Stephen Krashen July, 2015
The claim has been made that a short, 30 minute test, can predict future reading success. I argue here that this test "that can look in to a child's (reading) future" (Turner, 2015) only predicts the child's performance on measures of phonological awareness and other non-reading tasks, not reading comprehension.
Specifically: the test (The Auditory Processing in Noise test) measures the ability of the child to "tune out competing sounds to tune into speech", and the speech sounds were syllables such as "da" (Turner, 2015; White-Schwoch, Woodruff Carr, Thompson, Anderson, Nicol, Bradlow, Zecker and Kraus, 2015). Children who do better on this task also do better on a number of tests than their peers, controlling for demographic factors (not discussed in detail): tests of phonemic awareness (e.g. hearing a syllable such as /pa/ and being able to pronounce what is left after removing the initial consonant), automatized naming (how quickly the child can name objects, pictures, colors, etc), and memory for spoken sentences. None of these tests are tests of reading comprehension.
Performance on such tests does predict how well children eventually read for meaning, but there is good evidence that these abilities are not the cause of true reading ability: Rather, both reading ability and high scores on these tests are caused by something else: Actual experience in reading for understanding. This possibility is, in fact, mentioned by White-Schwoch et. al.: Although they accept the view that "phonological processing is a necessary foundational skill for reading development," they note that there is evidence that is consistent with the hypothesis that in school-aged children "reading subskills mature as a function of reading experience" (p. 9).
Evidence against the hypothesis that phonemic awareness is "a necessary foundational skill for reading development" is straight-forward:
In true experiments in which one group of children gets phonemic awareness (PA) training and the other does not, the PA-trained group is not significantly better on tests of reading comprehension, administered months or years later. Truly significant effects were found in only one study with only 15 children in each group, in Hebrew as a first language (Krashen, S. 2001a; for second language studies, see Krashen and Hastings, 2011).
Many children with low or even zero PA develop into competent readers (Krashen, 2001b; for second language studies, see Krashen and Hastings, 2011). A clear example of this is provided by Campbell and Butterworth (1985). Their subject, R.E., was a university student who “reads at least as well as her fellow undergraduates” (p. 436). This university student graduated from London University with second-class honors in psychology, and performed above average on standardized tests of reading. She had great difficulty in reading nonsense words, and while she knew the names of all the letters, she had difficulty with the sounds corresponding to the letters. She also performed poorly on tests of phonemic awareness and phonemic segmentation.
Campbell and Butterworth concluded:
“Since R.E.’s word reading and spelling are good, strong claims based on the necessity of a relationship between phonemic segmentation and manipulation skills, on the one hand, and the development of skilled reading and writing, on the other, must be weakened” (p. 460).
This good reader would probably have done poorly on the Auditory Processing test.
White-Schwoch et. al. consistently point out that their test will help predict which children will "fall behind" in school. This reflects the obsession with grade level and the assumption that all children should progress at a similar rate. All that really counts is whether children eventually learn to read and become lifetime readers. Both are dependent on finding interesting and comprehensible reading material.
Fink (1995/6) studied 12 people who were considered dyslexic when they were young, who all became “skilled readers”. Out of the 12 people, nine published creative scholarly works and one was a Nobel laureate. Eleven out of these people reported that they finally learned to read between the ages of 10 and 12 (p. 273), and one did not learn to read until the 12th grade.
According to Fink, these readers had a lot in common: “As children, each had a passionate personal interest, a burning desire to know more about a discipline that required reading. Spurred by this passionate interest, all read voraciously, seeking and reading everything they could get their hands on about a single intriguing topic" (pp. 274-275).
The Auditory Processing in Noise test is associated with performance on tests of phonological processing and other measures. There is no solid evidence showing that performance on these tests leads to better reading for understanding. There is, however, no evidence showing that PA training leads to better reading, several studies show that children can learn to read quite well with little or no PA. There is also considerable evidence showing that the path to learning to read and improving reading is doing plenty of reading for understanding of texts that the reader finds interesting (see also Krashen, 2004).
One of the researchers on the Auditory Processing in Noise projects suggests that all children be tested at birth (Turner, 2015). I suggest we invest instead in libraries, librarians and excellent literature instruction.
Campbell, R. & Butterworth, B. (1985). Phonological dyslexia and dysgraphia in a highly literate subject: A developmental case with associated deficits and phonemic processing and awareness. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 37A, 435-475.
Fink, R. 1995/96. Successful dyslexics: A constructivist study of passionate interest
reading. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 39 (4): 268-80.
Krashen, S. 2001a. Does “pure” phonemic awareness training affect reading comprehension? Perceptual and Motor Skills, 93, 356-358. Available at: http://sdkrashen.com/articles.php?cat=1
Krashen, S. 2001b. Low PA can read OK. Practically Primary, 6(3), 17-20. Available at: http://sdkrashen.com/articles.php?cat=1
Krashen, S. and Hastings, A. 2011. Is Phonemic Awareness Training Necessary in Second Language Literacy Development? Is it Even Useful? International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching 7(1).
White-Schwoch T, Woodruff Carr K, Thompson EC, Anderson S, Nicol T, Bradlow AR, Zecker SG, Kraus N (2015) Auditory processing in noise: A preschool biomarker for literacy. PLOS Biology 13(7): e1002196. Available at: http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.1002196
Turner, C. 2015. The test that can look into a child's (reading) future.