like tarot, or depot. And an ‘oa’ pattern certainly doesn’t guarantee a long ‘o’ sound, as evidenced by koala and broad. And you really would need to already have the word reptiles in your vocabulary in order to know to break it into rep – tiles. Just as you’d need similes in your vocab not to break it into si – miles.

    The phonology of English is so worthwhile teaching. I think we probably share that enthusiasm. I’m all for teaching it explicitly. I agree teachers need professional learning to help them to do so well and in ways that help them teach the whole linguistic code. Because with the whole package of phonology, morphology and etymology, all inextricably intertwined, the children not only decode the words but comprehend them as well.

  26. Pamela Snow says:

    I have written a response to this piece on my blog, The Snow Report. It can be found here: LINK to The Snow Report

  27. Shawna Pope says:

    Thank you for this piece! I will add the thought of teaching actual phonology along with morphology and etymology, with meaning in the forefront. As you indicated here we learn to read and spell the words we already know and use. Phonics goes with phonology as well as oil mixes with water. Are you familiar with structured word inquiry?

  28. Kathy Rushton says:

    Thank you Misty for taking the time to analyse and respond to this issue. Teachers are in desperate need of supporters like you who will tell them they aren’t imagining it these tests tell them nothing and do not help to improve their pedagogy. The Emperor has no new clothes! Good teaching is all about forming relationships and the focus on standardised testing implies that teachers don’t know their students when in reality they are in the position to know them best. Thank you Misty keep calling out the truth, others will join.

  29. Ellen Waters says:

    Thank you Misty for your thorough analysis of the English phonics test and your rational outline of the consequences if this screening is implemented in Australia. Thank you also for your knowledge regarding the research in this area. I am a great believer that young children require a multi-layered approach to literacy teaching and learning, Children learn how to read and write when they are supported to read ‘real’ texts and compose and write ‘real’ stories. Some leveling of texts can support the transition into reading. Children need to learn how to draw on a range of skill sets including, visual discrimination of letters and words, phonemic awareness, the grammatical structures in text, vocabulary, morphology and phonological knowledge as they negotiate print with the ultimate goal of comprehending the information. By providing them with stories and information texts it provides them with the opportunity to learning the concepts about print and become strategic users of text. We want our children to have the opportunity to engage with texts and form opinions, learn new things about their world and contribute to conversations about text. We also need to become aware of the relationships between the print and the illustrations, headings, video and be exposed to a range of multi-modal texts. It is simply not appropriate to provide a single strategy approach to leaning to read and write. Learning to read and write cannot be reduced to single letters and letter combinations on easily decodable text. This kind of teaching strips away essential learning and prevents students from learning how to become successful and strategic readers and writers. Early years teachers of reading and writing are generally committed to a complex theory of learning to read and write because they understand how children learn. They are not committed to a simple fix or one size fits all approach that places children at a disadvantage.

  30. Jane says:

    Ellen, in synthetic phonics classrooms ALL facets of reading are taught explicitly. From the Inquiry into the Teaching of Reading in Australia: “The evidence is clear, whether from research, good practice observed in schools, advice from submissions to the Inquiry, consultations, or from Committee members’ own individual experiences, that direct systematic instruction in phonics during the early years of schooling is an essential foundation for teaching children to read. Findings from the research evidence indicate that all students learn best when teachers adopt an integrated approach to reading that explicitly teaches phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary knowledge and comprehension.” Seems this has been interpreted by people in different ways, even though “direct systematic instruction in phonics ‘ seems pretty obvious. As does the direction to give explicit instruction in vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. Explicit instruction demands the breaking down of skills into their component parts and teaching them directly, providing practice and application of the learned skills or content. Evidence supports that this is the most effective way to learn. There is no valid evidence to support the notion that children learn how to read and write when they are ‘supported’ to read ‘real’ texts and compose and write ‘real’ stories. By supported, I’m assuming you are referring to the integrated cuing systems which have been well and truly debunked by reading researchers across the world: ‘“During reading, the decoding of words always takes place before the understanding of words, sentences or whole texts. Sophisticated eye movement and brain research [event related potential (ERP) studies] have convincingly demonstrated this. Semantic processing occurs last” (e.g. Lee, Rayner & Pollatsek, 1999: Sereno, Rayner, & Posner, 1998; Perry & Ziegler, 2002). If children haven’t been taught the code explicitly we are only making the task of reading more difficult for them. This is why the poor readers end up wildly guessing and why 30-40% of students entering high school cannot access the curriculum. True, reading is not ‘only single letters and letter combinations on easily decodable text’ but that is an essential early stage on the child’s journey to reading. Vocabulary and comprehension still play a part even in a simple text. Success is achieved from the start and builds steadily from there. The phonics check will help to discern the ‘guessers’ from the real readers. And teachers hopefully will be motivated to investigate the research that supports best practice in reading instruction.

