Almost half of 1st grade students are not reading at the expected level

Less than a quarter of children in remote areas achieved expected reading levels, compared with 58 percent in large cities.

The second mandatory statewide review was completed over four weeks during term 3 last year. Although the 2021 test scores are 1.6 percent higher, caution should be exercised when comparing scores given the longer scoring window and some students may take the test later in the year.

Jennifer Buckingham, phonics advocate and strategy director at reading company MultiLit, said that while the “results are uncomfortable,” they show why the phonics exam is so important. “It’s really proof that we have to keep improving,” she said.

“Even taking into account COVID and the flu earlier in the year, it would be reasonable to expect some improvement as we introduced a new curriculum that has a heavy focus on phonics,” Buckingham said.

In 2022, elementary schools have increased their focus on literacy and numeracy as part of an overhaul of the state curriculum that places a greater emphasis on fundamental skills in early schooling.


The new Kindergarten through 2nd grade curriculum, which mandates the teaching of phonetics while learning to read, was rolled out in all schools this year.

At Guise Public School in Macquarie Fields, more than 65 percent of students met or exceeded expected levels, a significant jump from 32 percent in 2021. Compared to 2021 results, students got an average of 10 more questions right.

Former Guise Public School principal Megan Predl pointed to the school’s specialized learning program for pre-kindergarten students, which is vital in teaching some early literacy skills before children enter kindergarten.

“At school, students who need additional reading help are specifically encouraged and included in a school program that includes five weeks of small group classes in a specific area,” said Predl.


“We also really focused on professional learning for teachers. It’s important that teachers know where their students are and how to find and fix the gaps to improve.”

The Phonetics Screening Check – based on a test first introduced in the UK – assesses whether children have understood the basics of using phonetics to decode 40 words and then provides additional support if they have not .

In 2022, the phonetics check was completed by around 65,000 students at more than 1,600 primary schools. The students tested started kindergarten during the pandemic and have spent more than 30 percent of their school years in distance learning.

The test consists of 20 real words and 20 pseudo-words, such as “klom,” to ensure students are using their letter knowledge to blend the word’s sounds and read it correctly.

Mitchell said it was particularly gratifying to see that the percentage of Aboriginal students who met expected levels or outperformed had increased slightly this year. About a third of the Aboriginal pupils achieved the expected level of achievement.

Buckingham said that with all the resources available, it is not unreasonable to expect that the vast majority of children would meet the benchmark if they had received effective instruction in phonetics.

“We don’t set high and unrealistic expectations and we can expect better.”

The NSW Government has allocated US$16 billion to create universal pre-school for every child in the year before school.

The Morning Edition Newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Login here. Almost half of 1st grade students are not reading at the expected level

Justin Scaccy

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