How to Assess Phonemic Awareness

Given that phonemic awareness skills play a critical role in early reading acquisition it is important to screen children’s ability early on in their school life. Weaknesses in phonemic awareness are characteristic of children with reading problems across a broad span of general verbal ability.

Screening or assessing phonemic awareness should be carried out early in the first year of school and monitored throughout.

Principal Paul McDermott on the importance of early screening

Principal Steven Capp on screening for phonemic awareness

Assessment tools

Some phonological and phonemic awareness screening tools are

  • Rosner’s Test of Auditory Analysis Skills (TAAS) – via Spelfabet
  • Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening – PALS
  • Sutherland Phonological Awareness Test – Revised (SPAT-R)
  • School Entry and Phonological Awareness Readiness Test (SEAPART)
  • Foundations of Early Literacy Assessment (FELA)
  • Quick Phonological Awareness Screening (QPAS)
  • Informal Phonemic Awareness Assessment at Reading Rockets
  • Diagnostic tests: Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP-2) and Phonological Awareness Test 2 (PAT-2)
  • The PAST Test (David Kilpatrick)

Rather than relying on standardised score cut-offs for screening phonological and phonemic awareness at school entry, it is possible to use a curriculum-based approach, screening only those skills that are judged to be directly relevant to children when they are first exposed to formal literacy instruction: that is, the ability to attend consciously to the speech stream, early awareness of phoneme-sized segments, the ability to recognise and identify some alphabet letters, and the understanding that alphabet letters refer to sounds in words. It can be argued that if children have not attained these skills when they are first exposed to formal literacy instruction, they are at risk of being baffled by what is being taught.

When assessing children’s phonological awareness skills it is useful to understand the ages at which 80-90 percent of typical students have achieved a particular phonological skill. It’s important to note that this is not a rigid step-wise progression. Some students develop phonemic awareness without having first developed syllabification skills, for example.

Ages at which 80-90 percent of typical students have achieved a phonological skill

Moats, L, & Tolman, C (2009). Excerpted from Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS): The Speech Sounds of English: Phonetics, Phonology, and Phoneme Awareness (Module 2). Boston: Sopris West.

Further reading :

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