Essential Decoding Assessments for Primary Readers
Second and third grade is where the ‘rubber hits the road,’ so to speak. While much of kindergarten and first grade reading instruction focuses on learning to read through phonological awareness skills and applying the alphabetic principle, second and third grade begins the transition from ‘learning to read’ toward ‘reading to learn.’
Texts are more rigorous in grades 2 and 3. The grammar and syntax of sentences become more complex (for more information, please see sentence structures). Pictures are less frequent. As a result, comprehension decreases for students who previously relied on picture clues to derive meaning. Furthermore, students are exposed to unfamiliar vocabulary. Background knowledge alone is not sufficient to solve unfamiliar words. This is particularly true in the content areas.
Word study is still of critical importance in grades 2 and 3 because they can’t comprehend what they can’t read. Research reveals that guessing is an ineffective strategy. In other words, Guessing. Won’t. Work. The most skilled readers apply phonetic knowledge systematically to solve unfamiliar words. This leaves the reader more available to achieve the ultimate goal of reading: comprehension.
It is imperative that students know the six basic syllable types and can use them to decode unfamiliar words with automaticity. Once students have mastered the six syllable types, they can then apply this knowledge to solve multisyllabic words.
We recommend gathering baseline data on second and third graders with a comprehensive decoding assessment. If you do not have one available to you, we have designed a single syllable decoding assessment (SSDA-shown right) and a multisyllabic decoding assessment (MDA).
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How can I use these assessments most effectively?
Second Grade: At the beginning of second grade, we recommend administering the SSDA. This assessment helps to determine a student’s knowledge of the six basic syllable types that are the foundation of our English language. These syllable patterns will eventually become paramount for decoding multisyllabic words.
As the school year progresses and students achieve mastery of the single syllable types, the teacher may then determine students’ ability to decode multisyllabic words using the MDA. The guidelines for analysis within the MDA will help teachers determine possible next steps.
Third Grade: We suggest that third grade teachers begin with the MDA. However, if students struggle with the MDA, this could be an indication that students do not have a solid understanding of the single syllable types. In this case, we recommend administering the SSDA. The SSDA can identify areas of confusion so teachers can plan instruction accordingly.
Here are some resources we have developed to help teachers plan instruction throughout the school year: