Teachers’ Phonological Awareness Assessment Practices, Self-Reported Knowledge and Actual Knowledge: The Challenge of Assessing What You May Know Less About
May Know Less About
Karyn Carson 0
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0 Flinders University
Teachers? Phonological Awareness Assessment Practices, Self-Reported
Knowledge and Actual
Assessment of how well children acquire the foundational skills that will support
skilful reading development is critical if all children are to prosper in early reading acquisition
(Ehri et al., 2001; International Reading Association, 2013)
. Assessment, an integral
component of the teaching and learning process, informs feedback, planning and monitoring
of the acquisition of new knowledge and skills. Research shows that children who struggle to
read are at greater risk of inequalities in educational attainment, vocational opportunities,
socio-economic prospects, and health and wellbeing (Cree, Kay, & Steward, 2012). In
Australia, up to 24% of 10-year-old children cannot read above a ?low? international reading
(Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Drucker, 2012)
. This has reinforced federal and state
government initiatives aimed at improving reading outcomes for young Australian learners
(Australian Government, 2016)
, for example, the proposed introduction of a ?light touch?
phonics test for all six year olds
. The early identification of risk for reading
difficulties, or giftedness with reading, is important to ensure that all children can be supported
in attaining reading and academic success. Several skills play an important role in learning to
read; one powerful predictor of early reading success, and therefore a valuable variable to
measure, is phonological awareness (PA)?a conscious ability to manipulate the sound
structure of spoken words
. In the preschool (i.e., children aged 4?5 years in the
year preceding school entry) and early schooling years, teachers must have a strong
understanding of the skills that underpin early reading success. This includes a robust ability
to self-reflect on one?s own knowledge and accurately apply this knowledge to assessment,
teaching and learning.
Several studies have profiled early childhood (EC) teachers?, early years? primary
school (EYPS) teachers? and related professionals? (e.g., speech-language pathologists) levels
of PA knowledge or the relationship between this knowledge and instructional practice and
(e.g., Alghazo & Al-Hilawani, 2010; Cheesman, McGuire, Shankweiler,
& Coyne, 2009; Fisher, Bruce, & Greive, 2007; Hammond, 2015)
. Few, if any, have
investigated teachers? PA assessment practices?in particular, the relationships between: a)
teachers? own PA knowledge; b) self-reported PA knowledge; and c) PA assessment practices,
and the implications this may have for the early identification of children at-risk for reading
difficulties. The current study addresses this gap and discusses how improved teacher PA
assessment practices, self-appraisal and actual knowledge can better support young children,
including those at-risk, those with typical development, and those who are higher functioning,
with learning to read in Australia.
Phonological Awareness and Early Reading Development
Many studies, research reviews and meta-analysis have evaluated what contributes to
early reading success and identified several key skills that underpin positive reading outcomes,
namely, proficiency in spoken language, PA, letter-sound knowledge, vocabulary, reading
fluency and comprehension
(e.g., Ehri et al., 2001)
. In the preschool and early schooling years,
PA provides a bridge between spoken (i.e., sounds) and written (i.e., letters) language by
supporting children to decipher the alphabetic code, and is defined as a conscious ability to
notice and manipulate the sound structure of spoken words, including syllables (i.e., syllable
awareness), onset-rimes (i.e., rime awareness) and individual phonemes (i.e., phoneme
. PA, particularly at the phoneme level, is considered a powerful
predictor of early reading achievement, ahead of variables such as socio-economic status,
mother?s education level, vocabulary knowledge and listening comprehension
Gillon, & Boustead, 2013; Catts, Nielsen, Bridges, Liu, & Bontempo, 2015; De Groot, Van
den Bos, Van der Meulen, & Minnaert, 2017; Gellert & Elbro, 2015; Hogan, Catts, & Little,
2005; Kaminski & Powell-Smith, 2017; Rvachew, 2006)
PA begins to develop as early as three years of age and becomes more stabilised by
four years of age
. Generally, awareness of larger sound units such as syllables
and onset-rime develop first, with the development of early phoneme-level knowledge
emerging, and therefore measurable, between four and five years of age. More complex
phoneme-level knowledge tends to develop in the early schooling years, between five and
seven years of age
. While not all children with limited PA knowledge
experience difficulties learning to read, researchers note that most children with poor PA will
struggle to decode an alphabetic script
(Schuele & Boudreau, 2008)
; therefore, teacher
proficiency in PA assessment is an important protective factor for ensuring that children
atrisk are promptly identified and supported.
Assessment of Phonological Awareness Aptitude
Teachers? successful assessment of early reading development relies in part on their
own in-depth knowledge of PA, accurate self-appraisal of their own PA knowledge and the
accurate application of this knowledge to assessment practices that inform teaching and
(International Reading Association, 2013)
. Skilful assessment requires teachers to
know, understand and be able to apply appropriate diagnostic and technically adequate
assessment processes, including the accurate selection of assessment tools.
, p. 20) referred to this as ?assessment literacy? and maintained that
??assessment literacy helps us understand which tools will give us the type of information we
need, and what we know about literacy helps us understand which area of reading to assess?
(p. 49). Research suggests that a high number of EC and EYPS teachers have limited
knowledge of PA and its relationship to literacy
(Carroll, Gillon, & McNeill, 2012; Fisher et
al., 2007; Hammond, 2015)
. These limitations are likely to influence how well the predictive
power of early PA can be capitalised on through competent teacher assessment practices.
Given this inextricable link between knowing literacy and knowing assessment, it is critical to
uncover what research has already identified regarding EC and EYPS teachers? PA assessment
practices, self-reported knowledge and actual knowledge.
Teachers? Phonological Awareness Assessment Practices
In the available literature, few studies have profiled teachers? PA assessment practices
in the preschool and early schooling years; consequently, little is known about variables such
as frequency of PA assessment (i.e., once a year, termly, upon entry to school), types of PA
assessments employed (i.e., standardised assessments, observations, checklists) and reasons
for assessing (i.e., to inform teaching, to support transitions). Understanding how teachers
engage with PA assessment can provide useful information regarding whether it is used
effectively to support the early identification of risk for reading difficulties, or giftedness with
reading, in everyday teaching environments.
In a United States study by
Spear-Swerling and Zibulsky (2014)
, 102 kindergarten to
grade 5 teachers were asked to indicate how they would choose to allocate time to various
literacy tasks across a two-hour language and arts period. The participants were also asked to
complete a teacher knowledge survey regarding reading assessment and instruction. The
results showed that many teachers did no or little planning for assessment, including for
phonemic awareness. Teachers? knowledge of PA and phonics did predict the amount of time
teachers would allocate to assessment and instruction of these skills. EYPS teachers
demonstrated stronger PA knowledge than did teachers in the upper primary levels; however,
the authors cautioned that this was no guarantee that the teachers had a deep knowledge of its
components, and that ??in these studies the performance even of experienced teachers was
generally low? (p. 1357).
In another study based in the United States,
Gischlar and Vesay (2014)
literacy instruction and assessment practices of 215 EC teachers. The results showed that
many EC teachers constructed their own literacy assessments, raising concerns regarding the
robustness of the collected data, particularly given that teacher-made assessments are less
likely to be technically sound. Approximately 40% of respondents indicated that they were
self-taught in the administration of the assessments they used. Interestingly, with such
importance placed on teacher quality and their use of assessment practices, there is not a large
body of research indicating what is happening in today?s Australian classrooms regarding the
assessment of key skills known to influence early reading success, including PA.
Teachers? Self-Reported Phonological Awareness Knowledge
Research suggests that teachers? self-reported PA knowledge is often misaligned with
their actual PA knowledge
(Cunningham, Zibulsky, & Gallahan, 2009)
Louden et al. (2005)
found that 80% of new graduate teachers in Australia felt confident in their knowledge of
literacy practices in the classroom. However, their confidence level was disproportionate to
the perspectives of senior managers (i.e., 25%). Similarly, in an evaluation of the PA and
phonics knowledge of 140 Australian pre-service teachers,
Fisher et al. (2007)
the majority of pre-service teachers were quietly assured in their understanding of the sound
structure of spoken language and how it translates to print. However, they overestimated their
knowledge, as they were not aware of what they knew and did not know.
and Purdie (2005)
found that Australian pre-service and in-service teachers had positive
attitudes towards code-focused instruction, such as PA and phonics; however, when tested,
they demonstrated limited knowledge in these foundational areas. In another Australian-based
identified that EC teachers agreed that they must understand literacy
development and its instruction, but they largely overrated their own metalinguistic ability.
They lacked a deep understanding of PA, which may lead them to feel more confident about
their classroom practice than they perhaps should.
Although research shows a misalignment between teachers? self-reported PA
knowledge and their actual knowledge, this misalignment may be more significant for
teachers with less knowledge than for those with more knowledge in this skill area.