  31. Peter Bowers says:

    Misty, thanks for your article and the discussion. I was particularly interested in the initial discussion with you and Sara. I want to highlight this quote from Sara that you also picked up on. She wrote:

    “You will not find it easy to provide scientific evidence that supports more progressive (whole language derived) approaches to reading instruction as effective over and above approaches that begin with a solid foundation in phonics and the structure/morphology of words and the English language.”

    I was pleased to see that Sara was not just looking at the issue of this phonics screening test from the perspective that the two options are phonics and whole language. It is so common for people to miss the morphological structure aspect of literacy learning and just address the phonics. I know you have long addressed not only the role of morphology, but also of etymology.

    But this highlights some key issues about this phonics screening test that I wanted to address more directly.

    One problem is that a phonics screening test (and no assessment of other aspects of oral/written word knowledge) sends a clear signal to teachers and parents that the part that really matters is phonics. No matter what the results of the screening, one effect is the reduction of the conversation back to the old phonics vs. whole language debate.

    The research and practice I’m involved in focuses on bringing instruction of how the written word works — the interrelation of morphology, etymology and phonology — from the beginning of school. Phonics programs address common associations between the letters and sounds of words — but they look at these associations without regard for the integral role morphology and etymology play in the grapheme-phoneme choices for a word. Some argue that we should start with phonics and then add the morphology (and maybe etymology) later. While I applaud increased interest in instruction about morphology and etymology, the assumption that an isolated version of the role of “phonology” in spelling (phonics) needs to happen first has no research basis. Yes there is lots of evidence that phonics based instruction is generally more effective that whole language instruction that reduces and avoids instruction about phonological factors within words. That evidence, however, does not allow one to conclude that phonics has to be taught before morphology. In fact, the morphological meta-analyses on morphological instruction that we have (Bowers, Kirby, & Deacon, 2010; Goodwin & Awn, 2010, 2013) found that less able and younger students gained the most from morphological instruction. This directly contradicts the hypothesis that morphology instruction should wait until after phonics instruction.

    For a more direct comparison, Devonshire, Morris and Fluck (2013) compared an intervention in the UK with 5 to 7 year-old students “…using explicit instruction of morphology, etymology, phonology, and form rules.” with the effects of a phonics-based condition. They found, “The novel intervention significantly improved the literacy skills of the children including both word reading and spelling compared with the phonics condition.”

    See that study here

    This is one study, but it corroborates and expands on the findings of multiple meta-analyses of morphological interventions that — counter to years of untested assumptions — found that younger and less able readers gain the most from morphological study. Devonshire et al. (2013) provided an illustration of explicit instruction about the interrelation of morphology, etymology and phonology with young children being more effective than phonics.

    It can be difficult to articulate is that phonics and phonology are not the same thing. The purpose of phonics is to help children make sense of the associations between the links between “letters and sounds”. But as you show in your work, Misty, the grapheme choice for a phoneme in a given word is governed by morphological and etymological considerations. A question researchers and educators should be considering is what is the evidence we have that we should avoid teaching orthographic phonology (which includes the influence of morphology and etymology) until after we teach common letter-sound correspondences that have many “exceptions” because we avoid teaching those correspondence in an arbitrarily isolated way? Devonshire et al’s paper, and the meta-analyses on morphological instruction provide zero evidence for the hypothesis that we should start with phonics before addressing the influences of morphology (and etymology). In fact these findings point in the opposite direction.

    The debate about this phonics screening test is an important one, but also a dangerous one. If we are not careful, it keeps the debate in the phonics vs. not phonics domain. This is serious problem given the growing evidence that we should be looking beyond phonics and simply test the hypothesis that — from the beginning — word-level literacy instruction should accurately reflect the conventions of English orthography. It seems to me that this should have been the default assumption from the beginning.

    Full disclosure, I’m the Bowers cited in the meta-analysis above. I’m also the second Bowers in the (Bowers & Bowers, 2017) article that addresses the theory and research around these questions that you can download here.

    Thanks for sparking this conversation.

