Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sat May 04, 2013 2:06 pm

Derrie - I, too, think that is very useful to get this insight into what at least some teachers and headteachers believe and 'understand' and to hear their 'views' on the role (if any) of the Year One Phonics Screening Check.

The trouble is, what to do with that information.

It informs people such as RRFers - but it can MIS-inform other people - including other teachers and headteachers, trainers and people in the wider domain - including the politicians and the public.

That is PRECISELY why we have to try to address the misunderstandings and views as far as we can in the public domain (that is, via the internet).

How much 'other people' will actually engage with the issues raised in a transparent manner is yet to be seen.

'I'm not holding my breath' as the saying goes.

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by Derrie Clark » Sat May 04, 2013 7:17 pm

Volunteer notes:
I don't think so as I think it might have done so at our school. It did not though and we had the letter saying we would not be inspected for a further 2 years several months after the phonics check.

I do wonder though if someone wrote in with a qualifying complaint about both the results and the teaching if it might be a trigger. The notion of a qualifying complaint is not spelled out on their website. I think I have one but I am not brave enough!
Me neither, Volunteer, me neither. Whistle blowers get no protection I'm afraid.

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by Derrie Clark » Sat May 04, 2013 7:21 pm

I know Debbie, frustrating isn't it.

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sun May 05, 2013 12:31 am

Reedy gives the example of pseudo words in his article of mip, glimp and brunk.

Does anyone on the forum who is a 'fluent reader' see those words as anything other than mip, glimp and brunk?

And how hard or easy was it to decode mip, glimp and brunk?

When we read text, perhaps it is not unusual or uncommon to read so fast as to misread a word and then to have to re-read the sentence that ultimately has not made sense. I find, for example, that I instinctively know that I have misread something barely a milli-second after the mis-reading.

Isn't this what children should be able to do - be 'aware' of misreading and of the need to read accurately - rather than having a reading reflex to guess at the words on the page?

When children are told that words are nonsense words, then surely they should be 'suspicious' of their own decoding if they end up with 'real' words?

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by maizie » Sun May 05, 2013 10:25 am

Debbie Hepplewhite wrote:When children are told that words are nonsense words, then surely they should be 'suspicious' of their own decoding if they end up with 'real' words?
Is that asking rather a lot of the everage 6 y old? I don't know; I am genuinely asking the question.

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sun May 05, 2013 11:33 am

It's actually a very good question indeed.

My answer is that it depends on both the six year old and on the kind of teaching style and relationship the child has with the teacher.

By the end of Year One, children can be surprisingly mature and still immature all in the same little person.

I suggest that it is often the nature of the teacher that will bring out the best (that is, enable children to fulfil their potential) and will have high expectations of the children - or otherwise. :???:

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by palisadesk » Sun May 05, 2013 11:37 am

I've been considering responding to this issue -- whether proficient readers could make significant errors on non-words, and specifically, read them as real words -- for some time, but have hoped that someone else would do it.

No one has, so it seems it had better be me. I have seen variations of Debbie's logical (but inaccurate) idea expressed by a number of people here. The gist of this concept is that if a student makes many errors on the non-word items in the phonics check, or tries to make "real words" out of them (as in the strom/storm example), s/he is clearly not a good decoder, is probably exhibiting a guessing reflex, and is not applying good phonics skills. If many students have results like this it likely reflects poor teaching in the class or school. After all, the instructions clearly state that the items marked by a picture of an alien (a brilliant touch, I thought -- but of that, more later) are "not real words," and the combination of the instructions, and the graphic reminder, coupled with a few practice items, is sufficient.

This is certainly a logical conclusion, it just happens to be erroneous. I don't say that as an expression of personal opinion, but of empirical observation. While the widespread use of a real word/pseudoword test is relatively new in the UK, I have been testing students with a number of such assessments (mostly norm-referenced, such as the Woodcock, WIAT, CTOPP, TOWRE, but also locally developed or informal ones like Easy CBM, DIBELS and others) for nearly 35 years, starting around 1980. In that time I have assessed many hundreds - thousands, actually -- of students on this type of measurement instrument and can report on how students of varying ages do and do not typically perform.