Cunningham et al. (2009)
identified that teachers with more secure knowledge of language
structures are more modest in their self-appraisal, whereas teachers with less secure
knowledge tend to overestimate what they know. This phenomenon is often referred to as the
?Dunning?Kruger effect?, whereby individuals with lower ability in a certain area
inaccurately self-assess their ability as being greater than it is, and individuals with higher
ability often underestimate their actual competency
(Kruger & Dunning, 1999)
. The disparity
between self-reported and actual knowledge of PA may result in less-informed teachers
believing they do not need to learn anything more; thus, they may be less likely to engage
with professional learning opportunities.
Teachers? Actual Phonological Awareness Knowledge
A large body of research evaluating teachers? PA and language knowledge has
highlighted notable knowledge gaps
(Fielding-Barnsley & Purdie, 2005; Mahar & Richdale,
2008; Moats, 2014)
. This undoubtedly has implications for both literacy assessment and
instructional practices, as teachers cannot assess or teach something they do not know
themselves. This phenomenon is referred to as the Peter Principle
Exemplifying this phenomenon,
Spear-Swerling and Zibulsky (2014)
identified that a high
numbers of teachers did not understand the difference between PA and letter-sound
knowledge, and they experienced difficulties when counting the number of phonemes in
words, recognising irregular words and understanding the logical progression for teaching
Cheesman et al. (2009)
found that many in-service teachers, when
discussing their entry into pre-service education, indicated that they did not have a secure
understanding of the written structure of the English language and that their teacher education
programmes placed little importance on needing to know such skills. The authors suggested
that the teachers? low entry skills would likely have affected their ability to benefit from what
instruction might have been given. This was supported by
found that undergraduates had low personal literacy skills and queried whether this came
about because they had been through schooling when whole language approaches were
In a comprehensive study evaluating the knowledge of 699 teachers and
paraprofessionals, Carroll et al. (2012) identified that junior primary teachers, EC teachers and
teacher aides achieved 74%, 54% and 63% competency levels on measures of PA
respectively; none of the teacher-trained cohorts achieved near ceiling levels. As posited by
Moats (2014, p. 87), teachers? limited knowledge of code-based skills is a disservice to both
students and teachers, as ??we continually underestimate the elusiveness of the foundational
content? Teachers often know little more than their students?. It is the remit of educational
systems, school leadership and teachers to ensure that teachers have the necessary professional
skills to assess and prioritise the learning needs of all students at any stage of their literacy
development. It is worth noting that these abilities may not necessarily develop as an outcome
of teachers? experience and number of years in the classroom
(Eller & Poe, 2016)
. Given that
word-decoding difficulties are a prominent feature among the profiles of many struggling
readers in the early schooling years, limitations in teachers? own PA knowledge is an area that
warrants investigation and support?particularly given the crucial information that PA
assessment can provide for the early identification of reading problems.
Understanding the relationship between current PA assessment practices in the
preschool year and early schooling years, and between teachers? self-reported and actual PA
knowledge, is critical for identifying how teachers use the measurement of precursory
reading skills to inform both educational planning and the early identification of risk for
reading difficulty. Although researchers have documented levels of teacher knowledge of PA
(e.g., Carroll et al., 2012; Cheesman et al., 2009; Fisher et al., 2007)
and have linked PA
knowledge to self-beliefs and instructional practices
(e.g., Alghazo & Al-Hilawani, 2010;
, little has been uncovered regarding the relationships between teachers? PA
knowledge, self-reported PA knowledge and the link to assessment practices for children in
the preschool and early schooling years. Hence, this study addresses the following questions:
1. What constitutes current practice in PA assessment, as well as self-reported and actual
PA knowledge, for EC and EYPS teachers working with children in the preschool
year and the first two years of school?
2. What are the key relationships between current PA assessment practices, self-reported
knowledge and actual knowledge for EC and EYPS teachers working with children in
the preschool year and the first two years of school?
One hundred and two Australian teachers who were working with children either in
the preschool year or the first two years of formal schooling (i.e., Foundation Year or Year 1)
participated in this study. All participants were working in the metropolitan capital city and
were registered teachers. Forty-four per cent of participants worked in the preschool setting,
37% worked exclusively with children in either the Foundation Year (21.78%) or Year 1
(14.85%) and 19% worked with children across the preschool to Foundation and Year 1
levels. EYPS teachers represented two main roles: junior primary teacher (38.61%) and
special education teacher and/or coordinator (16.83%). Preschool-based EC teachers were all
self-nominated as teachers, with none being non-teaching directors or support workers.
