NSW schools like the sound of phonics checks
By Rebecca Urban
https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation ... c0ce66d2c4
More than 250 primary schools across NSW have signed up to take part in a trial of a controversial phonics check for Year 1 pupils in a bid to better track children’s early reading progress.
To take place in term three, the trial will involve schools conducting one-on-one assessments with students to test their phonics skills, a key component in learning to read.
NSW was the second state to embrace the program, which is based on the British phonics screening check, after South Australia made it compulsory for all public schools in 2018. Tasmania has also since announced that its schools will introduce phonics screening.
The NSW trial, funded in last year’s state budget, has come up against substantial opposition from some education quarters, despite the NSW Department of Education endorsing synthetic phonics, which involves explicitly teaching students how to sound out each of the letters in a word, asthe most effective method of teaching reading.
The NSW Teachers Federation advised schools to ignore the voluntary trial, while the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations of NSW described it as a “high-stakes” test.
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said she was pleased the trial had attracted strong interest, given the importance of the early school years in a student’s success.
“The phonics check will allow teachers to quickly identify any possible reading and processing issues a student might have,” Ms Mitchell said. “I expect that the phonics check will help teachers to lift results across our early years as they identify struggling students, helping them to improve rather than fall behind.”
Jennifer Buckingham, director of strategy and research at Macquarie University’s MultiLit initiative, said the SA phonics check had already led to improvements in teaching and an increase in the number of children who could read words accurately.
“The strong interest in the (Year 1 phonics check) trial among NSW schools shows that many teachers don’t care about the so-called reading wars,” she said.
“They are seeing the benefits of evidence-based instruction, including phonics, and are willing to embrace an assessment that is simple to use, valid, and useful.”
North Rocks Public School in Sydney’s northwest nominated to participate in the trial after taking part in a pilot last year.
“We are a phonics school in that we use a synthetic phonics approach where we explicitly teach each sound so the children have those skills because without them they can’t become the competent readers they want to be,” said teacher Lisa Kent.
“Even then, the checks gave us a few surprises. It helped identify some children who needed further revision.”
The trial comes as the NSW government seeks to increase its control over schools in a bid to lift declining education standards.
Ms Mitchell said the phonics check would complement other “reforms and improvements”, including the state’s curriculum review that would “provide a back-to-basics approach with a renewed focus on numeracy and literacy”.