Leaders call for ‘Running Records’ & ‘PM Benchmarking’ to be phased out

As we start to finalise this school year and prepare for the next, now is an ideal time to reflect on what has been in place and what needs to be updated. Within this process, educators should be guided by research.

From this context, I am suggesting that educators engage with some readings linked below. The readings summarise current research and also include the views of some of the most credible and influential professionals within the realm of literacy.

There is no doubt these readings will be a confronting read for many schools. Why? Many schools are widely implementing processes that are more aligned with ‘whole language’ than ‘structured synthetic phonics’.

It is my hope these readings direct schools to the implementation of assessments and reading materials which are aligned with the ‘gold-standard-approach’ of structured synthetic phonics.

What are the alternatives? What are evidence-based alternatives, which draw from a structured synthetic phonics base? The rest of this blog will focus on cost effective options to modernise reading books and the associated early reading assessments.

The recommendations below prioritise making the initial changes to the Junior Primary when students are first learning to read. Why? Gains are always greatest in the junior primary. Researchers typically agree that if students do not get off to a positive start in reading, many do not catch up, even with extra funding and special programs. For this reason, the suggestions below focus upon the critical initial phase in which students are learning to read, and require quality reading material and time efficient evidence-based assessments.

Suggestion 1: Plan to phase out junior primary whole language reading books in favour of decodable reading books (for home reading and in-class shared reading).

Many schools have limited decodable books. The evidence base clearly states that decodable reading material is beneficial for all students in the early phase of reading. Read more on decodable readers HERE.

Step 1: Conduct an audit and determine:

  • What decodable reading books are available in the school?
  • Where are the decodable books located? Are they in the literacy support room or accessible to the needs of the general classroom as well?
  • Is there sufficient stock of decodables to support in class and home reading over the full school year?

Step 2: Plan to phase out the whole language reading books. This phasing out may take 2 to 3 years.

  • Option 1. From Term 1 2019, junior primary students could be supplied with one decodable reader and one whole language reader.
  • Option 2. In 2019, Foundation classrooms could be equipped with decodable reading material and in 2020 Year 1 reading material could be upgraded.
  • Option 3. Schools may initially upgrade the home reading books and in subsequent years upgrade the shared reading material.
    In terms of decodable readers, there are a range of options. A cost effective option to establish, supplement or extend current stocks may be the PLD range.

Decodable books for semester one in the Foundation Year

Decodable books for semester two in the Foundation Year

Decodable books for Year 1 & 2

Students in middle / upper primary who still require decodable readers.

Keep in mind that most decodable reading book sets will need to be merged. Too often students are not ready for example book x because they require further repeated practice with reading material at the lower levels. Many of the commercial decodable book sets can be merged for added reading practice. An independent and extensive list of decodable readers can be found at www.spelfabet.com.au. Here you will find PLD’s books as well as a range of other options.

Suggestion 2: Establish a plan to phase out PM Benchmarking and Running Records.

The ‘Early Reading Profile’ presents an evidence-based alternative to whole language type reading assessments. It is a quick single word reading assessment. The screen presents words that gradually increase in length and phonic complexity. The progression reflects PLD’s structured synthetic phonics approach. The assessment takes minutes to present and should determine the level of the decodable readers that are required for home reading and in-class shared reading.

This ‘Early Reading Profile’, located in the below Screening & Tracking Manuals, is ideally designed for the initial two or three years of schooling when students are first learning to read. However, older students still operating at a junior primary level will also benefit from the effort of teachers to track their development and to match decodable reading material to their exact level of operation.

Teachers administering the screen record the percentage of accuracy for each level while rating the level of automaticity observed. The screen is designed for students who are starting to read in the Foundation school year and should continue to be administered at regular intervals (e.g. each term of the Semester) in Year 1 and 2, or until students are able to read all words accurately and automatically. Once students reach this level, the screen has done its job. Some students reach this point by the end of Year 2. It is also common that a proportion of middle and upper primary students are still operating at a junior primary level and would benefit from this screening tool.

Suggestion 3: Phase in standardised reading age assessments, which provide an indication of reading ages and track progress.

When presented annually, such measures indicate if students have made their 12 month minimum increase in reading ability. ACER are a recommended contact to review the current standardised reading assessments available. End of year standardised assessments will provide useful information for reports, for accountability, and for the school to determine how successful their reading programs and resources were over the prior year. Upon request, PLD can provide ready-to-use Excel or Google Sheets spreadsheets to assist in recording this annual performance information.


Concluding Words

Term 4 is an ideal time to plan changes before another hectic school year commences. If we at PLD can be of assistance when seeking to phase in these changes, please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected]