A new suite of tests for assessing reading comprehension

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At the Scottish Learning Festival last week I attended an interesting seminar on a new (to me) assessment of reading with which I was very impressed. It replaces the Neale Anaylis to some extent.

Maggie Snowling  heads the team which developed this assessment. She is a well known proponent of the links between phonological processing ability and literacy acquisition and highly regarded.

The York Assessment of Reading for Comprehension (YARC) enables teachers to assess their pupils’ reading skills from an early age through to secondary school. It focuses not just on decoding and sight reading, but crucially on reading comprehension.

The assessments at passage level concentrate on reading for meaning, enabling pupils’ reading and reading comprehension to be regularly assessed and progress easily monitored. Questions linked to each passage demand the use of deduction and inference to arrive at the answers, giving teachers vital information about their pupils’ skills far beyond decoding and retrieval of information.

In addition to the passages for pupils, YARC also includes four short tests:

• letter-sound knowledge,

• sound deletion (supported by pictures)

• sound isolation

• early word recognition.

These are specifically designed for five and six year olds, although data will be available for the age range four to seven years. Assessing alphabetic knowledge, phonological skills and word reading, these tests are especially useful at identifying any underlying difficulties in phonological awareness and the acquisition of letter-sounds that could hamper progress in pupils’ reading.

The Passage Reading set comprises two equivalent passages for each year from Reception (P1) to Y6 (P7), each with eight comprehension questions of increasing complexity. A version of GL Assessment’s Single Word Reading Test is also included as a benchmark test.

The secondary reading tests include Passage Reading to assess reading comprehension skills, Reading Fluency and Single Word Reading.

Well worth checking out in my opinion.


Assessing Dyslexia Toolkit launched


New guidelines for identifying children with dyslexia was launched by former racing driver Sir Jackie Stewart on Tuesday. The online “tool kit” , available since January but now open to all, has been created for every teacher: we are all responsible for literacy regardless of our subject or sector. The resource supports the Curriculum for Excellence’s emphasis on literacy and numeracy across learning.

 The Assessing Dyslexia Toolkit for Teachers aims to help teachers and early years workers identify literacy difficulties and dyslexia among pupils. A key target is to spot problems as early as possible so children can be given support and are not disadvantaged educationally.

A key aim of the new guide is highlighting to all class teachers that they are in the best position to identify early indicators of dyslexia and other learning difficulties. It identifies problems teachers should look out for at various stages in a child’s education from pre-school to late primary, right up to senior secondary and college.

Dr Margaret Crombie, who led the team of experts behind the creation of the project from Glasgow Caledonian, Strathclyde and Edinburgh universities, said: “We now have a resource that all teachers can use to help them work through the process of assessment of literacy difficulties.”

It’s superb: check it out.

Characteristics of assessment for the 21st century

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 Building the Curriculum 5 says

A coherent approach to planning the curriculum, learning, teaching and assessment is necessary. In order to gather good quality evidence of learners’ progress through relevant experiences, staff need a range of approaches that reflect the breadth, challenge, and application of learning and the wide range of skills being developed.

 If this is what we are working towards (and I’d like to think it is) why oh why do teachers persist in expecting me to produce a magic kit of answers to a student’s learning difficulties without any knowledge of how that student performs his or her understanding? Are children with learning difficulties not entitled to as rigorous, wide ranging, thorough and formative assessment as others?

 The purposes of assessment are:

  • to support learning that develops the knowledge and understanding, skills, attributes and capabilities which contribute to the four capacities
  • to give assurance to parents, learners themselves, and others, that children and young people are progressing in their learning and developing in line with expectations
  • to provide a summary of what learners have achieved
  • to contribute to planning the next stages of learning and to help learners progress

I’m having a moan here because it seems that there are some who have not yet grasped these basic principles. As I was leaving a school recently a teacher asked me to interpret a screening test profile. I declined, knowing that the gates were about to be shut and I would be locked in until after lunch. She persisted and I ended up taking the thing with me saying I would look it over in more detail. However, I know nothing else about this student except name and date of birth.

The customary procedure is to gather ‘good quality evidence of learners’ progress through relevant experiences using a range of approaches which reflect the breadth and depth of achievement in learning’. In the case of a learner who may have dyslexia this can entail a summary of the child’s strengths and areas of difficulty, examples of learning with and without support, evidence of learning programmes and strategies already tried, attainments in reading, spelling and writing, clarification whether s/he has had hearing and sight checked and whether there have been significant absences (physical or emotional) in the crucial early years.

In addition, involvement of other agencies, particularly Speech and Language Therapy, and any family history of dyslexia needs to be noted. This way we can ensure ‘that curriculum, learning and teaching and assessment form a coherent experience’ and that the child’s ‘attributes and capabilities’ are examined as well as her or his ‘knowledge and understanding and skills’.

Teachers sometimes complain about the paper work – and I understand why – but if we are to do justice to the child’s learning needs then this evidence gathering is essential.

Once I had extricated myself I read my emails as I bolted my sandwich down. Another teacher was asking for a reading test for ‘an able reader’. She seemed surprised that I thought the age of the child was relevant. Actually, an able reader age 6 could at least start with tests for primary children; an able reader age 10 might well require something more demanding! Finally it transpired that the parents had requested a test score prior to their child being examined for a scholarship to a private school!

‘We don’t support 2-tier systems’, I replied and suggested she treat the request with the contempt it deserves!

Building the Curriculum 5 states that assessment is ‘part of ongoing learning and teaching’. We assess

• by using a variety of approaches and range of evidence to fit the kind of learning

• by making assessment fit for purpose and appropriately valid, reliable and proportionate

• through partnership working

to inform future improvements in learning and teaching.

 I wish!


