Assessment and intervention for an SSP approach
Assessment allows teachers to gather data on students’ developing knowledge and skills, enabling them to adapt instruction and respond to student needs.
In a systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) approach, assessment should collect data on the discrete areas of phonological awareness (in particular, phonemic awareness), letter–sound correspondence knowledge, and decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling) skills.
This topic focuses on assessment within an SSP approach. It will help you link the analysis of assessment data to planning for targeted intervention within a Response to Intervention (RTI) model.
- understand the areas of knowledge and skill to assess in an SSP approach
- understand the Response to Intervention (RTI) model
- know how to analyse SSP data to plan for RTI-aligned instruction.
1. Spotlight on assessment and intervention for an SSP approach
25 minutes reading and viewing
Assessment is a vital part of a systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) approach. Student data gathered through assessment allows you to target your instruction to a student’s next point of need. This gives each student the best opportunity for continual growth.
Coupled with a Response to Intervention (RTI) model as explained below, assessment data enables you to identify and plan targeted instruction for all students, including those who may require the greatest levels of support (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006).
What knowledge and skills should be assessed to support an SSP approach?
In an SSP-aligned approach, assessment focuses on the knowledge and skills that students need for reading and writing. These include:
- phonological awareness (in particular, phonemic awareness)
- letter–sound correspondence knowledge
- decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling) skills.
In addition to assessing these three areas, you should also consider fluency. After students master early decoding skills, they should move on to reading passages and whole texts so that you can assess their rate of fluency. For more about fluency, see the Literacy Hub’s fluency and progress monitoring professional learning.
Read this 2-minute overview for a suggested outline of areas of assessment across Foundation, Year 1 and Year 2.
What is the Response to Intervention (RTI) model?
The Response to Intervention (RTI) model is widely used to identify students who need greater levels of support during instruction. It is an important model within an SSP approach, as it supports schools to provide students with the intensity of instruction they need as they develop their phonics knowledge and skills.
The RTI model has three tiers:
- Tier 1 instruction is evidence-based, whole-class instruction. It incorporates core knowledge and skills aligned with the curriculum outcomes that students are expected to learn in a particular year level. Effective Tier 1 instruction will typically support 80% of students to progress successfully in their learning.
- Tier 2 support is for students who need a boost in their learning to meet planned outcomes. It is delivered in small groups, either in or out of the classroom. Around 15% of students will require this additional support to progress in their learning.
- Tier 3 intervention is for students who need the greatest level of support. These students may also receive additional support from allied health professionals such as speech pathologists and/or occupational therapists, alongside their school-based supports. It is best delivered one-on-one due to the level of intensity and focus required by the student. Around 5% of students will require this additional support to progress in their learning.
Use a combination of your assessment data and teacher judgement to determine which students require Tier 2 support and which students require Tier 3 support.
This webpage and diagram further explains the three-tier model.
What does instruction look like across the three tiers?
Tier 1 instruction is for the whole class, following an instructional model like the Literacy Hub’s phonics instructional model for reading and spelling. Following Tier 1 instruction, teachers assess students and then make data-informed decisions about the need for intervention for each student.
Tier 2 and Tier 3 intervention is given to students in addition to Tier 1 instruction, not instead of it. The best results are achieved when Tier 2 and Tier 3 intervention uses the same instructional model as Tier 1.
Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction incorporate the following features:
- Students follow the same progression as the rest of the class, but with more teacher guidance, monitoring and feedback at each phase to develop their knowledge and skills to mastery.
- Teachers intensify support by providing these students with increased ‘We do’ time for guided practice and review. This extra practice with corrective feedback allows students to embed learning into their long-term memory.
This diagram shows the level of support provided by the teacher during each tier of the ‘I do’, ‘We do’ and ‘You do’ stages.
This 10-minute read provides further information on best practice Tier 2 intervention, and summarises the evidence that supports its use.
