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Scroll to base for (mostly free) Assessments to use
and Assessments to avoid
If your child is struggling with reading, it is important to act fast.
There is no biologically critical period for learning to read and
writing systems are recent human inventions. Nevertheless, there is a
window of opportunity between the ages of about 4 to 7 when children can be
taught the alphabet code, decoding and encoding skills most quickly
and easily. The window never closes
but the older the child the more difficult it can be to provide the
missing knowledge and skills, eliminate
the guessing habit and prevent ''disaffection and disengagement from education'' (Rose 2009. p38).
Most children start school enthusiastically, bright, keen and eager to learn but,
typically, those who are failing to learn to read will become deeply unhappy after
only a year or so and may suffer from frequent 'tummy aches' or other stress symptoms.
Some children become rebellious and disruptive as an outward show of distress,
maybe even receiving the 'ADHD' label, whilst others become
unnaturally quiet and subdued and do their best to avoid all attention; the dreamers
at the back of the class.
''The signs are there for mums and dads who care to look
out for them. If you have a child who brings books home but
doesn’t want to read them; a child who is suddenly either
too quiet or too aggressive at school; a child who has clearly
memorised her early books or who is being described as “possibly
dyslexic” or “plateauing” by her teachers
— be alert to the possibility that, no matter how old,
she may never have learnt to read properly.'' (Miskin.Sunday
Do NOT accept any of the following excuses for your
child's reading and spelling difficulties:
Your child is lazy / isn't trying / doesn't pay attention / needs to concentrate / lacks motivation
- Your child has emotional barriers to reading created as a result of your anxieties (Rose 2009 p21)
- S/he hasn't memorised the list of essential sight words yet
- ''Your child has developed learned helplessness. He needs to
learn to work more independently & be a risk taker''
- Boys are often slow catching on to reading. He'll read
when he's ready.
- It's part of his/her whole personality; you can't cure it (FE College staff 'dyslexia' support leaflet)
- His/her brain is wired differently from other children
- S/he has 'a different brain organisation' from other children (Wolf)
- Your child has a neurodevelopmental disability
- S/he's got a phonological / auditory processing defect
- His/her brain and speech lacks rhythm so s/he needs a rime
- His/her particular learning style
/ 'preferred way of learning' doesn't suit phonics teaching.
- His/her ''brain isn't well matched to a literacy-based society'' (BDA. Pollak p131)
- You have unrealistic expectations; s/he's just not academic
- It's because s/he's in a one-parent family
- It's because s/he has too many siblings at home
It's because s/he's left handed / 'right-brained'
- It's due to 'visual stress'; s/he needs tinted lenses/overlays.
- It's because his/her diet is/was deficient in essential fatty acids
- It's because his/her second teeth haven't appeared yet
- It's because s/he skipped the crawling stage and went
straight to walking.
- You haven't /don't read to him/her
enough at home
- S/he's inherited your family's dyslexia genes
- It's because English is his/her second/additional language...
- It's because of his/her ''medical difficulties - constipation, anaemia, poor diet etc'' (UK Gov. LI16.Hewes)
that all these excuses place the source of the problem with
the child or their parent, never with the teaching or the teaching materials.
Galen Alessi, a Professor of Psychology, conducted a fascinating study on school psychologists. He asked 50 school psychologists to list the causes of the learning difficulties of about 5,000 students. ''Based on the results of these 5,000 reports prepared by school psychologists, "the results indicate clearly no need to improve curricula, teaching practices, nor school administrative practices and management. The only needs somehow involve improving the stock of children enrolled in the system, and some of their parents."...''After examining several "mainstream" school psychology texts, Alessi found that when assessing children’s reading problems, school factors were mentioned as a factor between 7% and 0% (zero) of the time. "Child factors" were held responsible for reading problems between 90% to 100% of the time'' (Wrightslaw.The Blame Game)
''Wade and Moore (1993) asked teachers the question, “Who is to blame for students’ failure to learn?” That 65% of teachers blamed child characteristics, and 32% of teachers blamed the home situation would probably be a surprise to those parents who view schools as the major influence on learning. Only 3% of teachers blamed teachers or the school system for learning problems'' (Hempenstall. Failure to learn)
Failure to learn: causes and consequences.