Participants reported a range of educational qualifications and years of teaching
experience. Ninety-four per cent of participants held a Bachelor of Education Degree, 4%
held a Graduate Diploma in Teaching and 2% held a Master?s Degree in Education. In
addition, 2% held a Bachelor of Special Education and 4% had a Graduate Diploma in
Special Education or equivalent. In terms of years of experience, the majority of EC teachers
had 0?5 years of experience (35.42%), followed by 6?10 years (25%), 11?15 years (16.67%),
16?20 years (10.42%) and 21 or more years (12.50%). For EYPS teachers, an even number
of participants had 0?5 years of experience (31.03%) and 6?10 years (31.03%), followed by
11?15 years (25.86%). Fewer EYPS teachers reported having 16?20 years (5.17%) or 21 or
more (6.90%) years of experience compared with EC teachers.
A survey design was employed to investigate current PA assessment practices,
selfreported PA knowledge and actual PA knowledge, as well as the relationship between these
three areas. The survey was piloted with six individuals with varying backgrounds in the field
of education to ensure that the questions were unambiguous and timely to complete. The
survey was assembled on Survey Monkey and randomly distributed as an electronic link in an
email to leaders of 120 sites (i.e., 60 preschool directors and 60 primary school principals).
Random distribution was achieved by identifying and allocating all preschools and schools
with an identification number, which was entered into a Research Randomiser Software
program to identify 120 contactable sites. The number of contactable sites was calculated
based on achieving a minimum of two responses per site, with a subsequent overall survey
response rate of 30% (i.e., this would yield at least 72 participants), to achieve the minimum
required sample size of 95 people (i.e., confidence level 80% with 5% margin of error).
Preschool directors were asked to share the survey with their EC teachers who had current
teacher registration and who taught children aged 4?5 years. School principals were asked to
share the survey with their registered teachers who worked with children specifically in the
Foundation Year or Year 1. Participants were informed of the voluntary nature of the study
and that the anonymity of any responses would be preserved. Consent was indicated through
the submission of responses.
For the purposes of this study, responses to 38 survey questions related to assessment
practices (7), self-rated PA knowledge (1) and actual PA knowledge (30) were analysed.
These questions were part of a larger survey evaluating teacher literacy practices, inclusive of
demographic information, which was piloted with six professionals, including two university
professors, one university senior lecturer, one PhD student, one EC teacher and one EYPS
teacher to ascertain face validity and appropriateness of items. Thirty items from the
?Phonological Awareness Assessment Probe?Adult?
(Love & Reilly, 2009)
, a tool that has
been used previously in the field
(e.g., Carroll et al., 2012)
, were used to provide an index of
actual PA knowledge at the syllable (10 questions), onset-rime (4 questions as only 4 items
available) and phoneme (16 questions) levels. Multiple-choice or Likert-scale question
formats were used, accompanied by comment boxes to allow for elaboration. The survey
took approximately 20 minutes to complete. Reliability for the 38 survey items used in the
present study was 0.852 (Cronbach?s ?). Retrospective confirmatory factor analysis was used
to determine construct validity for the 38 survey items, and identified four factors with
associated Cronbach?s ? coefficients: assessment practice (0.741), self-appraisal (0.745), PA
knowledge (0.678), and phoneme awareness knowledge (0.743). It is important to
acknowledge that the survey questions analysed in this study only focused on PA, and did not
cover all skills that are important prerequisites for early reading acquisition. Examples of
survey questions are provided in the Appendix.
This research was approved by a University Social and Behavioural Human Research
Ethics Committee, as well as the local educational jurisdiction involved in the study. Ethical
requirements preluded comparison between state and non-state education providers.
Survey responses were analysed quantitatively using descriptive statistics,
betweengroup t-test calculations and correlational analyses. Open-ended responses provided by
participants were limited and often brief, thereby precluding detailed analysis using
PA Assessment Practices among EC and EYPS Teachers
Participants were asked to provide information on their frequency of PA assessment,
the types of approaches they used and their reasons for assessing PA knowledge. Wide
variability was identified in PA assessment practices between EC and EYPS teachers.
Frequency of PA Assessment
As illustrated in Table 1, almost half of EYPS teachers (46.15%) reported regularly
assessing PA skills (i.e., each term), with one-third (33.33%) occasionally (i.e., 1?2 times per
year) assessing PA knowledge. A smaller percentage rarely (7.69%) or never (12.82%)
assessed PA. Less than one-quarter of EC teachers (23.91%) regularly assessed PA, while
more than one-third (39.13%) occasionally measured PA and a similar number (36.96%)
rarely or never assessing this skill.
