Yes, students can pass the UK Phonics Screening Test in pre-school or before the end of the first year of school.
(But does this matter?)
A message from Miss Emma, The Reading Whisperer.
I am asked about this a lot so I will try to keep it simple...!
To pass the UK Phonics test students need to recognise the 90 or so commonly used graphemes, and their likely (common) phoneme link.
They need to be able to blend them into the most likely word.
These phonemes can be seen in the UK Letters and Sounds Program, and the SSP Four Code Levels.
The order taught is s,a,t,p,i,n,m,d etc
If they know these these graphemes (Sound Pics) from the Chant Strips they can pass the test.
In fact students who are taught in a fairly restrictive manner, are likely to pass this test, as long as the teaching is fast paced - so that they can recognise all of the included graphemes (and the expected associated speech sound/s) Unfortunately whole class teaching of 'sounds' will not achieve this. Those using most 'synthetic phonics' programs (as recommended) will still have 10 - 20% of children unable to pass it by the end of Year 1 as there wasn't the attention to phonemic awareness, differentiation or optimum learning PACE for each individual.
And, as with most mandated tests, teachers admit that this can negatively impact on the way they teach. They can face great pressure from the school leaders to prepare children for the test.
More than 70 per cent of head teachers believe the phonics check affects the way they teach children to read. Heads reported more pre-check testing and ‘teaching to the test’ to ensure children were prepared for the check. Comments included that it has an adverse impact on the time given to teaching comprehension skills.
The Phonics Screening Check 2012-2017: An independent enquiry into the views of Head Teachers, teachers and parents
And even if 100% of children were to pass it, how does this correlate with their reading and spelling skills? (not well, according to the data in England)
What then happens? The poor chicks get more of the same. And does THAT ensure that every child becomes a reader? Again, it seems not. But, hey. let's start doing this in Australia rather than, say, asking highly effective teachers how they are helping the greatest number of children reading and spell early, regardless of socio economic area, parental support, if English is not a first language etc.
Head teachers in Australia should perhaps chat to those in the UK, who have had this now since 2012. When asked whether the phonics check should remain statutory for all children in Year 1, the majority of head teachers, almost 85 per cent, said it should not. We really should be asking who is making decisions for children, if not those actually interacting with them on a daily basis.
As a heads-up (from one of these highly effective teachers) phonemic awareness is the best predictor of reading and spelling success or failure, an early intervention in this regard is arguably a better way to raise literacy levels. Get Phase 1 (see video channel below) into pre-schools and millions of children around the world would not become instructional casualties, or potentially put off reading for life.
But if the UK phonics test is something being used in your district, or may soon be brought to your school, this page may be of interest! And perhaps start a few discussions at least...
Students need to work through the high frequency graphemes at their own pace, if they are to reach their own potential. They ideally do this through 'spaced repetition', as within SSP - that means they independently learn, practice, reinforce every day. As alarmingly uncomfortable as this may be to some teachers who see children as 'empty vessels' and that they are the ones to 'fill 'em up with knowledge', most children can do this part pretty much without teachers (Coding Poster videos and Coding Poster work daily, see videos below) if they have successfully gone through SSP Phase 1, as they now have brains wired to be ABLE to blend phonemes. Students can lead their own learning. They can't remember a grapheme? (Sound Pic?) they can go back to their Code Level video. They also become intrinsically motivated to better themselves daily.
Go watch an SSP Coding Poster session for yourself - all engaged, all working at just above their level and pushing themselves. Go see a class in which the Phase 2 routine has been changed, eg to run 'rotations' and much of this is actually lost. If it ain't broke don't fix it folks. The Phase 2 routine is there for a reason...'less teaching, more learning'. Let go of the control people, and stand back once you have set it up, and enjoy the view.
Note that the rate at which they learn to use graphemes increases when give daily opportunities to develop fluency, using decodable readers following the same Code Level order
(See our free info and guide decodablereaders.com.au)
Do this as inexpensively as possible, as we want them reading books they choose as early as possible, and to have more of a budget to buy 'real' books eg chapter books series.
The issue with limiting students to just the 'commonly used' options that are included in the test (and only using decodable readers) is that they do not facilitate the exploration of all spelling choices on a daily basis (eg within the Speedy Six). They will more easily blend the test graphemes, as they may have been led to believe they do only represent those phonemes/ sounds: when they see /s/ they are shown that it represent ssss but they may NOT given opportunities in the early years to recognise that it could represent zzz as in 'was' or the sound you probably think of when you see /sh/ (as in sugar) However students who are exploring the code, in order to become independent readers, DO need to know these options. Not in grade 3, but when they are learning to read. If we aim to ensure that every child can read by 6 (before the end of grade 1) does that offer a different perspective?