I have to go out in a few minutes so will need to explain more fully later on (now that I've committed myself I will do it). The fact is that, while poor results on non-words may and frequently do indicate limited mastery of phonetic decoding, this is not always the case, especially with younger children. Furthermore, to have its maximal beneficial effect, the phonics check needs to be well understood by advocates of good SP instruction; that means that some of the legitimate concerns raised by teachers who have seen proficient readers do poorly (and who are correct in their observation) need to be taken on board. I have seen many such cases over time, though they are a fraction of the poor performers. Furthermore, there is a possible way to improve the format of the phonics check so as to identify these students so that we know which student lack appropriate skills and which are single-mindedly determined to make "real words."

I have a solution but am not terribly optimistic that my suggestions will have any more impact in the UK than they have had chez moi. My ride is honking in the driveway, so more later...

Susan S.

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sun May 05, 2013 12:35 pm

Susan - you carry enormous respect on the RRF forum.

I can't wait to hear your suggestion - and who knows what is possible.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained! :grin:

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by chew8 » Sun May 05, 2013 5:31 pm

Debbie wrote:When children are told that words are nonsense words, then surely they should be 'suspicious' of their own decoding if they end up with 'real' words?
Maizie wrote:Is that asking rather a lot of the everage 6 y old? I don't know; I am genuinely asking the question.
In order to be sure about this, I think that one may need experience of administering the screening check to children whose reading ability one knows well. Answers based on theoretical considerations are one thing, but they may need to be modified by experience of what happens in practice. Susan S. has mentioned that she has administered similar tests to many children over many years and has found that poor decoding is not always the reason for poor performance, especially with younger children. I look forward to her more detailed comments.

As I’ve said before, I administered the pre-trial version of the screening check to over 100 children whose reading I knew quite well from working voluntarily with them, and I also know the 2012 results of another 30-odd children whose reading I knew quite well. One thing I can say is that even children who are very good readers by standards that would be accepted by RRFers do sometimes make a few slips – not enough to bring their scores below the threshold mark, but enough to suggest that it’s unrealistic to regard all slips as a result of poor general decoding ability. With one group, I administered the pre-trial check in January of Year 1 (so several months earlier than it would be done for real) and then again in June – one excellent reader got full marks the first time but made one slip the second time. His reading had not deteriorated – I think it just showed that young children do make slips.

Geraldine mentions a school ‘with good linguistic phonics teaching whose able readers performed disappointingly on the nonsense words’, and I know of a school where phonics was taught very well and the Y1 children had performed far above national norms on widely used reading and spelling tests but where screening check results were not brilliant. This may be because the children had not been given quite enough practice with non-words – I don’t know for sure, but I would want to avoid being too dogmatic, for now, about what is indicated by a few slips. I’m also not sure that the threshold mark is set at the right level to distinguish between children who need extra help and children who will be fine just with ongoing teaching and reading practice.

Jenny C.

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sun May 05, 2013 8:39 pm

The 'detail' of how children fared in the phonics screening check is very important.

We see a pattern of people mentioning the word 'strom' being read by many children as 'storm'.

What we don't see/read are the details of whether the 'good' readers just mis-read one or two nonsense words incorrectly or a significant number of nonsense words incorrectly.

This kind of detail is obviously very important.

Perhaps the word 'strom' was particlarly tricky for setting children up to 'fail' to decode it accurately - but was this just one particular tricky word - or one of many nonsense words read incorrectly by the 'better' readers?

