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  • Katie Emerson

Reading assessment

Reading is the heart of education

this is our belief as reading can affect the ability to do any subject, even maths!

At Pen to Paper Ghana, we move from school to school, where we work in a school for one to two terms, providing free literacy classes and book resources. When we commence with a new school, we assess all students in the school and then choose those that are really struggling to read. In the summer 2019, we started with a new secondary school in the district.

Since the Form 3 students were about to be writing their final exams, we assessed the form 1 and form 2 students (aged between 12 and 17). A total of 36 students took the reading assessment, which is broken down into the following 3 areas:

- Letter sounding – this involved a list of the letters of the alphabet in a random order and the student has to give the sound of each letter. (N.B. This is a technique known as phonics)

- Word recognition – in this part of the assessment the student is shown 32 high frequency words printed and have to read them out.

- Phonemic blending – this consists of 32 high frequency, phonemically regular words for the student to read out.

In the initial assessment, only 10 pupils could attempt the letter sounds, which meant 26 pupils had never heard or used phonics before. There was a strong correlation between the understanding of phonics and being able to read the words; the 10 pupils who knew the concept of letter sounding, scored the highest overall. The highest scorer was a 14 year old, who was able to sound 20 of the 26 letters, read 31 of the 32 recognisable words and read correctly all the phonemic blending words.

On the other end of the scale, we had one student who could not read a single word on any of the areas. We had 18 of the students scoring less than 10 out of the 32 phonemic blending words, such as pan, lip and dish, which is extremely worrying as they are words that a 5 or 6 year old should be able to read.

From the 36, we invited 31 of the students to our free, reading classes. Over the two school terms, the pupils were taught through our phonics programme, where they learnt the letter sounds and how to blend letters together to make words. As well as reading, we focus on practicing talking and writing. We run our mobile library in the school too, where any child (from both the primary and secondary school) can come and take a book home. For this school, that meant over 250 children had access to books.

In mid-December, just before they broke for the Christmas holidays, we re-assessed the students to see the progress they had made in their reading. Unfortunately, due to absences and drop-outs from school, we weren’t able to assess all the students we commenced the classes with but the results below show the impressive improvements that the students made on average.


When looking at letter sounding, initially 26 of the 36 scored zero; however after two terms, with the exception of one pupil (who missed most of the classes), all others could sound out at least 24 of the 26 letters.

On the word recognition part, there was an average increase of 31%, with one student going from only being able to read 2 of the words, to now confidently reading 25 of the 32 words. The words in this part are ones we expect them to know as they’re high frequency words, such as, she, then and from.

In the phonemic blending section, we expect them to be able make a large progress with their new understanding of phonics, which was evident in the average increase of 73%. With the exception of the one pupil who was absent from school a lot, every other pupil increased their scores, with one student going from being able to read only 1 word, to now confidently reading 29 of the 32 words.

Below shows the average increase in the three categories:

In conclusion, it is great to see that our students have improved. The ability for them to be able to read will now open so many more opportunities, such as being able to complete a form to apply for a job, to be able to read the instructions on a medicine bottle and to have much more confidence in themselves.

The reality is that there are hundreds of schools that could use our expertise to help teenagers learn to read and also to provide primary school teachers with the knowledge of our phonics programme. In order to expand and help reduce illiteracy in Ghana, we need more monthly donors to come on board with this journey. Please get in touch if you can help.

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