Table 2 demonstrates when in the academic year teachers assessed PA. Both EYPS
teachers (67.65%) and EC teachers (48.57%) were more likely to assess PA at the start than
the middle or end of the year. EYPS teachers (58.82%) were nearly three times more likely to
assess PA when children showed signs of difficulties with emergent literacy compared with
EC teachers (20%). Twenty-eight per cent of EC teachers engaged in PA assessments when
children were transitioning out of EC education into formal schooling.
Significance testing revealed that EYPS teachers engaged in significantly more
regular (i.e., termly) PA assessment than EC teachers (t(100) = 2.44, p = .02). No significant
differences were identified in occasional, rare or no PA assessment between EC and EYPS
teachers. EYPS teachers were significantly more likely to use PA assessments at the start of
the school year, when children transition from preschool to school or when children show
early signs of reading difficulty compared to EC teachers.
As shown in Table 3, EYPS teachers were three times more likely to use standardised
tools (71.43%) than were EC teachers (23.68%), which represents a significant difference
between teacher groups. Of the EYPS teachers who used standardised PA measures, 95.83%
used the Screen of Phonological Awareness (SPA)
and 33.33% used the
Sutherland Phonological Awareness Test?Revised (SPAT-R)
instruments included the Oxford Literacy Assess
(Bayetto & Steward, 2013)
Observational Survey of Early Literacy (Clay, 2005). Of the EC teachers who used
standardised measures, 71.43% used the SPA
and 42.86% used the SPAT-R
Table 4 profiles use of information assessment methods. EC teachers were
significantly more likely to use informal assessment methods (84.21%) compared with EYPS
teachers (54.29%). This is not unexpected given the play-based programmes of many EC
settings. The majority of EC teachers relied on their professional judgement (96.77%) and/or
informal observations (96.77%) to gather information on PA ability. Approximately one-third
of EC teachers used additional informal measures such as criterion-referenced tools (6.45%)
or checklists (32.26%) to support observations and professional judgement.
Table 5 demonstrates that the majority of EYPS teachers (80%) assessed PA to guide
programme development or to monitor progress (62.86%). A further 57.14% used PA
assessment to group children for reading activities, while 54.29% used it to identify children
who might require additional reading support. More than half of EYPS teachers (51.43%)
used PA assessment to guide reading instruction. Of those EC teachers who used PA
assessment, 70% were for monitor progress and 54% to guide programme development. Less
than one-third of EC teachers used PA assessment to provide information for other teachers
and/or the school, and less than one-fifth (18.92%) used it to support the transition to school.
Self-Reported and Actual PA Knowledge among EC and EYPS Teachers
Participants were asked to rate their own knowledge of PA as either high, adequate,
needs developing or not sure. Figures 1 and 2 profile how EC and EYPS teachers rated their
own PA knowledge.
The majority of EC (76.74%) and EYPS teachers (81.58%) rated their knowledge of
PA as adequate to high. However, when aligned with actual knowledge, a mismatch was
identified. Responses to the 30 survey questions probing actual PA knowledge were
combined to generate a total PA knowledge score. As Figure 3 illustrates, EC teachers
achieved an average total PA score of 49.03% correct, while EYPS teachers achieved a total
PA score of 68.97%. This represented a significant between-group difference (t(100)=2.05, p
= .04), with EYPS teachers? scores being significantly higher than those of EC teachers.
Research shows that PA ability at the phoneme level makes a significant contribution
to early reading development. Thus, teachers? responses to 16 questions that tapped
phoneme-level knowledge were analysed separately from the total PA score. As illustrated in
Figure 4, EC and EYPS teachers scored 38.36% and 51.97% correct, respectively, on
phoneme-level questions, representing a non-significant difference in actual phoneme-level
knowledge between the two groups (t(100)=1.37, p = .17). Unlike total PA knowledge, EC
and EYPS teachers do not perform significantly differently from each other on important
Early Childhood Educators
Primary School Educators
Key Relationships between PA Assessment Practices, Self-Reported PA Knowledge and Actual PA
Tables 6 and 7 illustrate the key relationships identified in this study. Survey data
were analysed for themes by comparing descriptive statistics and undertaking correlational
analyses to quantitatively the strength and direction of relationships between practice,
selfreported and actual PA knowledge.
