‘Thousands more children on track to become fluent readers’, says schools minister Nick Gibb in a Department for Education press release published yesterday.
Official data shows 81% of six year olds reached the expected standard in the Year One phonics test this year. That’s the same percentage as last year.
Pupils who didn’t meet the expected standard last year retook the test this year. This increased the proportion attaining the expected standard to 92%.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb claims the Year 1 figures show pupils are ‘on track to becoming fluent readers’. And with the proportion rising to 92% in Year 2, the test results seem to support his claim.
But decoding 40 ‘simple words’ singly and out of context isn’t reading fluently. You’d expect the proportion of Y2 pupils passing the end of Key Stage 1 reading assessment to be the same if reading fluently relied solely on breaking down words.
The proportion passing the phonics test and the proportion meeting the expected standard in the reading assessment did not match. 92%, remember, met the expected standard in the phonics test by the end of KS1. But that proportion dropped to 76% reaching the expected standard in reading.
More than nine-out-of-ten reached the expected standard in phonics.
Nearly one-in-four did not reach the expected standard in reading.
Comparing phonics test results with the reading assessment isn’t comparing like with like, of course. The former, as noted above, is decoding only. The latter includes comprehension and vocabulary knowledge. It uses continuous text not isolated words.
That is, of course, what reading fluency is about: reading accurately, with speed and understanding. Phonics, being able to break down words into their component parts, is a necessary skill especially when faced with an unfamiliar word. But this alone is not enough. Systematic phonics tuition is just one of eight strategies for improving literacy recommended by the Education Endowment Foundation.
This isn’t obvious from Gibb’s statements; it’s phonics, phonics, phonics. Sometimes systematic, sometimes synthetic, sometimes both systematic and synthetic and sometimes just plain phonics.
DfE figures do not show a correlation between phonic test success and reading assessment success. Perhaps Gibb should ponder that rather than sticking doggedly to the claim that decoding equals reading.
CORRECTION 30 Sept 09.25 I originally wrote ' You’d expect the proportion of Y2 pupils passing the end of Key Stage 2 reading assessment to be the same if reading fluently relied solely on breaking down words'. That should have been 'passing the end of Key Stage 1 reading assessment'. Apologies.