Learning the building blocks of words - sounds, their spellings, and word parts

There are dozens of available assessments relevant to word reading and spelling skills, so this list is in no way comprehensive, but I hope includes useful information. Please let me know if you think I’ve omitted a really great test, particularly a cost-effective or free one.

The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) assessments cover phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension and fluency, and are freely available from a University of Oregon website. Designed for rapid screening and progress monitoring in primary schools.

Phonemic awareness assessments

Real word reading assessments

  • Australia’s Year 1 Phonics Screening Check is freely available online from The Literacy Hub. It contains real words and also pseudowords.
  • Burt Reading Test and Administration instructions: standardised, on Reading Reform Foundation website, for non-commercial use only.
  • MOTIF Castles and Coltheart 2: free, standardised, assesses both real and non-word reading, separates regularly spelt words from words containing unusual spellings.
  • Test of Word Reading Efficiency 2: standardised US test for individuals aged 6:0 to 24:11 years. Tests efficient reading of real words and pseudowords. Takes about 5 minutes. Great for identifying those who can decode but still need to work on their instant word recognition/fluency through lots of reading practice, if necessary first developing advanced phonemic awareness/phonemic proficiency. Australian norms for the TOWRE are here.
  • The UK Phonics Screening Check: criterion-referenced assessment for UK children in the middle of their second year of schooling which assesses their ability to read real words and pseudowords. Previous versions are available free online, here’s the 2017 version.

Pseudo-word reading assessments

  • Australia’s Year 1 Phonics Screening Check is freely available online from The Literacy Hub. It contains real words and also pseudowords.
  • MOTIF Castles and Coltheart 2: free, standardised, Australian, assesses both real and pseudo word reading in children aged 6:0 to 11:6 years. You must be a professional and create a MOTIF account to access it. Has an online version that writes its own report.
  • Diagnostic Reading Test for Nonwords: free, nonstandardised, you must be a professional to download it.
  • The Martin and Pratt Nonword Reading test sadly seems now to be out of print.
  • As mentioned above, the Test of Word Reading Efficiency 2: is a standardised US test for individuals aged 6:0 to 24:11 years, and includes pseudo-words. Takes about 5 minutes. Australian norms for the TOWRE are here.
  • The UK Phonics Screening Check: criterion-referenced assessment for UK children in the middle of their second year of schooling which assesses their ability to read real words and pseudo-words. Previous versions are available free online, here’s the 2017 version.

Real word spelling assessments

Non-word spelling assessments

Tests of spelling patterns outside words

Rapid Automatised Naming assessments

Difficulties with Rapid Automatised Naming are strongly associated with persistent reading difficulties, so worth knowing about.

Pseudo-word repetition assessment

Fluency/orthographic mapping

More comprehensive assessments

The York Assessment of Reading Comprehension is a comprehensive, individually-administered reading test which has now been standardised in Australia. There is a version for primary school-aged children and another for secondary school age.

The free DIBELS assessments cover a range of literacy skills across the primary school years, and are widely used in the US.

The Abecedarian Reading Assessment is another fairly comprehensive assessment of early reading skills from the US which is available free online.

The Predictive Assessment of Reading is a high-quality standardised US screening tool designed to identify children needing extra help with reading. The Aimsweb and PALS screeners also have proper data to back them up.

Many standardised assessments of phonemic awareness and decoding/encoding skills are incorporated into major psychological or language tests, and you have to be a Psychologist or Speech Pathologist to use them, so I won’t go into their details here, but if you’re seeing a Psychologist or Speech Pathologist they will be able to tell you about each of the tests they use.

Many synthetic phonics programs have their own placement tests, for use in deciding where to start on their program, for example the Jolly Phonics Reading Assessment, and the Ridgehill Synthetic Phonics Placement Tests. If you’re investigating getting such a program, check whether it includes assessments like these.

Response To Intervention

Response To Intervention or RTI is an approach to identifying and assisting students with additional needs at school. It provides three tiers of assessment and intervention, with anyone struggling at a lower tier getting access to the next tier:

  1. Evidence-based classroom teaching, including screening for risk factors,
  2. Small group support and intervention for anyone struggling or considered “at risk”,
  3. Intensive individual support and intervention for anyone whose problems are severe/ongoing.