How inadequate teaching morphs into other problems over time.
''It’s easy to mistake symptoms for causes''
You are your child's best, sometimes only advocate. If your
child is still at the primary stage, approach your child's
school and find out what they are using/used to teach your
child to read. According to the NFER, 80% of state primary schools in England
currently use 'Letters & Sounds' (L&S). L&S is a very basic synthetic phonics programme hastily produced by the government in 2007 as a free, non-compulsory, stop-gap/fall-back programme for schools. Unfortunately, even if your child's school is using L&S or another DfE recognised synthetic phonics programme, there is no guarantee that their teachers know how to teach it properly.
The **majority of primary teachers are still using the old
(1998) NLS Searchlight decoding strategies: although nearly all KS1 teachers
do teach phonics decoding in a daily, dedicated phonics lesson, they also teach children to use multi-clue (guessing)
strategies to decode words when literacy activities take place
at other times during the school day. For a significant minority of children, this is a recipe for confusion and failure.
**Only 27% of the schools which took part in the phonics check pilot in 2011 said that they taught phonics systematically, as opposed to teaching children mixed
reading methods such as picture clues and sight memory to read words (DfE. Dec 2011)
That the majority of teachers continue to teach children to use multiple decoding strategies, rather than synthetic phonics, was confirmed in independent reports produced by the NFER in 2013 and 2014.
''Why is it, when you have an obvious support for the
development of the alphabetic principle, that “decoding” and “reading
comprehension” gets Balkanised like this?''
According to Caroline Cox, there are four principal grounds on which teachers justify their practices. They are: 'tradition (how it has always been done); prejudice (how I like it done); dogma (this is the 'right' way to do it) and ideology (as required by the current orthodoxy) (Hargreaves 1996 TTA lecture p7)
Simple View of Schools: Which quadrant does your school's phonics
provision fall into?
This is a 'phonics check' for teachers and schools ''to self-assess the
extent to which they are “already doing phonics” Parents
it useful too.
Teachers continue to use guided reading with multi-cueing, Book Bands and sight word labels.
Most schools rely on parents to teach children to read.
Parents: Teachers’ feelings are not more important than children’s
If your child is just a beginning reader yet brings home
the early levels of colour-banded books (pink, red, yellow,
blue..) with predictable/repetitive text to practise reading,
plus lists of common words to memorise by sight alone, then s/he
is still being taught with a 'mixture of methods'.
Beginning readers have little choice but to use whole word memorising along with multi-clue (guessing) strategies in order to read this type of book with any independence.
X Alison Clarke illustrates why
predictable or repetitive texts are harmful for beginning readers
In Oct 2010 the DfE issued a revised set of criteria for synthetic phonics programmes. It included guidance on early texts to practise reading: ''(E)nsure that as pupils move through the early stages of acquiring phonics, they are invited to practise by reading texts which are entirely decodable for them, so that they experience success and learn to rely on phonemic strategies. It is important that texts are of the appropriate level for children to apply and practise the phonic knowledge and skills that they have learnt. Children should not be expected to use strategies such as whole-word recognition and/or cues from context, grammar, or pictures.''
The DfE 2010 guidance on decodable book use was reinforced in the new National Curriculum
(NC). The NC states that pupils
should, ''read aloud accurately books that are consistent with their developing phonic knowledge and that do not require them to use other strategies to work out words''.
Unfortunately, the NC is only statutory from Y1.
The majority of children will begin basic phonics instruction in
Reception and it is vital, even at this early stage, that they are given
programme-specific decodable text to practise their reading so they
don't have to resort to guessing strategies to decode words.
For a multitude of reasons a child can have difficulties learning to read even though the school is using a high quality synthetic programme taught expertly. It is absolutely essential that the school implements some one-to-one tutoring immediately
it is noticed that the child is failing to keep up with his/her
classroom companions and that the tutor uses more of the same synthetic
phonics programme, or an intervention programme based on synthetic
phonics principles, not something different.
Prevention rather than intervention, keep-up rather than catch-up.
Ruth Miskin, an early reading expert, explains, ''I think there will always be a small group of children who will need one-to-one tutoring - even with the best synthetic programmes, best training and best implementation; there are some children who have particular needs that cannot be met in a group - and not just SEN children. We tutored some children with SEN at my old school forever until they could read well. We also tutored children with behaviour problems, long term absentees, new arrivals just to mention a few. These children were always given more of the same and not something different. No amount of group teaching helps a child once they fall behind their peers - though you can sometimes teach in pairs if they are at the same level. If we want to be truly inclusive schools must plan for these children as a matter of course and not just hope for the best. Synthetic phonics is not a simple panacea - it takes determination to get every child reading. As soon as a child fails to learn the first letter on the first day - quick tutoring should take place''. Ruth Miskin recommends that those children who need quick tutoring, 'receive ten minutes of one-to-one practice before the lesson so they are confident from the start' (Miskin.SEN magazine 47)
'Be relentless – never give up until every child can read'
(Ruth Miskin's advice to head teachers)
At a late stage, often only as a result of parental pressure, when the school's remedial provision is proving ineffective and the child is continuing to have serious difficulties learning to read, a school may bring in an LEA educational psychologist (EP) to assess the child. Note that LEA psychologists, ''work within a public service ethos in which fairness to all potential clients is actively pursued, but in which it is widely believed that it is also unethical to publicly ''raise expectations'' above what the LA or school can deliver'' (Bunn.SEN magazine.54 p69) To avoid delay,
parents can arrange for their child to see an independent EP. They will charge a hefty (£400+) professional
fee for their services. Education consultant John Bald warns that educational psychologists are able to, ''charge large fees for reports based on simplistic tests that are kept secret in order to protect them from legitimate public and academic scrutiny'' (John Bald.blog 06/06/10)
The problem with assessment for dyslexia is that research
has cast serious doubt on the validity of all the past and
present diagnostic procedures. For a start, a professional
assessment will usually include an intelligence test despite
the fact that using IQ tests as an integral part of diagnosing
dyslexia is known to be scientifically flawed. Presently, the
British Psychological Society advise that, ''Assessments referring to cognitive test scores within batteries of tests, such as the BAS and WISC, can be informative when pointing to strengths and weaknesses in the individual case. No particular pattern of sub-test scores, however, can be regarded as necessary or sufficient in deciding whether and to what extent learning difficulties can be described as dyslexic'' (BPS 2005 p68) Furthermore, the BPS' definition of dyslexia, which it simplifies to, ''(M)arked and persistent problems at the word level of the NLS curricular framework'' (BPS 2005 p20), is, it acknowledges, only a 'working' definition, not an operational one.