Engage in 80.43%
Seventy-seven percent of EC teachers reported their PA knowledge as adequate to
high, which was 28% higher than their total PA score and 39% higher than their
phonemelevel PA score; hence EC teachers believed their knowledge of PA to be higher than it was in
reality. The most preferred methods of PA assessment were observations and professional
judgement, both used by 96.77% of EC teachers. These assessment methods rely on strong
?actual? PA knowledge meaning that an ?actual? knowledge base of less than 50% correct on
a range of PA-targeted questions and less than 40% correct on phoneme-level questions,
informed the assessment practice of 96% of EC participants in this study.
Engage in 87.18%
Early Year Primary School Teachers
Adequate to high 81%
Eighty-one percent of EYPS teachers reported their PA knowledge to be adequate or
high, representing a 12% gap with ?actual? total PA knowledge and a 29% gap with ?actual?
phoneme-level knowledge. Over 80% of EYPS teachers used observations and professional
judgement as assessment methods, which, like EC teachers were informed by less than 70%
correct on overall PA knowledge, and less than 52% correct on phoneme-level knowledge.
Finally, correlational analyses did not identify any strong and positive correlations
between PA assessment practice, self-reported knowledge and actual knowledge for either
group of teachers in this study. A moderate and positive correlation was identified between
whether EC and EYPS teachers assessed PA skills and their own self-reported PA knowledge
(i.e., r = 0.57 and r = 0.48, respectively). A moderate and positive correlation was also
identified for EYPS teachers? use of standardised PA assessments and their self-reported PA
knowledge (r = 0.56).
This study investigated PA assessment practices, self-reported knowledge and actual
knowledge, as well as the relationship between these variables, for EC and EYPS teachers
working with children aged 4?7 years. Analysis of responses to an online survey revealed
unreported patterns in PA assessment practices for Australian EC and EYPS teachers, as well
as similarities to existing research regarding limitations in accurate teacher self-appraisal
compared to actual knowledge. These findings have important implications for future teacher
education training initiatives in Australia.
PA Assessment Practices, Self-Reported Knowledge and Actual Knowledge
Compared with international studies, which report that teachers spend little or no time
planning for PA assessment
(i.e., Spear-Swerling & Zibulsky, 2014)
, most Australian EC and
EYPS teachers in this study engaged in some level of PA assessment. Up to 87% of EYPS
teachers used PA assessment, and on a regular termly basis. This included both standardised
assessment methods such as the SPA and informal assessment methods such as observations
and professional judgement. Up to 80% of EC teachers engaged in PA assessment, although
for the majority it was done on an occasional to rare basis using informal processes
dominated by observations and professional judgement rather than more standardised
methods. This is not dissimilar to previous research, which highlighted the preference of EC
teachers for teacher-made assessment methods
(Gischlar & Vesay, 2014)
. With PA skills
beginning to develop prior to school entry
and the known predictive power
of such skills for differentiating between children who are likely to become stronger or
(Carson, Boustead, & Gillon, 2014)
, an important key outcome from this
study in terms of assessment frequency is the need to support EC teachers to more regularly
monitor PA skills, and to engage the 20% of EC teachers with PA assessment who do not
already do so.
In relation to self-reported PA knowledge, up to 77% of EC teachers reported their
knowledge to be adequate to high while concurrently obtaining an actual total PA score of
49.03% correct and a phoneme awareness score of 38.36% correct. Similarly, up to 81% of
EYPS teachers reported their PA knowledge to be adequate to high while producing an actual
total PA score of 68.97% correct and a phoneme awareness score of 51.97% correct.
Consistent with existing research
(e.g., Fisher et al., 2007)
, these findings demonstrate that
teachers often overestimate their knowledge of PA, and that the gap between self-reported
and actual PA knowledge is often more pronounced for teachers who have less secure PA
(Cunningham et al., 2009)
, as is the case for EC teachers in this study.
Moreover, teachers? actual levels of PA knowledge reported here are not dissimilar to
(Cheesman et al., 2009; Spear-Swerling & Zibulsky, 2014)
. For example,
EC and EYPS teachers? levels of PA knowledge identified in this study profiled the near
averages reported by Carroll et al. (2012), whereby EYPS teachers achieved 74% accuracy
compared with this study?s participants (69%), and EC teachers achieved 54% accuracy
compared with this study?s participants (49%). These levels of actual knowledge support the
notion of the Peter Principle, in that it is difficult to expect EC and EYPS teachers to assess
and teach skills to children if they do not have high proficiency, or have been taught, these
skills themselves (Moats, 2014). A key finding from this study is that a collaborative effort
to support teachers in raising their actual PA knowledge, particularly in phoneme awareness,
is needed across the Australian education sector.