A tiered, Response To Intervention approach is the best way to make sure that all children are able to achieve to their literacy potential.

20 thoughts on “10. Assessments

  1. Anne Italiano

    Hi Alison, just wandering why the MOTIF screeners have been crossed of your list. We are currently looking at screeners and want to make sure that we choose the right ones.
    Thanks for all your wonderful work!

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Anne, sorry for slow reply, I couldn’t work out what you meant, but I finally realised that the links to the MOTIF tests on my “Assessments” page were broken because they changed their URLs. I’ve fixed them up now. I think they are great but they aren’t really intended as screening tools, I think you’re probably better off using something like DIBELS for screening. Maybe you didn’t see my recent blog post about screening: http://www.spelfabet.com.au/2016/04/is-the-new-victorian-learning-difficulties-screening-assessment-any-good

  2. Pingback: Running Records are an uninformative waste of teacher time | Spelfabet

  3. Jackie

    Hi Alison,
    i am currently looking at different literacy assessment in our junior grades. We are in the process of moving over to Decodable for Beginner readers so RR are a waste of time. We use a lot of anecodotal notes, but I would like something more consistent for all staff. Dibels looks great. As it is from the US does our Prep/Foundation line up with their Kindergarten or Grade 1? Thank you so much!

    1. alison Post author

      Thanks for the nice feedback, my understanding is that what the US calls Kindergarten we call Foundation (or here in Victoria we say Prep), but of course they start school in the middle of the year so the age groups are not entirely comparable.

      1. Kerry

        Hi Alison
        What are your thoughts on cubed assessment? We used it in prep last year and found them to be informative. We are currently moving to SSP (soundswrite) in the early years and need alternatives to pm benchmarking. I’m suggesting we cannot use assessment that doesn’t match the instructional strategies.

      2. Naomi

        Hi Alison,
        I have begun to use Dibels to assess students entering our intervention program and find it great for understanding exactly where they are having difficulties but I am wondering if anyone has any thoughts about the reading passages. I have had to bypass some because of the very American terminology which I don’t think is fair for Australian kids. I am also wondering about using the reading passages as a tool for accuracy. Many of my students only manage to read 12 – 15 words in a minute but end up with a 50% score or 55% if they read one more word….I don’t think this can be giving an accurate representation of their abilities. It feels like the number of words read should be greater in order to get a true representation but my knowledge of statistics is not good enough to tell. Do you have any thoughts on this?

        1. alison Post author

          Hi Naomi, thanks for your interesting question, I’m sorry that I don’t use DIBELs, as I’m not currently working in a school. Could you ask Emina McLean about this? She is working in at least one school using this assessment, and she recently presented a webinar which is probably of interest and still available free online via YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjrTid758pA. Emina has a website where you can contact her: https://www.eminamclean.com. Hope she can help you! All the best, Alison

        2. Amy Wasserman

          Hi Naomi,
          I’m an American teacher with many years of experience using the DIBELS. The most interesting thing for our team is that it is a quick way to flag kids for intervention- especially K- winter of 2nd grade. We utilize the assessment to then place kids in intervention- either “word work”, reading, or both. As the kids get older (after winter of 2nd grade, I think it becomes less useful. However, the U of O’s research on fluency is really incredible. In terms of the benchmarks being too American-focused, I can appreciate that. If you don’t have to specifically use the DIBELS assessment, you can pull a grade-level text and time the student for 1 minute- count the errors and the total number of words read and use the DIBELS guide to assess growth. This is what I do when I’m actively working on the intervention aspect. I’ve had great success increasing fluency this way. Then you can choose your own text.

  4. karen

    Hi Alison,

    Thanks for your very helpful website.

    I am looking for a comparison between spelling tests with Australian norms, particularly with info about their reliability & validity. I noticed that Dalwood Spelling Test & South Australian Spelling Test weren’t on your list above & wondered if that was for a particular reason?

    Thanks for any help or direction you can give.


