Phonological Proficiency Predicts Word-Level Reading Skills Better Than Conventionally Scored Phonological Awareness Tests

Phonological Proficiency Predicts Word-Level Reading Skills Better Than Conventionally Scored Phonological Awareness Tests

First Author: David Kilpatrick -- State University of New York, College at Cortland
Keywords: Phoneme awareness, Word reading, Assessment, Orthographic learning, Reading disability
Abstract / Summary: 

Despite hundreds of studies on phonemic awareness, fewer than a half dozen directly address the construct of phonemic proficiency (Vaessen & Blomert, 2010 J. of Exp. Child Psy.). Phonemic proficiency involves instant, automatic access to the phonemic properties of spoken words. It is assumed that a timed phonemic awareness task more adequately assesses this construct because in untimed tasks, students can respond correctly using limited phonemic awareness skills via a mental spelling strategy. The present set of studies employed a test of phonemic manipulation (deletion and substitution) with an unselected group of first through fourth graders, and a group of fifth through eighth graders who receive additional help for reading difficulties. It was found that instant responses to these phonemic manipulation tasks had moderate to strong correlations with word-level reading tests across all groups while the non-instant responses either did not correlate or had a negative correlation with a word-level reading tests. A regression analysis showed that instant responses to phonemic manipulation tasks explained significant additional variance in the word-reading tests beyond recoding skills. Also, phonemic proficiency assessed in early first grade predicted word-reading skills at the end of first grade, controlling for recoding skills, while non-instant responses to phonemic awareness tasks did not. This suggests that conventionally scored phonemic awareness tasks confound proficient and non-proficient responses and may thus obscure the precise role that phonemic awareness plays in word-level reading development and word-reading difficulties.