Nowadays, most educational psychologists and researchers get around the irksome diagnosis problem by saying that dyslexia is not a discrete, "all or nothing" phenomenon, something one either has or doesn't have; diagnosis, they will tell you, is based on the level of reading difficulty a person has, measured along a continuum from mild through to severe (Rose 2009 p34) This is the 'Bell Curve'
diagnosis, where struggling readers found at some arbitrary point, (let's say in the lowest 10%) on the normal distribution curve for reading ability may, if the professional doing the assessing deems it to be useful, be given the dyslexia label: ''Literacy difficulties exist on a continuum. There is no clear or absolute cut off point where a child can be said to have dyslexia... (W)hether or not to describe a child’s literacy difficulties as dyslexia will be a matter for professional judgement'' (Devon LEA Dyslexia Guidance) or ''an intuitive clinical impression'' (Prof. Frith quoted in Miles. p171)
Kerr rightly describes this as ''throwing in the sponge'' (Kerr p98) and goes on to say, ''(I)t is not legitimate to claim that simply because they all find themselves in this bottom 10% they must all share any particular characteristic, let alone all suffer from the same syndrome, without further evidence that this is so. We have no evidence as to why these poor readers are in this group...All we can properly say from contemplation of the bell curve is that they all seem to be poor readers. It is improper to claim more than this on this evidence – especially to claim that membership of the poor readers group per se indicates possession of a neurological deficit – indicates that all these people suffer from dyslexia'' (Kerr p99)
The second method used by 'educated professionals' to identify dyslexia (used alongside, or as an alternative to the Bell Curve diagnosis) is based on whether the student's problem has proved ''resistant to a prolonged and systematic reading intervention'' (Elliott/Gibbs p483). This is the Response to Intervention (RTI) diagnosis. What precisely constitutes a ''well founded intervention'' (Rose 2009 p10) will not be stated and parents, yet again, will find themselves having to rely on the judgement (opinion
or guesswork) of the professional involved.
Professor Dick Schutz renames RTI as 'Really
Terrible Instruction' and points out that, ''The Response to
Intervention framework was devised as an alternative to the
discredited IQ /Achievement Discrepancy “Model” for the designation
of “Learning Disability.” Schools and teachers find the newer
“Model” attractive because it takes the “problem kids” out of
mainstream instruction while sustaining present instructional
practices and maintaining the turf of psychologists and “Special
Education” specialists. Parents find it attractive because the
children involved are receiving increased personal and specialized
instructional attention. By the time a child has gone through Tier 3
[UK.Wave 3], the child, parents, and school personnel are thoroughly
convinced that the child has a “disability.” The tragedy/travesty is
that the “problem” the child had when first identified as “at risk”
has morphed into a “really big problem” for which the child bears
the full responsibility''
Note that specialist dyslexia teaching as described in Sir Jim Rose's Dyslexia Report 2009 cannot, at present, be considered to provide a 'well founded intervention' as, ''(M)any of the things that specialist dyslexia teachers do have not been the subject of much published research'' (Singleton p21) and those few, ''results reported from studies in UK specialist [dyslexia] schools and teaching centres would be regarded as disappointing (or even disregarded altogether)'' (Singleton p74).
Because of their inability to give a legitimate diagnosis (there is no legal definition of dyslexia in the UK (Singleton p16) or an internationally accepted scientific one), a specialist dyslexia teacher or educational psychologist's written report is highly unlikely to include the concrete label of 'dyslexia'. Instead it will substitute words such as, 'has a specific weakness in phonological development', 'has deficits in phonological awareness', or it will be hedged about with words that avoid commitment to a definitive diagnosis; 'literacy difficulties follow the pattern of a SpLD known as dyslexia', 'has dyslexic traits' or, 'is at risk for Dyslexia-SpLD', with the clear cut dyslexia label only given to parents verbally.
