This blog post will teach you the five best practices for conducting phonics assessments. Learn how to easily, and effectively, administer assessments that will make it easier for you to plan, parents to understand progress, and special ed teachers to write IEPs. As we go through the five best practices, consider: are you already doing some of these? Which ones can you implement right now?
Best Practice for Phonics Assessments #1: Be Consistent
Consider your students and the assessments you are going to be doing. How often do you need to do them? The more consistently you collect data, the more data you’ll have to analyze and the easier it will be to pinpoint what is working or not working. At minimum, you should be giving phonics assessments three times a school year (at the beginning, middle, and end of the year). As a special education teacher, I ensure I have a phonics assessment every week.
Now, keep in mind, that doesn’t mean a full-blown phonics assessment every week. It just means at some point in a week, I keep data on a students phonics progress. It might be a tally mark as they are reading words from their decodable reader, or their score when we are practicing their flash cards.
Pick a schedule and stick to it. You can pick specific days (i.e. every Friday I will collect data on each student) or a time period (I will collect data once a week for each student). Keep some sort of tracker to help it make it easy for you to see who still needs phonics assessments and who is good to go!
Best Practice for Phonics Assessments #2: Be Authentic
This is a two-parter for me.
- One: Don’t make up data. Seriously, you’d be amazed how many teachers just watch a child work and then say, “I think he got about 60% of the words right”. That is a waste of your time! Collect the data and actually find the scores and percentages. Data should be accurate and authentic, not created based on feelings or what you ‘think’.
- Two: Collect data relevant to what you are measuring. If you are measuring CVC words in a decodable sentence, the phonics assessments you use should be CVC words in a decodable sentence. Don’t use a DIBELS score to measure CVC growth – that will not give you authentic scores on all the child is doing.
- Three: Be natural. Try to find ways to collect data without the student realizing it. Not everything has to be formal assessment, try to play a phonics game and see how the student is doing. Listen to him or her read a text to see if they are applying their learned skills to an actual text.
Best Practice for Phonics Assessments #3: Be Purposeful
When selecting phonics assessments, consider what it is you are assessing. If you want to know how a student can decode words in their grade-level text, you shouldn’t be using random word lists and flashcards. Likewise, if you want to track sight words, it’s fine to have a little anecdotal information of what you notice about CVC words, but don’t include that in the actual score. Be clear in what you want to track and why you want to track it. If you’re a special education teacher, this is a huge component of learning how to write IEP goals.
Best Practice for Phonics Assessments #4: Be Responsive
Don’t just collect the data and let it lay around. Do something with it! Use your phonics assessments to drive your instruction. If you notice certain skills are weaknesses, increase your instruction in those areas. Did you try a new phonics strategy and scores shot up? How can you use that phonics strategy for other phonics patterns?
Data is not worth the time if you aren’t going to evaluate it and use it to plan your instruction. And, don’t forget to share your data with others – parents, coworkers, intervention specialists, interns…Everyone who (legally) has a right to that information should have access. Consider using a digital platform, like Google Docs, to make it easy for people to see up-to-date scores on the student.
Best Practices for Phonics Assessments Wrap-Up
If you follow these five best practice for phonics assessments, you will have valuable data at your fingertips without a lot of effort on your part! Consider trying to work phonics assessments into your weekly plans so that you always have up to date information on your students. And, don’t forget to use the data from your phonics assessments to drive instruction – after all, that’s the point in collecting data!