Sunday 16 June 2013

The Chronic Screening Pheck - tomorrow.

I've written before about the Phonics Screening Check (which is, as we know, Chronic Screening Pheck). We know now that it fails good readers. We know that it only identifies one possible reason why children might not be reading out loud well. We know that reading involves many different kinds of intelligence so why isolate and prioritise one: ie the one that asks of children to read certain kinds of words phonically and out loud? We know that a 'good result' in the test only tells us that that child reads phonically regular words out loud well. It tells us nothing about whether that child will be able to do better at doing the same when faced with non-regular words. It tells us nothing about whether that child can understand what he or she is reading, nor whether it will help that child later that year, the following year or in a few years time. In other words the test is useless.

However there is one other aspect that hasn't been mentioned as it's sometimes thought of as too theoretical. That is about how the test sits in relation to language. It's sometimes said that we talk in words or that language is made up of words. This is really such an oversimplification it's an untruth. Yes, we talk and write in words but these only have meaning in real situations when they are linked in the sequences we produce for real life purposes. These are sequences of dialogue (conversation), letters, emails, poetry, plays, novels, instructions, debates and almost every other language use you can think of. Linguists have ways of talking about these as 'phrases', 'clauses', 'sentences'. The reason why we produce the sequences in the shape we do, is because of 'grammar' or 'syntax'. As one simple example: I will say, 'the Phonics Screening Check', not 'Phonics Screening Check the' for reasons of how English has developed the 'Noun phrase'.

The Phonics Screening Check presents children with words in a form that they never use: a list of un-linked words, in no sequence that is related to real use, other than that it is a list for a test. It is not meant to communicate anything, it is unrelated to meaning. Those of us in education are of course desperate to help children produce useful and meaningful language - in speech and in writing and yet in their first year we throw at them a high status language event - the test. It's not only high status, it's deemed to be very significant. It is supposed to signify something important about children's use of language - yet it isn't language! It's words.

In some schools, it is handled with the lightest of possible touches, with very little direct preparation. In others, there is Phonics Screening Check preparation, involving reading of word-lists. Time is taken away from children looking at real language in use in order to fulfil the requirements of a useless test.  This is shameful.