By grade 3 students without an II should NOT still be learning to read !
So students who look at graphemes and know most can represent LOTS of speech sounds, will go through more complex thought processes with unfamiliar words. They would usually process the graphemes, work out the likely word according to the context (ie they would associate the grapheme /ea/ with a different speech sound if the sentence is 'I just read that awesome book' or if the sentence is 'I just had to read that book!' They are constantly trying to make meaning of words, which is fabulous, as there are a lot of skills required to actual read, as opposed to just decoding words. This is one reason so many teachers in the UK object to this part of the test.
Eighty per cent of both head teachers and teachers think it is unhelpful to include nonsense words in the check. Some commented that these ‘alien’ words confused even fluent readers. One respondent said, ‘Our children who were reading for meaning would try to make sense of the nonsense word on the test and therefore failed the test.’ Source
I feel a little differently about it as that's the part that shows me the most about current code mapping skills ie where they 'see' the segmentation, and which phonemes they map with those graphemes. But I would ask them for as many word choices as possible, not just one. I'd want them to discuss WHY they made those choices.
(And SSP students use the Speech Sound Monsters with this work)
What I want, is for students to give all of the word pronunciation options they can, as this shows me if they have the more extensive understanding of the alphabetic code that is needed to become literate.
THIS is actually the part of the phonics test that interests me the most, as I can use it as an assessment tool. And if we can't USE the test to learn something new then why are we doing it?
Teachers who do not have an extensive understanding of why so many struggle to learn phonics, and what to do about it, may mark SSP students (who explore all choices from day 1 of Phase 2) incorrectly when the students blend sounds in the nonsense word section. The test instructions do ask that teachers allow for words, with students using spelling patterns that may not be common, but do all who mark the test understand this. So it's easy to mark a word 'incorrect' if it obviously does not follow any sort of spelling pattern ie if a child uses the speech sound 'buh' for the letter /s/. This cannot be correct, as the letter s would NEVER represent the /buh/ sound. However, many letters or string of letters DO represent a lot of speech sounds in written English, and so the accuracy of students knowledge regarding reading words (decoding, really, as there is no 'meaning' associated with the words) can very much depend on the person testing the students. It would be assumed that it is the teacher who is teaching them, but what if it isn't? What is the person assessing a child working out the word 'cas' wasn't aware that there could be 15+ ways to say this word ! The c could represent the ssss speech sound (as in facade or cent) the a could represent more than 10 speech sounds (father, was, another, ant, any etc) and the s could represent sss as in sad, sh as in sugar, s as in was etc)
So its important to ask the child to explain why they are giving their choices. I gave the word 'cas' to an SSP student who said it was 'says'. They explained 'I chose c as in cent, a as in any, s as in is... sez ! I made it into a real word, but we would spell it s/ay/s' And they are RIGHT !! And arguably far more aware of the way we 'talk on paper' than a student who just thinks it is c (cat) a (ant) s (sat)
Which student is more likely to already be reading chapter books, and they aren't even 6 yet?
So I actually do like seeing what students do with these nonsense words - and we work with them during The Speedy Six. Students who don't work with nonsense words will often struggle with these words as they (naturally) want to work out the word, as words have meaning. So they need to be told that many words won't be real words ! They need to be told that this is an exercise in blending sound pics (graphemes) and some will be words they have seen or used before, some won't. And let's face it, if a child speaks English as a second language they can easily pass the test by blending the graphemes, and may not know which words are real and which are 'fake'. Something else worth discussing.
We might have a child who speaks little to no English getting 40/40 in the phonics test, and yet
unable to actually read...
So anyone can ensure that their child, or students, pass the UK Phonics test quickly and easily.
They use Monster Mapping Phase 1 (so they are ABLE to blend phonemes) Then they move to Phase 2.
Every day they use these 2 activities - which take around 20 minutes per day. Yep, that's it folks. This is all that is needed. They CAN blend, they learn the likely speech sound links with the graphemes, and they can work out any words created using those graphemes.
If you want to know how to do this AND ensure they can read with fluency and comprehension, and spell brilliantly, do the other SSP activities as well.
They use the SSP Monster Mapping app, Code Level Videos
They follow this up daily with the SSP Coding Poster
See clips below.
But passing the UK Phonics test?
peoesw evv cheaucch !
(See Activity 6 of the Speedy Six. SSP students are doing this every day !)
But, final note, as outlined within this report,
'The government in England has neither involved the teaching profession in the development or implementation of what is now a high stakes statutory assessment and mandatory way of teaching reading in all state schools' (see Appendix I). Can we PLEASE not let them do this in Australia?