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Literacy

Diagnostic tools: how they measure and improve literacy

By Kate Bibby

31 Mar 2022

A learner smiling and her friends in the classroom.

Diagnostic tools can help you to assess learners’ current knowledge in a particular subject area, such as literacy. Here, we look at:

  • when to measure literacy with a diagnostic tool
  • what insights diagnostic assessments can provide
  • a selection of diagnostic tools that measure literacy
  • what to do with the information in a diagnostic report

There are many instances when a diagnostic assessment of learners’ current literacy may be helpful. You may be:

  • teaching a new class or cohort
  • supporting learners' transition to secondary school
  • welcoming learners back after a break or summer holiday
  • looking to provide intervention support

Dedicated diagnostic tools are not the only diagnostic assessments available. Bedrock Vocabulary can be used to determine learners’ Tier 2 vocabulary level and target which words to teach on an individual learner level.

Different tools provide insight into elements of literacy, including reading and writing levels, spelling, and phonics. They should indicate how individual learners compare with the average ability for their age.

Armed with this baseline understanding, you can:

  • tailor your curriculum to your learners’ needs
  • steer your lesson planning accordingly
  • adopt intervention strategies for individual learners

Crucially, diagnostic assessments give you a benchmark to measure learners’ progress (and the impact of any interventions) against if you repeat the assessment at a later date.

There are many tools on the market that measure literacy. Some assess different components of literacy or are aimed at learners of particular ability levels. The tool your school chooses should be one that best matches your unique needs.

Here, we look at key features of three of the most well known. Our summaries are our impartial view and we have not received any payment for them.

Arguably the most well-known tool for assessing literacy, the NGRT, from GL Assessment, quickly assesses learners’ reading comprehension, identifying strengths and weaknesses. It has the following features and benefits:

  • Fully adaptive, meaning it’s suitable for students of all abilities in Years 1-11
  • Tells you learners’ reading ages and Standard Age Scores
  • Provides statistically-robust benchmarks based on up-to-date analysis of half a million learners nationwide
  • Enables you to identify vocabulary gaps – particularly important as reading is fundamental to the ability to access all areas of the curriculum
  • Can be used alongside New Group Spelling Test (NGST) for enhanced diagnostics
  • See a sample report from NGRT

Literacy Assessment Online, part of TES, is aimed at learners in need of the most support and aims to provide data to inform your intervention strategies. Key features include:

  • Quick to complete – each assessment takes just 20 minutes
  • Consists of three types of assessment: reading, spelling, and phonics
  • Well placed to measure impact of literacy interventions, rather than whole cohorts
  • Assessment can be repeated as often as you feel it would be beneficial – reports show results over time to help you measure any improvement

DRA – Diagnostic Reading Analysis, from RS Assessment/Hodder Education, is a one-to-one oral test that enables you to standardise assessment of less able readers. Key features include:

  • Offers assessment of:
    • Single-word reading accuracy and age
    • Reading accuracy, speed, comprehension, and age
    • Comprehension processing speed and age
  • Progress can be measured by retesting
  • It helps to create a pen portrait for learners who may need special arrangements, such as additional time in national tests
  • You can download sample pages on their site

Whichever diagnostic tool you use, you will want to use the assessment to tailor learning to suit learners’ abilities and maximise their progress.

Whatever your learners’ ability level, we can support your literacy and vocabulary strategy.