After criticism of her comments on the TV documentary, 'The
Dyslexia Myth', where she seemed to suggest otherwise,
Professor Snowling declared that ''(D)yslexia can be readily
identified by educated professionals''. Presumably, being
aware that there is no way this can be done legitimately when
there is no operational definition, she added, ''It is no longer relevant to ask ‘who is dyslexic and who is not''
(www.myomancy.com/2005/09) Professors Stanovich and Elliott were more straightforward; ''The underlying difficulty appears to be the same, the way these children respond to treatment appears to be the same, there appears to be no justification whatsoever for going in and trying to carve out a special group of poor readers. This is what 15 years of research, all over the world has shown can’t be justified on a scientific or empirical basis'' (Stanovich in Mills. The Dyslexia Myth) ''After three decades as an educationalist, first as a teacher
of children with learning difficulties, then as an educational
psychologist and, latterly, as an academic who has reviewed
the educational literature, I have little confidence in myself
(or others') ability to offer a diagnosis of dyslexia.'' (Elliott. TES)
Prof. Julian Elliott: By Focusing On Dyslexia, We Ignore Other
''Dyslexia is the excuse that absolves educators of
responsibility – in fact, I believe it to be the opium of education''
''The power of the label is rooted in:
a) our natural desire to have a diagnostic term for our difficulties
b) its ability to foster a more positive conception of self
c) its leverage with teachers and the gatekeepers to resources''(Prof. Elliott ppt)
An LEA educational psychologist comments: ''Unfortunately people want a label as they think it offers an explanation and often the label is useful as it releases extra funding and special arrangements for exams. I avoid the term, referring instead to the specific gaps in code knowledge and the need for extra teaching to learn the basic or advanced code, practice with blending, segmenting, the need for modelled writing where children compose sentences orally first, the need to develop accurate letter formation through handwriting teaching and practice. Now we have identified these gaps and weak areas, I say to schools and parents, we can focus extra teaching on them. Schools and parents would be much happier, I suspect, if I just were to say with a long face, "It's dyslexia!!!". It's not an easy position to defend - there is an LEA specialist advisory teacher for dyslexia and dyslexia friendly courses all about overlays, coloured paper, and special arrangements for accessing the curriculum, using scribes and readers and dictaphones and ICT''.
''Extra time [in exams] is a very
poor substitute for decent dyslexia support that schools don't
give. Extra time was a sop to avoid actual help'' (Sue,
a parent on Twitter)
Parents need to ask themselves if it really is a good idea
to spend a great deal of time, effort and usually money, to get their child professionally labeled as 'dyslexic' when there is no genuine science behind its identification. More importantly,
obtaining the label certainly does not guarantee that your
child will, as a consequence, receive expert in-school tuition
with a high quality synthetic phonics intervention programme
to remediate his/her decoding and spelling difficulties.
Another negative result of obtaining the 'dyslexia' label
for a child is that many classroom teachers find the label
intimidating. They believe that those with the label have
biologically determined and therefore incurable reading difficulties.
''Diagnosis for us was waste of time and money. School
continued on exactly the same path - unable/unwilling to help beyond
tokenism in classroom - diagnosis gave them excuse they were looking for
to give up as dyslexics ‘cannot be taught to read.’' (Amanda,
a parent on Twitter)
Possession of the dyslexia label can make parents more vulnerable to the purveyors of snake oil cures: ''(W)hen a child has problems, parents often feel guilty, and they can to some extent assuage that guilt by doing something. So alternative interventions are especially likely to be taken up in situations where the mainstream options are seen as ineffective and parents feel powerless to make a difference'' (Prof. Bishop. BDA 2008 ppt) And, once they've gone to all the trouble and expense of obtaining the label, parents and students may be very reluctant to discard it, even if new information comes along which might make them question its legitimacy and usefulness: ''There’s a psychological phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance which is the tendency to filter out information that conflicts with what one already believes, in an effort to ignore that information and reinforce one's beliefs. In the context of intervention, it is uncomfortable to conclude that one put in a lot of time and money into a treatment that has not worked. There is likely, therefore, to be a cognitive bias to paint as bright a picture as possible. This seems supported by studies that find a mismatch between people’s perceptions of efficacy and objective evidence.'' (Prof Bishop.BDA 2008. ppt)
Kerr offers other important reasons to avoid the 'dyslexia' label: ''Firstly, much thinking about dyslexia is almost wilfully sloppy and sloppy science never did anyone any good, very particularly the subjects of it... Many diagnoses stand on small, highly controversial and rather subjectively assessed, evidence. And then, people given a diagnosis of a neurological deficit may find such a label at the least disconcerting, at worst devastating... And then, what about those who don't achieve the label? Are they simply (and publicly) to be designated as stupid? And then, we don't appear able to see over or around dyslexia; once the diagnosis has been invoked we seek no other explanations for presenting phenomena. Simpler alternative, much more everyday, scientifically duller, less sexy (and much less lucrative) explanations are very much less assiduously sought once a diagnosis of ‘dyslexia’ has been made'' (Kerr.p93)
Children do some or all of the following as a result of
flawed, insufficient or absent instruction, NOT because they
have a specific brain weakness, 'dyslexia':
- Use letter names instead of GPCs e.g. plA for 'play', pRT
- Add or miss out sounds in words.