  32. Tempe says:

    I quote: One problem is that a phonics screening test (and no assessment of other aspects of oral/written word knowledge) sends a clear signal to teachers and parents that the part that really matters is phonics.

    No, it doesn’t send this message. What it tells us is that it useful to have a quick screening program to see if young children can decode. It also helps us to assess how secure teachers are in terms of teaching synthetic phonics. We ALL understand that their is more to reading than decoding but advocates for this screen also understand that you can not move forward in the reading process unless you can actually pull the words off the page. Synthetic phonics is research/evidence based and whole language is not.

  33. Lucy Stinson says:

    Thank you Misty for your rationale critique of the Phonics Check. It is clear from the ongoing debate that there are very different views on the acquisition of reading. The supporters of the Phonic based approach would consider it to be decoding preceding meaning, using “science” of brain activity to back up the view. However, the holistic view of reading being a meaning-making process which incorporates phonic knowledge and skill rejects this. The meaning-making model does NOT ignore the biology. Neurological studies back up this meaning model. The work of Paulson (2002) makes the point in regards to language patterns and eye movements that context is an essential part of the reading process. HIs studies also show the role of predicting with evidence of skipping words. Steven Strauss as both a linguist and neurologist has done extensive work on how the brain makes sense of language and of the world. The “science” that considers the one-way path of decoding leading to meaning contradicts the latest neurological findings on brain function. Does it come down to the science you choose to believe or does it come down to understanding the reading behaviours you see in children.? In the viewpoint of educators, we respond to what each learner is trying to do., That means there can be no one rigid process that guarantees success for all learners. The successful readers I watch use strategies of re=reading and reading on ( albeit unconsciously) and have a high level of comprehension. Many of the struggling readers do not demonstrate these behaviours and are trapped in a process of putting decoding first and read in a very inefficient way. They suffer as Goodman as describes it from the “next-word syndrome”, as time goes on they lack comprehension skills. If in fact if you find yourself re-reading to make sense of what is written here there is the demonstration of reading for meaning. If your brain had simply decoded word by word then made meaning you would have no need to do so. Surely reading is also not just a Memory exercise. The debate will go on but hopefully we will look at the evidence of what really happened in England to levels of comprehension as a signal of danger when it comes to this check and the pedagogy of promoting decoding in isolation from meaning.

  34. Jane says:

    I think people are overthinking this whole thing.. The Phonics screen is to check that children have this one essential part of the learning to read process in place. It’s a quick and efficient way to find out and children are happy to participate. As I stated in my previous comment, the evidence shows that children need direct systematic instruction in phonics. There is nothing stopping teachers incorporating etymology and morphology into their program but without decent decoding skills nothing else will eventuate.

  35. Jane says:

    Lucy, “Many of the struggling readers do not demonstrate these behaviours and are trapped in a process of putting decoding first and read in a very inefficient way.”
    Yes, because you do need to read the words first, and struggling readers are poor at decoding.
    “Does it come down to the science you choose to believe or does it come down to understanding the reading behaviours you see in children.? ” I’d prefer a teacher who goes for science thank you. What we see with our eyes are not always so. It’s so much better to have someone who can look ‘under the hood’ so to speak. I recommend you read Stanislaus Dehaene’s, work Reading in the Brain. He is more recent than Paulson and a world authority on the cognitive neuroscience of language and number processing in the human brain.

  36. Lucy Stinson says:

    I go for the science as well = the science that has evidence of the role of context in being an independent reader. This science does not reject the presence of phonic knowledge and there is no debate on the notion of explicitly teaching phonics. It is the role of context that is under dispute. Stauss’s work as a neurologist and linguist was written as a co-author with other esteemed academics was published in 2016 so in my mind that is recent. I couldn’t agree with you more ( and also in the view of Strauss ) what we see with our eyes are not always so. Scientific studies have evidence that we do not track words one by one to read.The continual process of prediction, checking and confirmation is a very efficient function of the brain making sense of printed language. As long as it is real language and not nonsense words. Educators acknowledging this science have no dispute teaching phonics as a skill, They recognise the validity of this science in the evidence of reading behaviours of skilled readers. MRI studies of brain activity with processing of nonsense words are simply that “brain activity ” not evidence of reading comprehension. Teachers can be easily confused by the different scientific evidence. The decoding first model would have proof if the schools in England had actually improved in comprehension and not just in the performance on the check. The main objection is considering that every child requires this rigid process of decoding to learn to read – watching learners carefully, asking them to reflect, giving support and explicitly teaching decoding and comprehension strategies is the task of professional teachers who are commited to responding to learners needs. They also understand the process of acquiring literacy. Not one size fits all.