The mismatch between self-reported and actual PA knowledge reported in this study
raises concerns regarding the challenges teachers face when trying to accurately and reliably
measure PA ability. EC teachers assessed PA skills rarely to occasionally primarily using
observations and professional judgement; assessment methods that rely heavily on ones? own
proficiency in PA. This is problematic given the limited actual PA knowledge among EC
teachers reported in this study, yet this is the knowledge base used to inform the collection
and interpretation of PA ability among pre-school aged children. Concerningly, this raises
questions regarding, how can observations and professional judgement as assessment
methods be accurate if one does not have an accurate understanding of what they are looking
for? Pre-primary education that supports the development of prerequisite skills for early
reading, such as PA, is a significant factor contributing to successful reading development by
10 years of age
(Mullis et al., 2012)
. Thus, an accurate measurement of such skills, aligned
with proficient teacher knowledge and self-appraisal, is crucial in the EC years. As an
outcome of this study, it can be argued that efforts to encourage EC teachers to supplement
observations and professional judgements with more semi-structured assessment methods
such as developmental checklists or criterion-based measures, alongside professional learning
in PA, may help to ensure that accurate data are collected?particularly if informal
assessment methods are preferred in EC environments.
EYPS teachers included the use of more regular PA assessment?particularly if they
believed their PA knowledge was adequate to high. Assessment practices were more varied,
with both standardised and informal methods being engaged. As with EC teachers, EYPS
teachers frequently used observations and professional judgement and although these
methods were used alongside other assessment methods, the data collected from observations
and professional judgement were informed by a restricted phoneme awareness knowledge
base. An overarching finding from this study is that Australian EC and EYPS teachers are
attempting to measure PA skills in the preschool and early schooling years; however, the
success with which teachers can implement PA assessment practices may depend on more
adequate pre-service and in-service training focused on the links between assessment
practices, enhanced self-appraisal skills, and improved actual knowledge, supported by
professionals with expert knowledge in early reading development?that is, a collaborative
effort is required.
Implications for Practice: Pre-Service and In-Service Training
Several factors are likely to be contributing to the profile of PA assessment practices,
self-appraisals and actual knowledge among in-service teachers documented in this study. In
regards to pre-service teacher training, reviews have identified that less than 10% of initial
teacher education programmes devote time to teaching undergraduate students how children
learn to read
(Louden et al., 2000; Commonwealth of Australia, 2005)
. This may be further
confounded by low levels of personal literacy among undergraduate students entering teacher
training programmes (Fisher et al., 2007), undergraduates themselves learning to read within
a whole language paradigm
, professional experiences with
inservice teachers with low levels of knowledge about early reading development
(Eller & Poe,
and a paucity among some university lecturers regarding their own knowledge of
language and reading
(Binks-Cantrell, Washburn, Joshi, & Hougan, 2012)
Based on the outcomes of this study, it can be postulated that the inclusion of
highquality tertiary instruction in foundational skills, which are known to support early reading
success, including the assessment of those skills, is paramount for supporting teachers in
enhancing reading outcomes for Australian children. Strategies worthy of future
investigation include: a) identifying the optimal amount of time to devote to teaching
undergraduate students about the assessment of early reading skills, as well as instruction; b)
ensuring high levels of personal literacy among applications into graduate programmes in
addition to ways of ensuring ongoing development within programmes; c) identifying and
supporting proficiency among university lecturers regarding early reading development; d)
collaborative teaching opportunities with related professions, such as undergraduate
speechlanguage pathology students or linguistic students; and e) translating skills to practice through
the support of knowledgeable in-service teachers during student placements.
Moreover, it has been postulated that schooling systems and school leadership are
responsible for ensuring that in-service teachers have the necessary learning opportunities to
assess reading skills, including PA, proficiently
(Cheesman et al., 2009; International
Reading Association, 2013)
. In preschools and schools, one recommendation from this study
is that line managers ascertain teachers? actual PA skills and undertake an audit of current
practices to identify current assessment practices, how data are being interpreted, by whom
and at what skill level, as well as how PA is being taught and how end-of-year information is
transitioned to the next teacher. Such a process may highlight gaps within a system-wide or
whole-school approach to the teaching of reading, as well as which staff may benefit from
professional learning opportunities. In terms of accessing professional learning, it is critical
that such opportunities are evidence-based and support teachers to tailor assessments and
instructions to individual needs, as opposed to choosing a non-differentiated commercial
product and applying it to all. Importantly, research shows that professional learning sessions
paired with coaching are more likely to receive longer-term traction than workshops alone
(Sheridan, Edwards, Marvin, & Knoche, 2009). Identifying opportunities to work
collaboratively to achieve positive changes in early reading assessment across pre-service and
in-service teacher education is an important consideration for experts, university lecturers,
policy makers, school leaders and teachers alike.
