Area News letters to the editor

I am very concerned about a petition being put out by the Minister for Education seeking support for the implementation of a phonic test into Australian first/second-class students.

How he came to this decision is  beyond me, after reading

an article written by Misty Adoniou, and put out under the name of the Australian Association for research into Education.

Ms Adoniou wrote  “How the national phonics test is failing England and why it will fail Australia too.  A national test of phonics skills will not improve faltering literacy standards in Australia.

The test is being imported from England where it has been in place since 2011. 

It has failed to improve national standards in reading in England.

Instead the phonics frenzy of testing and practicing nonsense words that has accompanied the implementation of the test appears to be narrowing classroom practice and damaging literacy standards.

The test itself is ill conceived and poorly structured. Should we wish to test the phonological awareness of our six year olds this test would be inadequate.

So how did we end up even considering the test for Australian children?

The process that led to this test being recommended for all Australian six year olds was deeply flawed and is an unfortunate example of the growing influence of ultra-conservative think tanks on educational policy.”

Ms Adoniou explained, “The phonics screening check is a test devised in England . It is conducted one on one with Year 1 students (typically aged 6) The children are presented with 40 decodable words.

Twenty are pseudo words that are indicated as such by an accompanying alien icon.

The rationale is that this is a test of pure phonic knowledge, not vocabulary or sight word knowledge. Students need to score 32 from 40 to pass the Check.

Those who don’t pass are given intervention using a government mandated synthetic phonics program

For example, ‘groups’ must be read so the ‘ou’ is pronounced as/oo/. If the children decode this word with the ‘ou’ pronounced /ow/as in ‘house’, of/u/as in ’tough’, they are marked wrong.

Similarly, ‘chum’ must be read with the ‘ch’ pronounced as/ch/in chip, not/k/as in Chris or /sh/as in chef.

’Blot’ must be decoded to rhyme with ‘hot’. If the ‘o’is pronounced as the ‘o’ in ‘so’ or ‘go’, the student is marked wrong.

PLANS: Education Minister Simon Birmingham wants to introduce national testing for all year one students.

PLANS: Education Minister Simon Birmingham wants to introduce national testing for all year one students.

These examples show the children are being marked on their vocabulary knowledge, not their ability to use phonic knowledge.

They are being marked wrong, despite plausible phonic decoding, and as such we have not gathered accurate information about their phonic strengths and weaknesses.

As such, the child is marked on their existing knowledge of the word and its pronunciation.

The children who used other accurate phonic possibilities for the letters ‘ou’  are marked incorrect, and we are left with inaccurate information about their phonic knowledge.”

And further down in the article one reads: ” Students who don’t pass the check are required to re-sit the test after yearlong participation in the government mandated synthetic phonics programme.

These programs relentlessly drill the children in out-of-context phonic decoding to prepare them to read the unknown or alien words in the check.

The deliberate focus on these non-meaningful words has shifted the focus of literacy instruction away from meaning, despite the fact that evidence suggests that the ability to read pseudo words IS NOT A GOOD PREDICTOR of later reading comprehension. 

England now has the farcical situation where literacy time is spent teaching struggling Year 1 and Year 2 readers to decode pseudo words to pass a test.”

Betty Brady, Griffith.