I had the inevitable holiday run in with phonics denialists on Twitter. Not really worth rehashing any of it here; none of the arguments are new. However, I hadn’t realised that a lot of them, including primary teachers (and presumably this may also apply for a lot of primary teachers who are not denying the evidence for phonics on Twitter) are not actually aware that the main arguments used to deny the usefulness of the phonics screening check have now been discredited.
We now have the results from the students who took the phonics check in 2013 and did their key stage 1 reading assessment in 2014. And (from page 12 here) we learn that:
Pupils who do well in the phonics screening check do well in reading at the end of key stage 1. 99% of pupils who met the expected standard of phonic decoding in year 1 went on to achieve level 2 or above in reading at the end of key stage 1. 43% of these pupils achieved level 3 or above in reading. 88% of pupils who met the expected standard of phonic decoding at the end of year 2 achieved level 2 or above in reading. Only 34% of pupils who didn’t meet the expected standard of phonic decoding by the end of year 2 achieved level 2 or above in reading.
Looking at the more detailed results from here (Table 14) we can break down performance in the KS1 assessment by the results of the phonics screening check. The differences between those who passed 1st time (blue), those who passed 2nd time (red) and those who didn’t pass (orange) are striking.
If you were around for the debates over the introduction of the check, you’d know that the following claims were made at the time:
- Good readers would do badly in the phonics check.
- The check would not tell us anything useful about their ability to read.
- Teaching students to pass the phonics check would harm students’ ability to read later.
- It would tell us nothing that teachers did not already know.
If you know anything about testing, you’d know that a test that identifies loads of pupils (in fact a big majority of the cohort) who will have a 99% chance of succeeding at the next level, is incredibly useful. And even the 66% figure for indicating those who will do poorly in the reading assessment is remarkable for a 5 minute check. Which teacher would not want to know if students were in the blue, red or yellow distributions above? This is remarkably extensive information about probable future performance gained in really very little time. It also tells us the first 3 claims above made by opponents of the phonics check do not match up with what generally happens. Those who do badly in the phonics check (particularly twice) are rarely good readers. Check performance tells us a lot about subsequent reading scores. Those students who have been most effectively prepared for the check, also appear to be better prepared for the reading test.
Of course, the last claim of the opponents, that teachers already knew all the stuff the check told them, could be true. But given the impressive figures for the predictive ability of the phonics check, I think the burden of proof now lies squarely on those who claim that teacher assessment would be more accurate.
I was perhaps a bit naive with this post. I didn’t guess that the general response for phonics denialists would be to claim that everybody already knew that performance in the phonics screening check would be closely correlated to reading ability and effectively deny that any of the claims above (except perhaps for the claim that teacher assessment would be more accurate) had ever been an issue. So just in case there is any doubt that people claimed that the phonics check would cause problems for those who could read and would tell us nothing about reading ability, here’s a link to a letter opposing the phonics check from June 2012.
Please note it contains the following claims:
we [don’t] believe that this will help parents know how well their children are learning to read…
They will not show whether a child can understand the words they are reading, nor provide teachers with any information about children’s reading ability they did not already know…
The use of made-up words …. risks … frustrate [sic] those who can already read
…using unrealistic, arbitrary benchmarks in the checks plucked out of the air is of benefit to no one.
The signatories included:
- Mary Bousted (General secretary, Association of Teachers and Lecturers)
- Russell Hobby (General secretary, National Association of Head Teachers)
- Christine Blower (General secretary, National Union of Teachers)
- David Reedy (United Kingdom Literacy Association)
It also included Stephen Twigg and Lisa Nandy who were both Labour frontbench education spokespeople and the prominent anti-phonics activist Michael Rosen.
This was not some fringe group. These were the loudest enemies of the phonics screening check. And they were all utterly wrong.
Anybody know if any of them have acknowledged this?