Assessing phonological and phonemic awareness
Why: Students need to be able to blend sounds together to read a word, and to segment sounds to spell a word. Assessing phonological and phonemic awareness allows you to track students' progression towards mastery of these fundamental literacy skills.
When: Assess your students’ phonological and phonemic awareness skills at the beginning of the Foundation year, and then each term to mid–Year 1 to monitor progress and plan next steps.
For students who have not progressed to advanced phonemic awareness skills by mid–Year 1, or for any student with reading difficulties, phonological and phonemic awareness skills should continue to be tracked. At any time, you can screen students new to your school for phonological and phonemic awareness.
Suggested assessment tool: The Quick Phonological Awareness Screening (QPAS) is a good tool to assess these skills.
Using assessment data to determine intervention needs: The phonemic awareness overview (including a continuum of phonological awareness skills) can be used alongside your chosen phonological awareness assessment tool.
- Place student names along the staircase using assessment data to plot their level of mastery.
- Analyse the spread of students to see which skills 80% or more of your class have mastered.
- Find the point at which less than 80% of your class have shown mastery and target your Tier 1 instruction here.
Support students working below this point with extra Tier 2 and Tier 3 intervention.
Assessing letter–sound correspondence knowledge
Why: Letter–sound correspondences are the building blocks for written words, so it is key to find out what students know in this area, and if they have any gaps.
When: Letter–sound correspondence knowledge should be assessed at the beginning of Foundation to establish students’ existing knowledge. Throughout Foundation to Year 2, assess relevant letter–sound correspondences for mastery after you teach each phase of your phonics progression.
Students who do not show mastery of taught letter–sound correspondences in line with whole-class progress should be provided with intervention and monitored closely in line with the additional instruction provided.
Suggested assessment tool: Use a progress monitoring tool to assess progress in letter–sound correspondence knowledge. You can use this set of downloadable progress monitoring tools, which is aligned to the Literacy Hub’s phonics progression, but can be adapted to match any progression.
Using assessment data to determine intervention needs: Download and complete the spreadsheets that accompany the progress monitoring tools.
- Find the point at which less than 80% of students can read and spell words or sentences with mastery and target your Tier 1 instruction here.
- Support students working below this point with additional Tier 2 and Tier 3 intervention.
Assessing decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling)
Why: Assessment of decoding and encoding allows you to see if students can apply their blending and segmenting skills (phonemic awareness) and their letter–sound correspondence knowledge to reading and writing, at the word and sentence level.
When: Decoding and encoding should be assessed throughout Foundation to Year 2, to track students' ability to apply their phonics knowledge and skills to reading and writing.
Suggested assessment tools: The following tools each provide data in different skill areas of phonics. A recommended approach is:
- Assess through ongoing progress monitoring as part of routine instruction.
- Plan for a more formal snapshot assessment through tools such as the Year 1 Phonics Check or the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) assessment suite.
Progress monitoring tools
Use a progress monitoring tool, as outlined in the letter–sound correspondence section above.
Year 1 Phonics Check
A screener tool such as the free online Year 1 Phonics Check is recommended in Year 1. This assessment tool can be used to assess decoding at the cohort, grade or individual student level; collect data across various code and word complexities, at a particular point in time; and identify which students are either fluent, developing or struggling in applying their phonics skills.
For more information on analysing individual student reports from the Year 1 Phonics Check, register to watch this Literacy Hub webinar recording.
The word and code complexity continuum can support your analysis of data from the Year 1 Phonics Check or another chosen decoding screener.
To provide data on a broad range of literacy skills, you can use the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS; Australasian version) assessment suite. This free SSP-aligned assessment can be used for screening and tracking students’ reading development from Foundation to Year 8. It assesses the areas of phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency and comprehension.
Using assessment data to determine intervention needs for progress monitoring and Year 1 Phonics Check: The process is similar for both the progress monitoring tools and the Year 1 Phonics Check.
- Analyse your data to see where 80% of your students are successful.
- Find the point where less than 80% of students have shown mastery, and target your Tier 1 instruction here.
- Support students working below this point with extra Tier 2 and Tier 3 intervention.
Using assessment data to determine intervention needs for DIBELS: The DIBELS Australasian-version suite provides benchmarking materials to support teachers to determine if students are on track in component skill areas for their year level.
2. Coaching webinar: Assessment and intervention for an SSP approach
Presented by Elaine Stanley and hosted by Kerrie Shanahan.
Register to view a recording of this free 60-minute webinar about SSP-aligned assessment and Response to Intervention (RTI).
Learn how to:
- analyse data in line with an SSP approach
- use data to plan for next steps in instruction and intervention.
The webinar uses the Literacy Hub’s progress monitoring tool spreadsheets as an example of an assessment tool and as a model for learning about data analysis.
3. Putting learning into action
Now that you have engaged with this topic, use the prompts below to reflect on your current practice and take action in response to your new learning.
Actions for school leaders
You may wish to:
1. Lead your staff through the Spotlight on assessment and intervention section and included links.
2. Discuss the following questions with your staff (reflecting and evaluating):
- Do we currently assess the skills needed in an SSP approach for phonemic awareness, letter–sound correspondence knowledge, and decoding and encoding development?
- Are we using assessment data to inform our instruction?
- How could we increase our focus on data analysis to inform SSP instruction?
- How do we currently identify students requiring Tier 2 and Tier 3 intervention, and could we do this in a more targeted way?
3. Support your staff to:
- explore the resources provided in this topic
- analyse student data.
- Establish a schedule for assessing phonics skills in the early years.
- Use the results of data analysis from your chosen assessment tools to determine an RTI response for phonics knowledge and skills.
Actions for teachers
1. Consider how your assessment plan for tracking phonics skills aligns with the information above.
2. Collect and analyse a set of data to determine an RTI response for phonics-related knowledge and skills.
3. Reflect on whether you are using a consistent instructional model across tiers of intervention in your classroom.
4. Q&A webinar: Answering your questions about assessment and intervention
Presented by Elaine Stanley and hosted by Kerrie Shanahan.
Register to view the recording.
This infographic shows the gradual release of responsibility model and how it aligns with the level of support needed following a Response to Intervention (RTI) model.
This document helps teachers create an assessment schedule that includes all the early
phonics-related skills necessary for reading and spelling development from Foundation to Year 2.
This document outlines the continuum of phonological and phonemic awareness skills and provides evidence and advice on effective phonemic awareness instruction.
These progress monitoring tools and accompanying spreadsheets support teachers to monitor individual and whole-class student progress in phonics. They align with the Literacy Hub phonics progression.
This diagram shows the gradual progression of skills that students need to develop so they can read and spell words with increasing complexity.
References, useful links and further reading
- Five from Five. Primary Reading Pledge.
Pages 5–7 have more information about taking an evidence-based approach to intervention. Appendix 1 on page 12 provides example assessment tools and the associated skills the assessments target.
- Fuchs, D. & Fuchs, L. S. (2006). Introduction to response to intervention: What, why, and how valid is it? Reading Research Quarterly, 41(1), 93–99. https://doi.org/10.1598/rrq.41.1.4
This is a key research paper about Response to Intervention. (Summary only; payment is required for access to the full article.)
- Learning Difficulties Australia (LDA). Response to Intervention.
This website provides comprehensive information on Response to Intervention and links to key research papers on the topic.
- McLean, E. (2021). Developing a literacy assessment schedule.
This blog post summarises useful literacy assessment tools and how to schedule them.
- National Center on Response to Intervention. What is RTI?
- Reading Science in Schools. Literacy assessment list Foundation to Year 6.
This document provides a summary of assessments matched to different areas of literacy, as well as a sample assessment schedule.
Australian Curriculum links
Australian Curriculum – English: Literacy – Phonic and word knowledge (scroll to the last section on this page)