- Change unknown words to familiar words.
- Say the first sound/s and guess the rest
- Mix sounds around in words e.g. 'girl' as 'gril'.
- Use the pictures or context to help with guessing words.
- Continue to be confused by the shapes and sounds of letters
e.g. b/d e/i
- Reverse words e.g. saw/was pit/tip.
You may be able to remediate your child's literacy problems
yourself if your child is in the early years of primary education and
their reading difficulties aren't too serious. To fix-it-yourself:
first use the free tests below to obtain an insight into the
extent of your child's problems, then select a suitable programme and materials from those listed here. If the task seems overwhelming then an experienced synthetic/linguistic phonics trained
tutor may be the answer, see- Choosing
a remedial tutor
See 'Teenage Dyslexics'
if your child is near or at the secondary stage.
Free copies of the DfE's past phonics
screening check materials. Quick and easy to do. Independent researchers
found the phonics check to be a ''valid
measure of phonic skills and sensitive to identifying children at risk
of reading difficulties'' N.B the check measures elementary alphabet
code knowledge along with blending skills.
''Free, low-frequency word spelling test which you can download
here and use to explore learners’ spelling skills and knowledge.
It’s not a standardised test, so won’t tell you whether a learner’s
spelling skills are behind, on a par with or ahead of peers. Its purpose
is to focus your attention on the things that matter most for spelling''
PERA: The Phonics and Early Reading Assessment is matched to the Letters and Sounds programme GPC order of introduction and the requirements of the Year 1 phonics screening check...''PERA uses words and non-words to assess both phonic knowledge and use of phonics for reading, reading accuracy and comprehension. It also includes an informal pre-phonics assessment to help assess the earliest stages of reading''
Alison Clarke reviews PERA. Note Debbie Hepplewhite's comment, ''PERA assessment of comprehension would have been better with 'plain' texts without the picture clues''
This is the PERA assessment (see above) matched to the Jolly Phonics programme GPC order of introduction..
Ruth Miskin's nonsense word test. This is a phonics decoding ability test.
Basic Alphabet Code Knowledge Test. Does your child know the Alphabet Code? Do YOU?
Debbie Hepplewhite provides several free, assessments including an Alphabet Code (say the sounds) and Nonsense Word tests.
Children Can't Read: and what we can do about it' by Diane McGuinness. Pub. Penguin (out of print but copies available through Amazon) USA edition (in print) Why our children can't read and what we can do about it. Pub. Simon&Schuster. Both editions include a useful set of assessments: nonsense words, phoneme segementation/blending and a code knowledge test.
Assessments to avoid:
The phonics screening check ''is quick, objective, and based on a model of reading (the Simple
View) which stands up to scientific scrutiny, unlike the widely-used but
slow and subjective Running Record, which is based on a model of reading so
far from reality that nobody has ever come forward to admit they made it
Running Records Must be Abolished. They ''assess a student’s ability to
recognise words based on contextual guessing''
Miscue Analysis critique
Example of AfL Running
Record using miscue analysis for reading assessment - Rigby
Star Book Banded fiction
A critique of Running Records of children’s oral reading.
''I have been an Educational Psychologist for 15 years working at the school/classroom level within a Local Authority and I still do not know what dyslexia is''
X Dr Kerry Hempenstall: Failure to learn: Causes and consequences
The Blame Game! Are School Problems the Kids' Fault?
Link to The Options/Choosing