New early literacy skill assessment service

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It’s often very confusing for parents to work out whether to be concerned about their young child’s reading and writing skill development.

If the parents I talk to are reliable informants, advice from schools often goes like this:

  • Age 5-6: Yes, your child is taking a while to catch on to reading and writing, but let’s wait and see, she could just be a “late bloomer”. Just keep reading predictable texts and encouraging her to look at the pictures and guess, memorising high-frequency words etc.
  • Age 6-7: Your child will be attending individual or small group intervention, for more intensive activities of the type that didn’t work last year, e.g. Reading Recovery or Leveled Literacy Intervention.
  • Age 7-8: You need to pay a Psychologist $1000+ for a comprehensive cognitive and educational assessment, because we think your child might be dyslexic. If she is, you’ll have to pay a tutor to help her, because the school spends all its literacy intervention money on the program for 6-7 year olds.

I’m really tired of hearing this story, and aware that the “late bloomer” is usually on a path to failure, so I want to provide parents with earlier, more evidence-based advice. However, I’m too busy to offer a new service myself, so I’ve hired another Speech Pathologist, Nicole Erlich, to offer a reading/spelling assessment package for 6-8 year olds that’s fairly quick, focuses on the things that matter most for beginners, and doesn’t cost the earth.

Nicole has a background in Developmental Psychology, having completed her PhD at the University of Qld in 2010. She then worked at a hospital researching ways to help children with behavioural difficulties, so she knows lots about things like memory and learning, and doesn’t expect all children to behave like the ones in picture books.

Nicole completed a Master of Speech Pathology last year, and is a practising member of Speech Pathology Australia. She’s also lovely and children like her, I’ve been running Saturday groups and otherwise working alongside her for a term, and have helped her develop an assessment package that goes like this:

A. One-hour assessment session focussed on:

    • Phonemic Awareness (ability to discriminate identity, order and number of sounds in words).
    • Word reading skills (regular, irregular and nonsense words).
    • Spelling.
    • Rapid Automatised Naming Skills (highly associated with reading fluency).
    • Auditory and Working Memory (the ability to retain speech long enough to follow instructions and make sense of a story, and hold things in mind long enough to think about them).

B. Written report:

This includes test scores, interpretations and succinct, individualised recommendations for home and school, if appropriate.

Please note that this is not an oral language (listening, speaking, vocabulary) assessment, or an assessment of reading comprehension, fluency, cognitive skills or anything else other than the areas outlined above. If further assessments are advisable they would be recommended.

Cost: $320 for both assessment session and report.
Availability: Tuesdays, Wednesday mornings, and Saturdays.
Location: Clifton Hill.
Phone: 0401 833 815.

I hope this new service helps allay some parents’ concerns while providing others with information which can help prevent their child falling into the Wait-To-Fail trap, and help them get the kind of intervention they need, pronto.

If you’re nowhere near Clifton Hill but still want an assessment like this, there’s nothing to stop you from asking a local Paediatric Speech Pathologist whose area of practice includes literacy whether they can provide one.

Alison Clarke


3 thoughts on “New early literacy skill assessment service

  1. Louise

    Hi Alison
    as a kinder teacher – preschool – I am very interested in your blogs. Can I ask you if you agree with the lists of Golden words or whatever other label is given to the sight words that children start learning in PRep – I note you list rapid automatised naming skills amongst the assessment items – is that “sight words” or something else? Thanks

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Louise, Rapid Automatised Naming tests assess the ability to name pictures, shapes, colours, numbers and/or letters quickly, so they are focussed on the speed at which a visual stimulus can be processed to produce a verbal response. They’re not reading tests, or at least the ones I use involve no reading. I am not a fan of rote-learning high-frequency word lists in order of frequency, I would much prefer that these words be grouped by spelling pattern e.g. put “he”, “she”, “be”, “we” and “me” all together instead of obscuring their common spelling pattern by learning “he” in one week, “she” three weeks later, “me” two weeks after that etc. There are also so many words on HF lists that are utterly decodable for absolute beginners once they know the most common sound for each letter, so it really baffles me why children are being asked to memorise them by rote e.g. words like “in”, “up” and “on”.


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