In the first part of this blog, I defined the first of the “Big Five” essentials for reading: Phonological awareness. I also shared my preferred order for teaching each of the skills under the phonological umbrella. In the second part, I discussed activities and resources that promote and develop overall phonological awareness, and then activities related to the component skill, phonemic awareness. In the final part of this trilogy, I now consider informal assessment of phonological and phonemic awareness.
I have chosen to focus on informal assessment of this area as this is something I do regularly in my practice; generally avoiding formal standardized testing so as not to influence any subsequent tests performed by a school or private educational psychologist. If you are looking for more information on the extensive range of tests used by professionals, the University of Michigan maintains an impressive list on its Dyslexia Help web pages. If you scroll to the section entitled “Reading,” you will notice that the first test is the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing, Second Edition (CTOPP-2.) This widely used assessment of phonological processing is followed by a number of others. Please be aware that these assessments are sorted by age, from pre-school through high school. If you are interested to better understand these assessments and their results, I highly recommend checking out The Special Education Decoder System and in particular their course, “Making Sense of School Evaluations and Test Scores.”
Marilyn Jager Adams offers an informal assessment of phonological awareness in her book, “Phonemic Awareness in Young Children.” Although I use the curriculum from this book with my younger students, this assessment is designed for classroom kindergarten teachers, or resource room teachers working with small groups. It consists of six subsets moving from detecting syllables to representing phonemes with letters. I mention it here because it might prove helpful as a quick and easy assessment in some school situations.
When I want to get a feel for where a student might be experiencing phonological awareness difficulties, I use the Michigan Literacy Progress Profile (MLPP) Phonemic Awareness Assessment. The subtests transition from assessment of rhyme, through onset and rime blending, and then phoneme blending to phoneme segmentation. The results give me a feel for how to further assess a student using the Core Phonological Segmentation and Core Phoneme Deletion Tests from the book, “Assessing Reading Multiple Measures.” These tests will show whether a student is at a benchmark level for their grade, or if they are experiencing difficulties in a particular area.
When a student has a problem with word accuracy, but seems to successfully perform the blending and segmenting activities in the other assessments I have mentioned, it is important to look further. The Core Phoneme Deletion Test for example, can help detect weaknesses in phoneme manipulation. I should also interject a word of caution when testing: As well as correct responses, I look for automaticity. If a student provides the right answers, but fails to do so automatically, it indicates a weakness in this area.
To further determine such weaknesses, David Kilpatrick’s Phonological Awareness Screening Test (PAST) could prove useful. Kilpatrick’s assessment is part of his phonological awareness program for developing phonemic awareness and fluent word recognition, and can be found in his book “Equipped for Reading Success.” I use this curriculum regularly with my students.
My next series of blogs will be on the topic of Phonics; the second of The Big Five. The Orton-Gillingham Online Academy provides a whole range of courses and materials that develop a student’s phonic skills and fluent word recognition and I encourage you to check out their offerings by going to their web site.
Lorna Wooldridge is a dyslexia specialist tutor with over twenty-five years of experience and qualifications in the field of learning differences, from both the UK and USA. Lorna has a unique perspective on this condition as she has dyslexia, and her passion is to serve this community in any way she can.