A limitation of this study is that sampling of participants was conducted from one
Australian metropolitan city and focused solely on teachers in the EC and EYPS years.
Future studies should endeavour to sample multiple cities across Australia and internationally
to ascertain a more holistic profile of PA assessment practices, self-reported knowledge and
actual knowledge. Further, the inclusion of school leaders, pre-service teachers, university
lecturers and departmental leaders in future studies will enable an informative comparison of
knowledge and practices within the area of early reading development at a system-wide level.
Finally, the survey provided to teachers measured one skill known to be important for early
reading development and did not measure other skills, such as vocabulary, reading fluency, or
comprehension strategies, known to be important for reading proficiency. Future studies may
wish to investigate reading assessment practices, self-reported beliefs, and actual knowledge
across a range of important prerequisite skills for teaching reading.
PA is an important skill supporting early reading success. Capitalising on its
predictive power through robust teacher assessment practices in the EC and EYPS years is
one way in which all children, including those at-risk, those with typical development, and
those are higher functioning or gifted, can be identified and appropriately supported to ensure
all children can experience reading success. Importantly, teachers cannot be expected to
know what they do not know, and with PA being a core component of early reading
development, it is imperative that teachers are supported in this skill area to ensure that all
young learners can prosper in early reading acquisition.
Appendix: Examples of Survey Questions Targeting PA Assessment Practices, Self
Reported Knowledge, and Actual Knowledge
PA Assessment Practices (7 Questions)
How often do you assess the phonological awareness skills of the children in your
Regularly (e.g., each term) / Occasionally (e.g., 1-2 times a year) / Rarely / Never /
Other: please comment
Do you use standardised phonological awareness assessments?
Please indicate which standardised phonological awareness assessment/s you use:
Sutherland Phonological Awareness Test (SPAT) / Screen of Phonological Awareness
(SPA) / Preschool and Primary Inventory of Phonological Awareness (PIPA) / Other:
please name and describe
Do you use informal phonological awareness assessments?
Please indicate which informal phonological awareness assessment/s you use:
Phonological Awareness Skills Mapping Tool / Phonological Awareness Skills Test /
Observations / Checklists / Early Childhood Centre, Kindergarten,
PreschoolDeveloped Tests / School-Developed Tests / Teacher-Developed Tests / Professional
Judgement / Other: please name and describe
When do you assess the phonological awareness skills of children in your setting?
Start of the year / Middle of the Year / End of the year / Each term / Transitioning out
of early childhood educationto schooling / School-entry / When a child shows signs of
reading and spelling difficulties / Not applicable (I don?t assess phonological
awareness skills) / Other: please comment
What are you main reasons for assessing phonological awareness skills?
To guide program development / Support transition to school / Guide reading and/or
spelling instruction / Group children for activities in reading/ Group children for
activities in spelling / Monitor progress/ Identify children who may need additional
support with reading/ Identify children who may need additional support with spelling
/ Provide information for other teachers and/or the school / Not applicable / Other:
Self-Rated PA Knowledge (1 Question)
How would you rate your own knowledge of phonological awareness?
High / Adequate / Needs Development / Not Sure / Other: please comment
Actual PA Knowledge (30 Questions)
- Please enter a numeral in the boxes provided to indicate your response to each of the
How many syllables do you hear in the words: animal / inconceivable / hastily /
catalyst / invincible / fortunate / caution / revolution / crustacean / stealthily
How many sounds (not letters) do you hear in the words: flag / scone / thought /
instrument / straight / rust
- Join the four pairs of words that rhyme:
stuff ? enough / basin ? hasten / read ? bed / some ? numb / zipper (no paired word) /
zither (no paired word)
- Please enter an alphabet letter/s in the boxes provided to indicate your response to
each of the following:
What is the second sound (not letter) in the words: bride / bought / queen / scream / thrive
What is the last sound (not letter) in the words: laugh / giraffe / though / crisp / arrange
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