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by chew8 » Sun May 05, 2013 9:25 pm

Debbie wrote:What we don't see/read are the details of whether the 'good' readers just mis-read one or two nonsense words incorrectly or a significant number of nonsense words incorrectly.
This is something I've tried to say in the past. My experience is that genuinely good readers may make a few errors but not enough for their scores to fall below the threshold mark of 32. A rough analogy might be the typos that most of us make and don't always notice immediately. I think Maizie was suggesting that we might have to make allowances for a few slips, especially by 6-year-olds, and I agree. I'd be interested to know whether you and other RRFers have administered the check to any children, Debbie, and if so what you have found in this respect.

Re. 'strom': I've become aware of another problem today, though I should have registered on it sooner - it's that 'strom' is a real word in some other languages - e.g. German, Scandinavian languages and Czech. People don't seem to have complained about this (all the complaints have been about children reading it as 'storm') but I think the DfE said at the outset that pseudo-words which were real words in other languages would not be used, so I'll get on to them about this.

Jenny C.

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by maizie » Sun May 05, 2013 11:14 pm

It's not the 'few slips' that really bother me, though I frankly cannot see how 'good readers' could make 8+ errors (if they did) on the Check. It is the the ''because they were reading for meaning" explanation which worries me. Almost as though the teachers don't expect the children ever to encounter unfamiliar words (without some pre-teaching of them perhaps?) when reading.

(I am looking forward to Susan S's contribution :grin: )

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by geraldinecarter » Mon May 06, 2013 12:36 am

Yes I'm really looking forward to Susan's explanation.

My thoughts on reading about the failure levels of good readers is that language and reading for meaning are hard wired and for 6 year olds who are voracious readers the natural instinct is to 'make meaning' (people reading with BRI can't normally get very far without tripping up if they are not attending to the decoding process - but I think that's unusual in most beginner readers). I haven't seen any evidence that children who are really fluent readers - reading thousands of words - are handicapped later on.

But I think that 8+ mistakes is pretty depressing, if decent instruction has been in place. Year 2 will be very revealing but I hope that teachers won't practice nonsense words to death.

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Mon May 06, 2013 9:08 am

Year 2 will be very revealing but I hope that teachers won't practice nonsense words to death.
I agree.

A substantial bank of cumulative words to blend routinely inevitably includes many words which are not in the oral vocabulary of young learners or learners for whom English is a second or new language.

This means they are the equivalent of decoding nonsense words.

Thus, there should be no need for providing nonsense words in addition. Many teachers (if not 'most' or virtually 'all') have not considered this state of affairs.

In talks and training I suggest that just prior to the Year One phonics screening check (for a week or two), the teachers of Year One children can provide some games/activities which mirror the nature of the check - that is, provide some nonsense words alongside funny little creatures for decoding.

I also discuss the notion of 'illegal spellings' where nonsense words consist of spelling patterns which do not usually occur in English words - and to avoid the use of illegal spellings if possible.

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by chew8 » Mon May 06, 2013 9:22 am

Maizie wrote:It's not the 'few slips' that really bother me, though I frankly cannot see how 'good readers' could make 8+ errors (if they did) on the Check. It is the the ''because they were reading for meaning" explanation which worries me.
I think you are right to add ‘if they did’, Maizie – one thing I’ve been trying to say is that my experience has been that genuinely good readers do not make 8+ errors on the screening check.

Re. the 'reading for meaning' angle: I thought you were also right to pose the question ‘Is that asking rather a lot of the average 6-year-old?’ when Debbie said that ‘When children are told that words are nonsense words, then surely they should be 'suspicious' of their own decoding if they end up with 'real' words?’ Debbie seemed to be implying that any error at all was a bad sign, but Susan S. suggested that this was not necessarily the case. That would tally with my own experience but this is very limited compared with Susan's, so I hope we'll hear more from her.

One problem I think the RRF has is that it seems that few (if any) of us have actually administered the screening check to children whose reading we know in other contexts. We can’t, therefore, talk from personal experience as it seems that many critics of the check can.

I don't know whether the evaluation by the National Foundation for Educational Research will give us a representative picture of teachers' views. The first NFER report may be published this week.

Jenny C.

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