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Research School Network: Using diagnostic assessments to dig deeper into children’s reading Sue Monypenny, Educational Consultant, explains how the Diagnostic Assessment Toolkit was developed to help Doncaster schools

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Using diagnostic assessments to dig deeper into children’s reading

Sue Monypenny, Educational Consultant, explains how the Diagnostic Assessment Toolkit was developed to help Doncaster schools

As part of the Opportunity Area Literacy Programme, which has been delivered in conjunction with Partners in Learning and Doncaster Research School, we have had a strong focus on the teaching of reading, using the EEF Literacy Guidance Documents for KS1 and KS2 to inform the programme. One of the areas we have explored in more depth was the critical role of teaching fluency as a bridge between decoding and reading comprehension. Through CPD sessions it became evident that we needed to develop and share teaching approaches to building fluency instruction into classroom practice across project schools.

Alongside training for English subject leaders we also developed The Fluency Intervention Project, primarily designed for a targeted group of children in Year 3. The intervention was aimed at those children who were able to lift the print off the page but struggled to make sense of what they were reading and were often poor comprehenders. These children clearly needed more explicit teaching on how to develop key strategies to help them process what they were reading. As part of the intervention we used the York Assessment for Reading Comprehension (YARC) packs to analyse difficulty and measure children’s progress from the beginning to the end of the intervention.

What became evident as we began to investigate the data from the assessments was that many children had clear gaps in learning that had not been picked up by previous assessments. The diagnostic nature of the YARC tests enabled us to identify more closely particular areas of reading difficulty: for some children this lay in phonics, for others it was not using information, such as punctuation, within the text to inform their reading, for some children it was simply just rushing through the texts as fast as they could without processing content. By taking a closer look at HOW children were reading we were able to pin point those areas which needed more explicit teaching.

Through discussion with teachers and teaching assistants involved in the project we began to consider how we could develop on going reading diagnostics to support a more nuanced approach to the teaching of reading and ensure assessments used in school captured children’s processes in reading as well as their understanding. This gave rise to the idea of developing the Doncaster Diagnostic Assessment Toolkit. We also considered the EEF guidance which states:

A helpful distinction can be made between using assessment to monitor a pupil’s progress, and using it to diagnose a pupil’s specific capabilities and difficulties. Both are important. Monitoring can be used to identify pupils who are struggling, or whose progress can be accelerated, and diagnostic assessments can suggest the type of support they need from the teacher to continue to progress. When an assessment suggests that a child is struggling, effective diagnosis of the exact nature of their difficulty should be the first step, and should inform early and targeted intervention’


When devising the toolkit we built on earlier work on the use of phonic diagnostics to develop three assessments capturing the different stages of phonic development alongside developing key reading diagnostics looking at concepts of print with beginner readers, accuracy and fluency and reading comprehension. In bringing all these aspects of reading together as a series of diagnostics we were able to ensure the toolkit could be of use by class teachers all the way through school.

The toolkit includes the following diagnostics assessments:

  • Diagnostic Assessment for Phonological Awareness
  • Diagnostic Phonic Assessment for Early Phonics – Letters and Sounds Phase 2, Phase 3 and Phase 4
  • Diagnostic Phonic Assessment for Later Phonics – Letters and Sounds Phase 5
  • Assessment for Concepts of Print
  • Diagnostics for Reading Accuracy and Fluency
  • Generic Comprehension Frame assessment

These materials were due to be launched the week we went into lockdown in March 2020. We therefore sat tight and waited for the autumn term and schools opening back up to launch the materials with our project schools. We sent the toolkit out to and invited teachers from the schools to take part in a series of webinars exploring each of the assessments with suggestions of how they might be used in school.

The webinars comprise:

  • Webinar 1 : Phonological Awareness and Concepts of Print
  • Webinar 2 : Early Phonics
  • Webinar 3: Later Phonics
  • Webinar 4 Reading Fluency, Accuracy and Comprehension

The period of lockdown and children’s very varied home learning experiences have thrown up considerable challenges for schools as children have returned to school at very different points in their learning. No doubt the first half of the autumn term has involved careful consideration of how best to assess what children have retained, where there are gaps in learning and how teaching needs to be adjusted. For many schools further investigation may be necessary for groups of children whose reading behaviours, skills and knowledge need more in depth consideration. This is where we felt the Diagnostic Assessment Toolkit and accompanying webinars would be a valuable resource for all Doncaster schools and would support them in gathering detailed information on children’s reading. We would encourage all schools to access these materials.

Sue Monypenny

Strategic Lead for the Literacy Programme

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