  37. Jane says:

    Hi Lucy,
    I’ve just looked up Strauss and I see that he is a supporter of Kenneth and Yetta Goodman,founders and leaders of the WL movement. This quote comes from Dr. Patrick Groff, an emeritus professor of Education and a renowned expert in the field of reading research. Here’s just one part of his view of Strauss’ work:
    ” Strauss accepts without question {the Goodman’s] scientifically invalid view that the application of phonics rules (how letters regularly represent speech sounds), for the purpose of recognizing single words, actually leads to “poor reading….Strauss stresses his belief in the false notion of “advocates of descriptive research,” who claim that children who do “accurate reading of individual words in a text lose out on text meaning.” May I go out on limb and suggest that if one put Strauss’s idea to the general reading population there’d be a definitive ‘What the?” I quote now from Mark Seidenberg, in his book, Language at the Speed of Sight (2017) : “For reading scientists the evidence that the phonological pathway is used in reading and especially important in beginning reading is about as close to conclusive as research in human behaviour can get. The opposing view, that using phonology is an inefficient strategy used by poor readers, is deeply embedded in educational theory and practice.”
    And that’s why we need the Phonics Check-as a first small step to matching educational theory and practice to gold standard evidence based research.

  38. Lucy Stinson says:

    This phonics check has strong implications for the ways teaching of reading but my apologies to Misty for getting caught up in apedagogical/theoretical debate as the main point here is the usefulness of this check. If indeed we did determine that a phonics check would be important then this tool lacks validity as clearly critiqued with Misty’s expertise and reference to studies. I absolutely agree with making an analysis of phonic skills, particularly in the context of use with writing. There is no debate on phonics as a part of the process of teaching literacy or that teachers take responsibility to respond to learners they are constantly observing and collecting data. I repeat Misty’s point that beyond the comprehension results of Year 2 as cited in other comments, the Year 6 results are worrying if we were to follow the path of England with this test” Thus, in 2017, more than 1 in 4 English children in Year 6 are not able to read with basic comprehension”

  39. Susan Mahar says:

    Thankyou, Misty, for your analysis of the proposed grade one synthetic phonics test and the evidence of its negative impact on literacy levels in England.
    As an early years’ teacher, with thirty five years classroom experience, I am no stranger to controversial shifts in educational emphasis. However I have been bewildered by the idea of a ‘light touch’ national synthetic phonic test for six year olds. This seems like an oxymoron.
    I was alarmed to read children in England who ‘fail’ the test have been drilled in mandatory ‘out-of-context phonic decoding’ to prepare them to read meaningless words in order to pass the test. It is therefore no surprise the scores on the phonics screening test do not correlate with later comprehension tests (SAT reading tests). Six year olds need to be engaged in meaningful reading and writing if they are to become long term successful and discerning readers.
    Up until now I had been worried that some were suggesting we ignore explicit phonics instruction altogether but I now understand the arguments. I have been interested to read the responses and misunderstandings your article has generated. It seems like some people did not actually read the evidence you presented. However I now feel I can confidently argue for phonics in the context of a balanced approach in the early years.
    But it is clear there is a critical the need for teachers to object to the imposition of this heavy handed proposal for Australian six year olds. I have based my whole teaching life on an evidence base of wide reading and academic study, as well as classroom observation and assessment. The evidence you provide is compelling. Thankyou again.

  40. Annette Woods says:

    To keep the argument on the validity of this test and its capacity to tell us more about children’s reading is probably worthwhile..

    This is not a debate about phonics and whole language. The field has moved on from that tired debate many years ago. Good teachers and researchers of literacy know that a balanced approach to teaching and learning literacy is what is required, and that professional teachers are best placed to make decisions about the right mix of approaches that will have the greatest impact on learning for their students. This involves expertise in many things – including assessment, curriculum and pedagogy. We also know that the main game is supporting children to become better readers, writers, speakers, listeners, designers of texts – better communicators. There are many skills, processes and understandings that are means to this ends, and not one of them should take precedence over any other.

    And saying over and over that a balanced approach does not recognise the importance of the full range of literacy skills, including teaching phonics and phonemic awareness, will just not make it so.