Study aids

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flippers book

These study cards seem to be a simple, way to memorise facts, figures, formulae, to help with revision for exams.

The company that produces them, Pink Porcupine,  says:

Flippers consist of 60 small blank cards on a metal ring. Pupils write down the word, sum or question on one side and the answer on the other. When all the cards for the lesson have been filled in they look at the questions and try to answer them. Then they just flip over the card and find out if they were right.

Repeated use of the cards helps them quickly memorise the information. Once learned to fluency, if wished, those cards can be removed to allow pupils to concentrate on facts they are still “fuzzy” about.

Teachers have identified 36 subject areas where they have proved extremely effective.

In primary schools, these include numbers, number bonding, multiplication tables, sound and word recognition, common words, spelling, spelling reinforcement and individual or class revision.

In secondary schools uses include English and foreign vocabulary, chemistry formulae, music studies, art history, homework and personal revision.

Pupils achieve best results when Flippers study cards are fully integrated into lesson formats and used regularly in class – either daily for a time slot of a few minutes or three or four times a week.

A different Flippers booklet should be used for each individual subject.

 They could be very useful for recording timetables too and providing scaffolding for learners with organisational difficulties.
Until such time as we finally move away from the ridiculous system of examining how much information  is retained in someone’s head at the hottest time of the year, we must support our students as best we can. I know it is too late for this year’s round of exams but I shall bear these in mind for the future.

Formative Assessment works!


I happened upon Robert Jones’ blog post  about Assessment recently. He used Curriculum for Excellence  assessment principles to learn how his students had synthesised work on a money topic which included wages, VAT and exchange rates.  He concluded:

I was reminded today of the benefits of giving youngsters a say in how they are assessed, and of the benefits of sharing the purpose of an activity with them.

By chance I carried out a similar exercise at a primary school yesterday.

Last term I had been working with a group of 10 children whose poor working memory hinders them from learning as well as they might.

I returned after the 3 week break to ask them to capture their learning. Like Robert, I asked them to create a poster (they chose to use Comic Life) as an assessment exercise. I was very explicit, telling them this was for me to learn to do my job better as well as to gather evidence of their own learning. To make it more relevant, we agreed we would show the posters to others in their classes so that they could benefit from learning new studying strategies.

The challenge for Robert and I was ‘to figure out a way to capture the evidence … heard in class today’. These conversations I found to be even more enlightening than the finished products. The children built upon each others’ knowledge and understanding and reflected on questions put by me and others in the group to produce thoughtful responses. They were not inhibited by the  notion of this activity being An Assessment as they understood that deep learning is ongoing and does not have one ‘final answer’. They were confident enough to say when and what they didn’t remember, and to take steps to find out information from each other  in order to complete the poster as effectively as they could.

I now feel better equipped to teach this another time. I think the children themselves were surprised at how much they were able to recall in a collaborative atmosphere.

And this was the meta-point: they had an enhanced awareness of the skills many people use to remember information. The fact that they remembered the work we had done prior to the spring holiday showed them that they could, and had, improve their memories. Two for the price of one!

Dyslexia Support Service Spring Up-date

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This term I have been involved in the assessment of 20 pupils and have met with the vast majority of the parents of these youngsters at least once. This is either at Staged Assessment and Intervention (SAI) meetings or more informally to discuss progress and programmes. These assessments and parental meetings are preceded by extensive consultations with colleagues. Once an identification of dyslexia has been made, we usually meet again to discuss any interventions that may be appropriate.

In addition, I have attended 23 SAI meetings about pupils already ‘on the books’. Here we confer about the action plans and decide next steps. It is at these meetings that I often commit to a teaching programme for the following term. Otherwise I attend in an advisory capacity.

It is not always appropriate or necessary for me to have face-to-face contact with pupils. My colleagues do a wonderful job. Often they just need reassurance that they are on the right track and possibly some advice about resources or methodologies to supplement the excellent work they are already doing with their learners with dyslexia.

Work with individuals and small groups of pupils focused on auditory processing strategies (11), note making (20), syllabification (6), using digital technologies to access the curriculum (30) and strategies for organisation and planning as part of a transition programme for P7’s (9).

I have spent 3 or 4 sessions in each of 6 classes teaching them the basics of Mind Mapping using Kidspiration and Inspiration and I took a P7 class for 4 sessions helping them develop higher order thinking skills.

I have spoken to groups of parents at open meetings in 2 primary schools this term and delivered an in-service session for a school as part of their Dyslexia Friendly Schools Pledge. The focus was on learning styles. The Pledge itself has had a re-vamp and is now (almost) ready to be incorporated into the literacy strategy for the region.

 A group of support for learning colleagues and I have worked together to develop user-friendly guidance for using WordTalk. I presented this to a group of practitioners at an event organised by LT Scotland. I spoke at my first TeachMeet (for 2 minutes) on this wonderful resource at the Sea Bird Centre. We hope to roll this guidance out next term.

I went to 2  secondary schools to train colleagues to interpret the computerised assessment tool, LASS, and have commented on the reports (about 20) they have prepared subsequently. Of course I have attended meetings of the Outreach Service and both Clusters too.

I was lucky enough to win a laptop and software to the value of £1000 in a competition organised by iansyst and dyslexic.com. I plan to trial some of the resources with pupils next term.

I need a holiday!

‘Assessing Dyslexia Toolkit’


An Online ‘Assessing Dyslexia Toolkit’  has been launched. (This notice is somewhat belated. Apologies).

Dr Margaret Crombie, whose teacher’s guide to specific learning difficulties is a classic, has chaired a  group which has produced this very useful resource.

Funded by the Scottish Government, the toolkit should help all teachers to identify literacy difficulties and dyslexia. The toolkit will be piloted over the next few months as part of a wider dissemination process.


This is a superb resource – check it out.

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