    1. alison Post author

      Hi Karen, I don’t use the SA Spelling Test as it tends to be done to death in schools and it contains a lot of words that kids have often studied multiple times, so it can give a false idea of kids’ spelling skills in my experience. I don’t even know what the Dalwood Spelling Test is, but am googling it madly, thanks for telling me about it. I don’t know of other spelling tests with Australian norms, sadly, apart from the free MOTIF ones, have you tried them? http://www.motif.org.au I think some of them have norms now. I use the Test of Written Spelling, which is a US one but in its fifth edition so pretty robust. I have also recently bought the Parallel Spelling Tests but haven’t used them yet, they are from the UK. Hope that’s helpful, all the best, Alison

  5. Pingback: Why is the Vic Ed Dept promoting a Fountas and Pinnell assessment? | Spelfabet

  6. Lizz Martin

    I’m aware of most of these assessments. I’m in a school (as LST) that now uses DIBBLES. mainly for Phonics assessment. In the past when students are referred to me as the LST I have used the Neale for an overall
    Standardised test. I know the Yark is being used as a replacement in other school now. Where I am doesn’t t have any standardised tests apart form DIBBLES. Do you think the Neale is still valid to use ( as I can get my hands on an old one) or should I press for a Yaak.
    Thanks for you help.

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Liz, I have both YARCs but I never use them for the same reason I’d never use the Neale, they conflate listening comprehension and decoding, like all reading comprehension tests, so at the end of it you’re still not sure whether to work on decoding or comprehension, or both. Why don’t you use the free MOTIF tests instead? The CC2 will give you a standardised measure of word-level reading, I assume you’re at a primary school so most kids can do that? They have a spelling test too, and you could use the PAST for phonemic awareness. Have you got school speech pathologists who can test listening comprehension, if kids seem low in that skill area? I thought most domains that matter were covered by DIBELS but as a clinician I haven’t used them, sorry. Alison

  7. Aimee

    Hi Alison – given that oral language is a foundation for reading and writing, do you have recommendations for oral language screening/assessment for schools? Not formal Speech Pathology assessments, more screeners that identify children that may require small group oral language support with literacy support and to identify children who may need referring on to a Speech Pathologist?

  8. Lorena

    Hi Alison! Thanks for all the information, this is great. In my case, I need a very particular test to perform some experiments I have in mind for my postdoc.
    I was wondering if you know about it, I do not know if any even exist. I need a dyslexia/reading abilities test that could be self administered (I will have some participants doing an online task on their own and I would need to know their reading abilities (mainly word/pseudoword recognition) to asign them to different experimental/control groups. Does anything like that exists? Do you know anything?
    Any information regarding this would be greatly appreciated!
    Thank you very much!

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Lorena, sorry, I don’t know of a word/pseudoword reading test that can be self-administered. There are some tests like this one on the IDA website: https://dyslexiaida.org/dyslexia-test. They aren’t testing reading ability though, and are subjective. Couldn’t you just administer the TOWRE to everyone? It’s very quick and robust. Alison

      1. Lorena

        Hi Alison!
        Thank you for the answer 🙂
        I aleady have some subjective questions like these as part of the data I will gather, yes. However, as you say, hey are subjective, so I would like to have anything else to rely on.
        I will administer a test (TOWRE is one that I have in mind among others) to the participants in the experiments that I can conduct in the lab, however, I have a couple of them with very specific control conditions and circumstances where I cannot be present, they need to be performed by participants all around UK, whenever it is convenient for them, a their own path. These I have already managed to make all the other tasks online and automatic, but the dyslexia part is resisting!
        I will keep searching (or end up creating a ool of my own, I reckon…) 🙂 Thank you very much for your advice!

        By the way, there is not many tests in my University and I believe we do not have the TOWRE. We have found the Bangor Dyslexia Test from University of Wales. Do you know it?
        Thank you!

  9. Christiane Serrano

    Hi Alison,
    Thanks Alison for all these assessment tests. These assessments are worth looking into as I have only used YARC for reading comprehension. We are in the process of using DIBELS which is useful for measuring the students literacy skills. I will be using some of these assessments to best program for my students needs and therefore make adjustments in the classroom.


Leave a Reply to alison Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.