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Testing Auditory Processing Skill

This is the third of four Phonics Assessment Tests that you can use to determine whether your child possesses certain skills and knowledge essential to efficient reading.

Important note: The first six items on the test can usually be handled by first graders, and the next two items by second graders, but the last two might not be handled until your child is at about the third grade level, so don't be concerned if your six year old has trouble with this test.

This test is called the Auditory Processing Test, although this is a bit of a misnomer since both the blending and segmenting tests also tested auditory processing to some degree. A more descriptive term would be Phoneme Deletion Test.

This particular test reveals your child’s ability to manipulate a sound within a spoken word. As with the previous two tests, it is a purely auditory test. Your child hears the words, but is not shown any, during this test.

Set the test up by saying “Now I’m going to see how easily you can leave a sound off of a word when you’re asked to do so. For example, if I ask you to say 'kit' without the /c/, you should say (pause briefly to see if your child responds here) 'it'."

Note: Remember, the /c/ notation indicates that you are saying the sound, not the letter name.

Then proceed with the test, but before each word ask your child to say the original word so that he is clear on the starting point. That is, tell him to say goat, then ask him to say goat without the /g/.

The test is scored by just noting the correct number of items out of 10, so 10/10 is a perfect score.

Why Phoneme Manipulation is a Required Skill

So, what’s the importance of this test? What skill does it test that is a necessary reading skill? Well, in English we have a system, a code, in which one letter or digraph can stand for more than one sound. For example, the digraph ea can be the /ee/ sound in teach, the /ae/ sound in great, or the /e/ sound in head. These various options are referred to as overlap options.

When your child encounters a word like post as an unfamiliar word, he might first try the /o/ sound and say the word as though it rhymes with cost. If he is proficient at blending and has been taught not to guess, he will realize that his initial pronunciation is not a word, and he will then try the /oe/ sound. However, because this is occurring constantly in English due to the multitude of overlap options in our code, he will be better off if he can quickly switch from one sound to another and go from his first attempt to his second, saying /p/o/s/t/, then /p/oe/s/t/, without having to re-blend the word sound by sound.

What’s Being Tested?

Effectively, the Auditory Processing Test checks your child’s ability to manipulate sounds within words by seeing if he can easily delete a sound. This is not quite the same as the skill he requires, which is to switch a sound, but it’s assumed that both skills are related to some extent.

My observation of clients over several years leads me to believe that those who struggle somewhat by mixing up sounds when they are decoding a word, by adding extra sounds or moving sounds around as they blend them, are the ones most likely to do poorly on the Auditory Processing Test. It is also, in my opinion, the test that provides the least useful information of the three auditory skills tests. If your child did fine on the Blending Test and on the Segmenting Test, it’s unlikely that a poor score on the Auditory Processing Test is indicative of what is holding him back in reading. It’s much more likely that his Code Knowledge is poor (the subject of the next test) or that he has an undiagnosed vision problem.

English Is Different

The primary reason English reading curricula are so varied, and why sight word methods are common is the prevalence of overlap options. In countries where the written language is straightforward, that is, where each symbol stands for one unambiguous sound, reading curricula almost always stress teaching phonics from the start and children are taught to blend the sounds to decode an unfamiliar word. Along the way, they acquire the knowledge to become good at segmenting as well, so they pick up the two required reading skills, blending and segmenting, and they are taught the relevant code from the outset.

In those countries, research indicates that dyslexic readers know the code, and can read words at a significantly higher level than is the case in English, but that they are less fluent than their peers. That is, they read slower than their peers, but they still tend to read accurately. Again, this is consistent with my assertion that most people considered dyslexic tend to be fighting an undiagnosed vision problem.

The challenge in English is how to handle teaching the overlap options that occur, such as the three options for the digraph ea mentioned above. The phonics curricula that handle this challenge the best tend to be most effective. This is one of the strengths of the OnTrack Reading Advanced Code Phonics Workbook available on this website.

The last Phonics Assessment Test is the Code Knowledge Test. Along with that test you will also find a Code Knowledge PDF that you can download and that you will need for the assessment process.