Assessments, when done well, should change outcomes for kids. They demonstrate what students do and don’t know, so that teachers know how to best provide them with the instruction that they need.
If students can SPELL correctly, we can know that they’ve truly mastered that spelling pattern.
A variety of free printable kindergarten assessment ideas are included in this blog, but I also recommend utilising formative assessment techniques as part of your everyday practice during whole class lessons and small group sessions, so that you are regularly checking in on students' learning and students' understanding. This will allowy ou to adapt your practice to cater for each of your students' needs.
Phonics Assessment Tool Suggestions for Kindergarten Teachers
1. Nonsense Words
Nonsense words are a fantastic way to assess phonics knowledge. The brain has to know the sounds in the word, as well as the letters, and be able to connect those. But in order for the word to be orthographically mapped (permanently stored in the brain) it also has to have meaning attached to it.
If you take out the meaning, this forces kids to attend to just the sound-symbol connection, which is why it’s such a strong indicator of decoding skills and basic phonics skills. Another argument for the use of nonsense words is the fact that these words will not have been seen by children before, which will mean that students cannot read them as whole sight words.
2. Cumulative Assessments
In A Fresh Look at Phonics (2017), Blevins makes the important point that weekly assessments focusing on one skill can give ‘false positives’. They may show some immediate understanding, but not mastery. Skills must be worked on for subsequent weeks in order to achieve mastery. For this reason, he suggests using cumulative assessment practices in your weekly check-in assessments. These assessments include your weekly target skill plus skills from previous weeks.
If you are looking for some free worksheets to use for cumulative review, you may like to check out these free CVC Worksheets for Phonics Review.
Dictation can seem very ‘old school’, but when we do so much of our phonics instruction on mini whiteboards, it’s important that we get students recording their skills on paper too. ”It is through writing that all of a students’ phonics knowledge is tested, confirmed, and consolidated” (Blevins, 2017). Formal dictation provides students with structured opportunities to apply their phonics knowledge, with your guided support and corrective feedback.
Dictation can be a way of checking in on student learning – which sounds have they learned and which sounds are they still struggling with? I recommend incorporating it into your weekly schedule with:
- 5-7 words using your target phoneme or sounds
- 1 decodable sentence
An important tip for the sentence part: if students ask you to repeat part of the sentence, repeat the WHOLE sentence. This is not assessing their dictation of words, it’s assessing their dictation of sentences. Students need to be able to hold the whole sentence in their heads.
A key aspect of dictation is self-correction, where students begin to notice and correct their errors. Provide feedback to students by writing the correct answers on the board, explaining why certain spelling patterns have been used (e.g. we use ‘ck’ at the end of words after a short vowel sound) and giving students opportunities to correct their work.
4. Phonics Read and Spell
In Kindergarten (the first year of school in NSW), I used this Phonics Check In Assessment Pack at the conclusion of each unit of sounds. We would photocopy and send home to parents, so that they could see how their child was progressing.
At the end of the school year, we also re-tested the earlier units to show parents how their children had progressed throughout the year. This was particularly exciting for kindergarten students who had initially scored very low when we first test Unit 1. We used extension words with 4 phonemes/sounds at the end of each unit.Notes on the Reading Assessments:
- Test students individually.
- If they sound out the word, record an ‘s’ to distinguish which students can decode correctly but still rely on sounding out, and which students can automatically blend in their heads.
- Record incorrect answers- this can be a really helpful tool for determining whether students are mixing middle sounds, struggling with end sounds, reversing words etc.
- Don’t mark reversals as incorrect- this is a handwriting issue rather than a spelling issue.
- Record correct word/letter for mistakes so that parents can see what word the students were trying to spell.
For the later sets of sounds, we also used these to pre-test students, so that we could measure their progress from the beginning to the end of the unit. E.g. I tested students on words with ll, ss, ff and zz at the start of the unit and most students scored zero. By the end of the unit, most students were able to apply their knowledge of short vowel, double consonant and spell the same words correctly.
For students requiring additional support with writing, I recommend getting them to build the words rather than writing them. Here is an example below of using alphabet manipulatives to build the words, while the teacher records their spelling.
As you can see in this example, the student was only able to spell 7 words correctly when having to attempt to write the words themselves. By removing the fine motor/handwriting barrier and providing the child with manipulatives to build the word with instead, they were able to demonstrate their ability to spell all 16 words correctly.
These sound magnets are from Magnificent Learning Supplies. Use the code PHONICSANDBEEYOND for 10% off.
5. Phonics Profiles
Phonics Profiles can help keep track of student progress throughout the year. Here’s an example of some Kindergarten checklists, where a different coloured highlighter has been used to record progress each term. Pink is Term 1, yellow is Term 2, and blue is Term 3. Errors are recorded, and learning is targeted as a result of those errors.
These Phonics Profiles are available at Mrs Learning Bee.
6. Phonemic Awareness Assessments
Similar to phonics profiles, phonemic awareness check-ins can be a great way to identify gaps in student learning, and target your instruction accordingly. Here are few different examples of how you could record your data- these assessments are available at Mrs Learning Bee.
Phonological Awareness Assessment
Phonological awareness skills are also included within the free assessment pack shown above. Here's an example of an assessment tracking sheet for a whole group of students.
7. Phonics Check In Worksheets
Another way of conducting a phonics check-in could be through a template like this. The use of symbols can help you to get whole groups of students to complete at the same time, even when they can’t read the instructions. E.g.
- Where there is a square, write the missing sound
- Where there is a heart, draw the word.
8. Word Mapping Grids
These free word mapping grids can also be used as a quick learning check-in to assess your target phoneme/s. Students box in the sounds that they can hear in the word, then write the word on the line.
More formal phonics screening and assessments
I unpack a range of phonics screening tools and other developmental screenings in this blogpost: The Best Quick Phonics Screener for your Primary Students.
Some schools will also utilise kindergarten entry assessment tools or other forms of a school readiness test. The primary purpose of the kindergarten readiness assessment is to provide early childhood providers with an understanding of a child's skills before they comment formal schooling. This may help the teacher when forming small groups or programming lesson content for the start of the year, and provides teachers with a common understanding of what children already know and what they still need to learn. More formal assessments may also be used at the end of the year to provide first grade teachers with similar information.
Ultimately, whatever assessments your school requires you to use, my best recommendation is to ensure that you utilise the data to inform your teaching practice.