The phonics reading test is compulsory for Victorian Class 1 pupils in state schools

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The Phonetics Screening Check was designed to assess whether students have grasped the basics of using phonetics to decode words and to trigger more support when they have not.

dr Jordana Hunter, program director for education at the Grattan Institute, said failing to identify students with reading difficulties early could lead to lifelong struggles.

“There’s no point in waiting until third year for a student to fail,” she said. “The sooner we know the better, and a robust 1st grade phonetics screen could mean the difference between a child getting the support they need or struggling through several school years and becoming increasingly disengaged.” “

But Hunter warned that teachers need more training and support to interpret the test’s results and learn how to help the students who need it most.

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Professor Pamela Snow of La Trobe University warned that the version of the phonetics check Victoria is using, called the English Online Interview, is an unknown quantity, unlike other tried and true phonetics screens used by other states and overseas .

“I can’t say it’s strict, although it’s good that they have something,” Snow said.

The test will use a combination of real and pseudo-words, which Snow says is essential to assessing each child’s ability to decode sounds and syllables for meaning.

“She [pseudo words] are the absolute backbone of a phonetics screening check because it is really important that children have to decode words they have never seen before.”

Phonics is widely taught in Victorian primary schools, but mainly as part of a balanced approach to literacy that also combines whole language practices that teach children to read using complete words and repeating phrases found in texts, combined with pictures.

Synthetic Phonetics teaches children the 44 sounds or phonemes of the English language and the letter combinations that make them up. It breaks down written language into small and simple components. Balanced reading and writing techniques include the “three clue system” and the use of “predictable texts” that encourage children to guess words as they learn to read.

Other states have focused more on phonetics in their curricula in recent years, while Victoria has taken a less prescriptive approach, allowing schools and teachers significant autonomy in choosing their literacy programs.

However, from next year the national curriculum that underpins Victoria’s will be replaced with a curriculum that puts more emphasis on phonetics to teach children to read.

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Snow said this approach could lead to a “year 3 slump,” where children who appeared to be good at reading suddenly start fighting.

“When teachers use predictable text with pictures and a very repetitive language style, they create an illusion of reading, it’s kind of a halo effect,” Snow said.

“Often children seem to be more fluent when they are in 1st or 2nd grade when they are taught that way. These kids come into third grade where the pictures disappear and the text gets longer and more complex and it’s like the big reveal. These kids don’t really have these decoding skills, they don’t really understand how the English writing system works, how language and writing are linked.”

The rollout of a nationwide phonics screening check this year follows a pilot in 22 schools. Implementation will cost $11.3 million.

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