OK. I am opposed to the phonics screening check for the following reasons:
1. It encourages teaching to the test with children learning to decode lists of nonwords using time when children should be learning to decode real words, from which they can move onto reading real words in quality texts in order to learn.
This is a complete red-herring which, I believe, stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what is happening when children learn to read.
Whether it’s a real word or a nonsense word, children should be able to link sounds together accurately and produce a word. In the past, many people on this forum and elsewhere have made the point that non-words pop up in all sorts of written texts. Notwithstanding the fact that most children, by the age of six years will have a vocabulary of around 10,000 words, there are still words which crop up in everyday texts that they will not have come across before: longer, polysyllabic words (many of which contain ‘non-word’ syllables), less frequently encountered words, more technical words, and so on.
It seems obvious to me that if a child cannot decode, then they are not going to be able to read efficiently.
2. Linked to the above, it over-emphasises the phonics aspect of literacy and risks a neglect of other aspects which it is important to cover alongside phonics teaching, such as listening and responding to story, reading for purpose, developing oral language and vocabulary.
There’s absolutely no reason at all why attention to the teaching of the essential ability to decode successfully should precipitate a neglect of ‘other aspects of literacy’. This is the kind of calumny propagated by anti-phonics extremists like Rosen, Blower and company.
3. The test is not fit for purpose as it uses a combination of nonwords and real words. Judging from the content of the sample tests the nonwords section tests phonic decoding skills, but in the real words section phonically plausible but incorrect responses are not allowed. It is therefore not a test of phonic decoding.
I don’t believe for a minute that children who could decode successfully were ‘thrown’ by real words and read them as non-words. In order to make this claim, you need to provide evidence and, as far as I have heard, no one has produced any such suggestion before.
Where you might be on stronger ground is in claiming that children ‘normalise’ non-words. This is certainly the case, though there are various explanations for why this might happen. One is that, for example, children who read ‘storm’ for ‘strom’, simply can’t decode accurately! Another is that young children make mistakes. Another is that some children who entered school with low mental ages and were not ready to begin formal learning haven’t had time to catch up.
4. Practice sessions given to children using nonwords risks exposing pupils to illegal spellings and letter strings, by teachers unaware of such subtleties, when they should be developing an instinct for genuine English spelling patterns.
Again, where’s the evidence for this? Where are the illegal letters strings and spellings in the test? As for the much maligned ‘strom’, you’d have to be able to read it accurately to read the word ‘strombus’ or ‘stromboid’, or ‘strombuliform’ – not much good telling someone that they saw a snail with a stormbus in its back, is it? Or that one is going to Stormboli for our holiday this year.
5. Children who have developed instant recognition of words and a mature reading style may fail the test by misreading nonwords as real words, and then their time will be wasted with inappropriate teaching of phonic decoding which would represent a backwards step.
In my opinion, there is no such thing as ‘instant recognition of words’ in the sense that you, Toots, seem to be using the term. To me, instant recognition of words means automaticity, i.e. when the decoding process is so good it takes place faster than the conscious brain is able to register it – under the level of conscious attention. This is the view of someone who has worked for most of her professional life on studying reading and the brain – Diane McGuinness, by the way. I’m also not claiming that to be able to reach automaticity one must be taught phonics but that’s a different question.
There is a second answer to the point you make though: Yes, there are children being taught phonics who can read really very well. I hesitate to say perfectly because most, in KS1 at least, can’t read Dickens yet. However, what good quality phonics teaching can do for them is to demonstrate conceptually how the alphabet works so that they can generalise it. It can also have a highly providential effect on such children’s spelling, as I happened to see yesterday in a school.
6. The fact that 58% passed the phonics test this year, when much higher percentages pass the primary school reading assessments, would indicate that children's ability to pass the test does not correlate with their success in reading. That would, in turn, indicate that measures to increase time spent on phonics in order to achieve a higher pass rate has no guarantee of increasing success in reading.
Why anyone would want to draw firm conclusions from SATs tests, I really have no idea. In terms of teaching to the test, I would venture that in some schools they do nothing else but for almost a whole year before the tests are taken, quite apart from some of the dubious practices that go on in preparing for the tests. Look at the astonishing results we’ve just had at KS2. Then look at the screening tests being conducted in secondary schools!
Oh, and one more thing! I have never taught phonics to a single child with the aim of getting them to pass a test. My purpose has always been to enable them to access any text without exception.