Phonics test ‘failing to assess knowledge’, research suggests

The government’s assessment of early reading is ‘failing to assess the full range of phonic knowledge’, according to new research.

The research, carried out by British Educational Research Association (BERA), found that youngsters can get through the phonics screening check introduced by the coalition in 2012 with only a ‘basic phonic knowledge’, rather than with a full understanding of the phonics curriculum.

BERA claims that the test is not testing what it is supposed to test and suggests that teachers could be wasting their time teaching elements of phonic knowledge which will not be very useful either in the tests themselves or to the pupils in reading real books.

The tests are designed to test understanding of grapheme-phoneme correspondences - i.e. their ability to sound out words using the phonics system - which requires them to read out 20 real words and 20 made up words.

Th test is supposed to measure children’s understanding of 85 grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs), but BERA’s research suggests that pupils can score extremely highly, in some cases up to 92.5 per cent, with only relatively simple phonic knowledge.

BERA suggests that it could be better to get children moving onto reading ‘real books’ quickly after learning a small number of common GPCs to help build their vocabulary.

Dr Solity said: “This is not an anti-phonics argument. It is absolutely clear that children need to be taught phonics, and systematic synthetic phonics in particular.

“What we are questioning is whether it is worth teachers spending a great amount of time making sure pupils learn all 85 GPCs, rather than concentrating on the most frequent ones and then building pupils’ vocabulary.”

He added: “Reading standards are more likely to be improved, and literacy difficulties prevented, through teaching a small number of high utility GPCs and devoting the time currently spent teaching low frequency GPCs, to developing pupils’ language skills and vocabulary knowledge.”

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