Phonics Assessment: Tools & Techniques

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine the components of phonics skills development and look at techniques to effectively monitor student progress in this area.

Phonics vs. Phonemic Awareness

What is the difference between phonics and phonemic awareness? Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate sounds from spoken words. Phonemes are the smallest units of sound in the spoken word. On the other hand, phonics describes the relationship between words and sounds in writing and is the foundation for decoding words while reading. Reading is comprised of the ability to combine graphemes into words from which the reader draws meaning. Graphemes are the smallest units of sound in the written word. For example, in the word 'fish', the graphemes are /f/, /i/, and /sh/. Because of the significant impact that phonics skills have on literacy, each individual student's phonics skills should be assessed at least three times per year so that teachers can develop interventions as needed. Let's look at some components of phonics skills assessment.

Alphabet Skills

Alphabet skills include the student's ability to name both uppercase and lowercase letters, but also includes the student's ability to identify sound/symbol relationships, including consonant sounds, long vowel sounds, and short vowel sounds.

Teachers assess a student's ability to identify letters by providing students with a list of letters and asking them to identify the ones they know. Uppercase letters are generally learned before lowercase letters.

Sound/symbol relationships are assessed by showing students a group of letters and asking them to identify the sounds each letter makes. Students will generally be able to identify consonant sounds before they are able to identify vowel sounds. When assessing vowel sounds, students should be able to identify both the long and short vowel sounds.

Decoding Skills

When students first begin reading, they start by decoding graphemes in short CVC (Consonant-Vowel-Consonant) words, such as 'cat.' Eventually, they will advance to more complicated graphemes, including digraphs (two letters that make one sound, such as the 'ph' in 'staph', blends (two consonants that come together to form a sound, such as the 'sl' in 'slap'), long vowels, dipthongs (two vowels that come together to make a single sound, such as 'oi' in 'coin'), r-controlled vowels (vowels that are followed by the letter r which changes the sound of the vowel, for example 'star'), and multisyllabic words.

When assessing decoding skills, students are provided with a list of both real words and nonsense words that they are asked to decode. Once students are successfully able to decode one-syllable words, they will move on to multisyllabic words. Multisyllabic words are also assessed using both real and nonsense words with progressively more difficult patterns. For example, when assessing r-controlled words, the student may be asked to read the word 'corner' before reading the nonsense words 'pormar' and 'burbert.'

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