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Reading Mastery and Deficit Testing

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Phonemic Awareness

The average person has probably never heard of phonemic awareness, but researchers claim that this critical element of reading may be the single most powerful predictor of reading success. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in our language. A child learns to use phonemes to speak, long before he learns the alphabet. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear the sounds of the language, manipulate them in your mind, and reproduce them appropriately with your mouth. For example, a child might be asked to tell you the first sound s/he hears in the word cat. Not the letter, but the sound. They might also be asked to tell the last sound they hear, or the middle sound. Again, this has nothing to do with knowing the alphabet or being able to tell the letter that is used to represent the sound. There are approximately 30 discrete phonemic awareness skills that a child should master by the end of second grade.  The phonemic awareness test offered by The Struggling Reader is a user-friendly, but powerful tool that will allow you to evaluate your child’s abilities on 21 of the most important phonemic awareness skills.


Most parents do not need to be convinced that phonics is a very important set of skills for any reader to master.  What often makes teaching phonics so challenging is understanding, and keeping track of all the different skills you are supposed to teach.

There are the digraphs and dipthongs and consonant blends and silent 'e' and so on.  It all seems to run together, and if your child seems to be struggling in his efforts to decode, how do you know what particular skill is weak? The phonics test developed by the reading specialists at The Struggling Reader is designed to bring clarity to the phonics question by addressing each of the major phonics components a developing reader needs to master.  Rather than getting a general score that suggests you need to work on phonics, you will come away with a clear idea of the specific skills that need to be addressed.

After much field-testing with parents just like you, the format consists of a series of index-sized cards that are shown to the student, one after the other.  A user-friendly scoring guide accompanies the cards, and allows you to note the particular types of errors being made.

Sight Words

When a reader is attempting to decode a word we sometimes say he is trying to “sound out” the word.  As important as these decoding skills are, it is also very important for readers to instantly recognize certain words without having to decode them at all.  These are words that appear over and over again so frequently that the reader needs to be able to recognize them on sight. For example, consider the word the.  This is the most common of all words and appears about 75 times every one thousand words.  Consider the astonishing fact that the 10 most common words make up 24 percent of all printed material.  The 25 most frequently occurring words make up about one-third of all printed material. Can you imagine how it would slow us down if every time we encountered these words we had to pause for a moment to decode?  Multiply those pauses by the regular appearance of a few hundred of these commonly occurring sight words, and you can appreciate the value of knowing them instantly. The sight word test evaluates your child’s knowledge of 300 of the most commonly occurring words in print.  Mastery of sight words can be a real boost to any developing reader.


We commonly associate reading fluency with being able to read fast.  However, reading rate is only one component of this very important skill.  Accuracy and prosody are also necessary for a reader to be considered fluent.

A reader may read at an appropriate speed but read too many words incorrectly.  To state the obvious, it does little good to read at a good rate if words are being missed along the way. Reading at an appropriate rate, with few mistakes can still sound very mechanical and lifeless.  What is missing is the crucial element we call prosody.  This term refers to the use of appropriate tone, voice inflection, emphasis, volume, and a host of other vocal qualities that demonstrate a reader’s true understanding of the text.  This is much more than trying to read with enthusiasm just to make things a little more lively.  In order to read with true prosody, a reader must fully comprehend the text.  Reading specialists are increasingly focusing on the link between prosodic reading and comprehension skills.

Developed by reading specialists to be user-friendly, testing materials come with a thorough explanation of prosody, reading rate, and accuracy.


Comprehension is often linked to a child’s ability to decode effectively.  It stands to reason that if a child stutters and stammers and labors to “sound out” every word, they are not going to understand much of what they have read. However, it is not unheard of that a reader may decode rather effectively and still have trouble with comprehension.  This suggests that there is more to understanding what is read than simple decoding skills.


The testing materials available from The Struggling Reader allow you to establish three critical levels of reading comprehension for your reader:
Independent:  Where your child can read with relative ease, both decoding and understanding what has been read.

Instructional:  That important level that is not too easy and not hard, 
where you want to spend most of your instructional time.

Frustration:  It is important to know where this is for your child so you can avoid it.

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