What does the Year 1 Phonics Check assess? transcript

Rebecca McEwan: 

Let's make a start on our agenda by answering the question, what does the Year 1 Phonics Check assess? Because to understand data, we really need to understand firstly what we're assessing.  

The Year 1 Phonics Check assesses a student's decoding skills across words of increasing complexity. It's administered in a one-on-one assessment – some of you might have already done that – where the words are provided for the student to read, and you can see some examples of those words on the screen now. Some of them are pseudo words or made-up words, and then some are real words as well. We're assessing word-level decoding skills. Can students lift print from the page? 

In the assessment, the words are presented in two sections.  

Section 1 has some simple pseudo words and simple real words. Those words will have single letter–sound correspondences and some early consonant and vowel digraphs. You can see some example words there again. We have our pseudo word ‘lig’, which is just a CVC word with single letter–sound correspondences, and then ‘chin’, where we have the ch digraph included.  

In Section 2, so as the students progress through the assessment, we see some complex pseudo words and some complex real words come up for our students to read. They'll include things like two-syllable words, some alternative spellings, so ph making the /f/ sound, some less-frequent digraphs. We have some split digraphs and some trigraphs, and also some morphology is introduced there. You can see the example word ‘wishing’, where we have that base word of ‘wish’ as well as the ing or -ing suffix. 

Now we're a bit clearer about what the Year 1 Phonics Check assesses, let's look at what that data can then tell us. The Check gives us a good snapshot insight into students' decoding skills, but what does that really mean?  

When we think about word-level decoding, there are two component parts that we can think about that our students need to bring to be able to decode the words. The first is the letter-sound knowledge that they bring, so associating letters and sounds, and the other is blending skills. These are two discrete skills that'll come together to allow our students to lift that print from the page to read the word from the page or the screen. The Phonics Check data gives us insights into whether our students have this knowledge and this skill. On the example word on your screen you can see the word ‘shope’, which is a pseudo word, a made-up word. If a student was able to read that word correctly, then we would know that they have the letter–sound correspondences, so they can see the sh digraph, the oe split digraph and the p and their associated sounds, but they can also blend those sounds together in order, /sh/-/o/-/p/-/e/, ‘shope’, to read the word. In particular, because it's a pseudo word, we would know they're using those skills because it's not a word that they would've seen before and could have perhaps remembered. If our students are unable to read a word like ‘shope’, then that can tell us that one or both of those areas of skill and knowledge are missing or incomplete. They might not have recognised the oe split digraph or perhaps they could recognise the letter–sound correspondences but were having difficulty blending those sounds together in order. 

We do have on the Literacy Hub an annotation guide for when you are running the Phonics Check, the Year 1 Phonics Check, with your students. That gives you some consistency about how to record errors, which in turn will help you when you come to analysing to figure out what was it that the student was missing or that they had difficulty with. We'll put that link in the chat for you now. If you're assessing on the Phonics Check in the future, you might like to access that. 


Again, thinking about what the data tells us and delving into those pseudo words a little more. Pseudo words give us an opportunity to monitor for whether our students are using whole-word reading or whether they're using their decoding skills, so that letter–sound correspondence and blending skill. If a student in the assessment were to read more complex real words correctly, but they were really struggling with simple pseudo words, like ‘mep’ on the screen there, that gives us an indication that they might be using a whole-word approach. They might be trying to remember words that they've seen before almost as images. What we know is that students have a limited capacity for storing those whole words, and it can make decoding more difficult for them in the long run. If we see this kind of data from our students, then it's telling us that that student might need some letter–sound correspondence support, or some blending support, or even both. For those interested in that pseudo word inclusion in the Phonics Check, we do have a document which explains the rationale for including pseudo words. We'll pop that in the chat for you as well. 

[This document is no longer available on the Literacy Hub] 

What else can the Year 1 Phonics Check data tell us? Here we have our score indicators across the screen. For a Year 1 student after 18 months of instruction, we should be seeing our students reach a score of 28 or more. That puts them in that fluent decoders category that you can see on the screen, and they've been able to read most or all words in the Phonics Check. If we see a score of 20 to 27, then it's telling us that the student was likely to have been able to read the simple real words and the simple pseudo words, and they're still working towards that fluent decoder category. If we see students with a score of between 0 and 19, that indicates that they're having challenges in the first section of the assessment with those simple real words and simple pseudo words.  

Like I said, that's based on a Year 1 student and that's aligned with the Australian Curriculum. The Phonics Check is also usable for your Year 2s or for older struggling readers. But then when you are looking at these scores, you need to keep that in mind as well. If we have an older student who's in that developing or struggling category, according to their score, then that difficulty is going to be more prominent or giving us some more concern because that student has had longer than that 18 months of instruction. 

Our analysis today will focus on individual reports for struggling or developing decoders in particular. That could include those older students who are not yet reading up to 40 words, as we would expect, after the end of Year 2. 

Coming back to our tool for today. To make our analysis more efficient, which we're always trying to do as teachers, we've developed this tool for you at the Literacy Hub. It's a continuum of word and code complexity with those Year 1 Phonics Check words sorted underneath. It's telling us the types of code and the types of words that our students should be able to developmentally read along with our instruction, and that’s aligned to the Australian Curriculum. What should they be able to read first and follow on with? Using this kind of tool where we're really breaking down the words into categories is going to help us establish specific codes, so letter–sound correspondence and word-level strengths. What can the students read really well? And also help us to pinpoint really specific code – so letter–sound correspondences – and word-level difficulties that the student might be facing. That's what can help us to target our instruction.  

We're going to have a look now at those categories a little more closely, so that everyone understands what we mean by word and code complexity. 

As we look at this continuum with a bit of a zoom lens, you can see the categories across the page and also the example words above. When we're talking about code complexity on the continuum, we're talking about letter–sound correspondences. We're beginning on the left-hand side from single letter–sound correspondences that we'd find in CVC words, and then we have our consonant digraphs that are included in the continuum, our split vowel digraphs, vowel digraphs, trigraphs, and those r-controlled vowels. If we’re following a phonics progression and if we're teaching our students systematic synthetic phonics, then this is the progression of skills that we'd see across letter–sound correspondences. Some progressions might have slight variances in them as well. Then if we think about word complexity, we have our CVC words, which are those first building blocks for our students to begin to decode. This is where we have a consonant, a short vowel sound and a consonant, like in the word ‘hat’. As we progress through the continuum and our instruction, we're introducing words like ‘flop’, a CCVC with two consonant sounds that students need to blend at the start. This is starting to tap into that blending ability that our students need to bring to decoding.  

Moving along about halfway, we have more complex words with adjacent consonants. In ‘Splint’, the example word, the student needs to blend six sounds together. Also, there are three consonant sounds, one after the other at the beginning, which we know are more difficult for our students to blend. That's where we see sometimes some dropping off when our students are attempting to decode. 

Moving further along again we have morphology represented on the continuum. We have words with multiple syllables where our students might need to bring together some of the knowledge and skills from the rest of the continuum to be able to read those more complex words.  

We also have a word and code complexity continuum that can help to build your teacher knowledge around this. We'll share the link in the chat. That's also in the handouts. The coloured version of the continuum will help you to build your teacher knowledge; and the black-and-white version is the tool for helping to analyse the Year 1 Phonics Check.