    Thank you Misty for raising some issues with the proposed screening test. I hope we can continue to respectfully debate the issues you’ve raised about this test. I know you are very open to hearing other people’s opinions on this issue.

    The point to take away is that knowledge of the English phonic system is necessary but not sufficient to teach children to read and write. It is not an either or debate – it is a pedagogical debate that requires balance and openness to new learning and changing contexts,

  41. Lucy Stinson says:

    I go for the science as well = the science that has evidence of the role of context in being an independent reader. This science does not reject the presence of phonic knowledge and there is no debate on the notion of explicitly teaching phonics. It is the role of context that is under dispute. Stauss’s work as a neurologist and linguist was written as a co-author with other esteemed academics was published in 2016 so in my mind that is recent. I couldn’t agree with you more ( and also in the view of Strauss ) what we see with our eyes are not always so. Scientific studies have evidence that we do not track words one by one to read.The continual process of prediction, checking and confirmation is a very efficient function of the brain making sense of printed language. As long as it is real language and not nonsense words. Educators acknowledging this science have no dispute teaching phonics as a skill, They recognise the validity of this science in the evidence of reading behaviours of skilled readers. MRI studies of brain activity with processing of nonsense words are simply that “brain activity ” not evidence of reading comprehension. Teachers can be easily confused by the different scientific evidence. The decoding first model would have proof if the schools in England had actually improved in comprehension and not just in the performance on the check. The main objection is considering that every child requires this rigid process of decoding to learn to read – watching learners carefully, asking them to reflect, giving support and explicitly teaching decoding and comprehension strategies is the task of professional teachers who are commited to responding to learners needs. They also understand the process of acquiring literacy. Not one size fits all.

  42. Jane says:

    It would be worthwhile for the purposes of this discussion for people to read Jennifer Buckingham’s critique on Misty’s post where the incorrect and unsupported statements are highlighted.

  43. Jane says:

    Hi Lucy,
    Regarding this from your comments: “The decoding first model would have proof if the schools in England had actually improved in comprehension and not just in the performance on the check.”
    If you have a look at Jennifer Buckingham’s critique , which comes supported by the data, you’ll find that success on the check does relate to success in comprehension:
    “..performance on the Year 1 PSC is a strong predictor of performance on the Year 2 Key Stage reading test. In 2017, 89% of children who had passed the PSC in Year 1 achieved the expected standard in KS1 Reading in Year 2. Only 3% of students who had not passed the PSC achieved the expected standard in KS1 Reading in Year 2. That is, there is a low likelihood that children who do not know how to decode will do well in the Key Stage reading assessments.

  44. Misty Adoniou says:

    Hi Jane
    I am not sure where your figures have come from. People may like to see the 2017 English government results here

    In 2017 92% of Year 2 children had passed the phonics check. In 2017 76% of those same children reached the benchmark in the Key Stage 1 reading comprehension tests.

  45. Beryl Exley says:

    In my position as a teacher educator and ALEA National President I get to visit a lot of classrooms and talk to a lot of teachers in every state of Australia. I can categorically state that I don’t know an early years teacher who DOESN’T teach and assess children’s phonics knowledge. I see a lot of catering for different learning styles, different stages of development, drawing in different background knowledge about language etc. I see talented highly professional teachers who know their craft and know how to inspire children to become readers. I’m very proud to say I’m an Australian teacher and an ALEA member who believes that phonics is important but it’s best taught in the context of meaningful literacy events. ALEA members Eileen Honan, Jenni Connor and Di Snowball have authored a comprehensive position statement on this same matter.

  46. Sara Peden says:

    Can you help us understand, when considering the number of phonemes and the number of letters and letter combinations that can represent each of the phonemes, how teachers maintain a systematic approach in the context of meaningful literacy events? How does a Year 1 teacher track which students have been taught which phoneme-grapheme correspondences, over the course of the year? For the 30+% of students who require explicit, direct instruction for each, what’s the best method and for the 10% or so who need intensive, extensive, explicit instruction in phonics to optimize reading success, how will this most easily occur and be tracked in context of meaningful literacy events?

  47. Susan Mahar says:

    I just saw your request Sara. Sorry I missed it. I presume you are not a class teacher which would explain your difficulty understanding how teachers maintain a systematic approach within the context of meaningful literacy events. Fortunately it is much easier than you might imagine. A meaningful context supports all learners, especially those who require explicit and direct instruction. Most teachers are excellent record keepers so keeping track of what is taught is pretty straight forward.

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