Spelling Tests for First Graders

In my last post, we talked about teaching kids steps to spell new words in a meaningful and engaging way.  So, what do you do when Friday comes?  Do you give that traditional spelling test that’s been around since the one room school house?  Or do you forget it altogether in the name of “What’s the Point”? {yes, I’ve seriously considered it before!}

But then, parents are looking at you like–say WhAt?!?!?!?–if you do away with them altogether. #thestruggleisreal

Let’s talk ways to assess kids’ spelling abilities in a less than traditional way!

First of all, when thinking about assessing kids’ spelling we need to think about what the expectations are for our grade level.  Just because it’s listed as a spelling word in a phonics program doesn’t mean it’s grade level appropriate.  The Common Core standard for first grade spelling says…

Use conventional spelling for words with common spelling patterns and for frequently occurring irregular words.
Spell untaught words phonetically, drawing on phonemic awareness and spelling conventions.

Common spelling patterns? What’s common? My state has defined these as CVC, blends, digraphs, CVCe patterns and a few vowel digraphs like ai and ay.

So, why does the phonics program my district uses have spelling words with all kinds of spelling patterns in the words? Ones that can seem a little bit of a stretch for 6 and 7 year olds?  Probably because of these Common Core Standards…

Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
Know the spelling-sound correspondences for common consonant digraphs.
Decode regularly spelled one-syllable words.
Know final -e and common vowel team conventions for representing long vowel sounds.

But the important language to note in these standards is know and decode.  Students have to be able to apply the phonics patterns they learn in their decoding skills.  Not spell them blindly on a spelling test.  They need to be able to recognize those patterns and decode words.

Yes, there are still many words our first graders need to be able to “spell cold” so to speak.  But not all of them.  The standards still say to spell new words phonetically–not correctly!

So, for those words with “common spelling patterns” that students need to spell correctly, a traditional test is still appropriate…with some modifications!  I love this traditional spelling test because it gives me the option of a self-check rubric.  I love having kids double check their work on their own.  At the end of the test, I have them go over the rubric we have practiced together all week and check their work for mistakes in each category.  Then I can add my checks next to theirs so parents can see how our checks measured up.

I use these traditional tests for words with blends, digraphs, CVCe words and some vowel patterns that I feel are common enough for first graders to know.  In my spelling tests packet, I have these traditional tests for those same sounds.  There is a template that can be used for any sound and the rest are marked with what phonics week we are on {if you are using the same program I am…if not, my phonics pacing is included for free with the demo download}.

Once we get into words that are developmentally inappropriate to expect first graders to spell, we move to the non-traditional spelling test.  Because even though correct spelling may not be appropriate, they still must be able to decode regularly spelled one-syllable words.  So, the non-traditional test focuses a bit more on the application of those spelling patterns.  My kids are given 3 or 4 choices for the correct spelling, I say the word, and they circle the correct spelling.  They are having to decode, use their eyes and sometimes even use their mind to spell…all things we work on all week long.

These tests come with 2 grading options: a score box that you can use however you see fit, or a 5 star system which is meant to focus on how many words they spell right instead of what they are missing!

In my spelling test packet, there are also 7 unit tests.  At the end of each group of sounds, we review all of these similar sounds {all of the blends, not just l-blends or all of the vowel digraphs, not just ai/ay}.

These assessments are perfect for seeing which kids are remember spelling patterns long-term.  I think they work best when parents aren’t given a list of these words to study again to discourage memorization.  Instead, encourage parents to study all of the previous weeks’ sounds.  Or just give it as an informal, impromptu assessment in the classroom.  This is GREAT information to form intervention groups for also!

In addition to our spelling test, I give students a dictation sentence or two to write each Friday also.  This is less about spelling and more about kids’ abilities to spell words in the context of a sentence or in their writing.  It’s also about seeing who remembers how to use correct mechanics.

These sentences also have a mechanics rubric that my first graders fill out before turning in their test.  It forces them to double check their capitals, handwriting, spelling and punctuation.  These tests are really big eye openers for me each week on who has great control of their writing mechanics and who doesn’t.

All of these assessments plus pacing guides, a year’s worth of spelling words and dictation sentences are included in my Year’s Worth of Spelling Tests!

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