Literacy tests and what they assess

This page describes the literacy assessment tools that are available for different age ranges and the aspects of literacy they assess. These tools will help you to understand a student’s literacy learning difficulties.

Types of literacy tests

There are generally two types of assessments for reading and spelling: norm-referenced tests and criterion-referenced tests.

Norm-referenced tests

Norm-referenced tests compare a student’s abilities with others.

These types of tests are carefully designed using psychometric principles so that your student's performance can be compared to the 'expected' range for students in that age or year level (often referred to as a reference group).

Many norm-referenced tests contain a series of sub-tests. Each sub-test has a range of average scores for students who do not have learning difficulties for that task or test. If a student's score is within this range their outcomes will be described as average. If it is well below this range, this may indicate a learning difficulty or disability, such as dyslexia.

Students' outcomes are measured as raw scores and then converted to standard scores, percentile ranks, a stanine score or an age/year level norm.

Examples include the York Assessment of Reading Comprehension and the Single Word Spelling Test.

For more information refer to Interpreting assessment data.

Criterion-referenced tests

Criterion-referenced tests assess specific skills or knowledge without comparing a particular student to others. about a student’s performance within an expected range, but whether the student has achieved a certain criterion.

Examples include tests that assess how well students can apply procedures they’ve been recently taught in spelling. In-class quizzes and tests are also examples.

For more information refer to Interpreting assessment data.

Assessment tools

The Insight Assessment Platform features information and online tools to help teachers assess the progress and learning needs of all learners, including those with learning difficulties.

The English Online Interview (EOI) assesses students from Foundation to Level 2 across the three modes of English in the Victorian Curriculum F–10: reading and viewing, writing and speaking and listening.

The EOI is a one-to-one interview between a teacher and a student. It includes four modules that cover:

  • oral language communication skills, such as the use of vocabulary and sequencing ideas in a logical way

  • listening comprehension skills

  • phonological and phonemic skills, such as recognising rhyming words or manipulating sounds in a word to make a different word

  • early phonic skills, such as letter-sound and letter-name skills

  • concepts about print, such as locating the title, direction for reading and where the story begins

  • reading out loud, reading fluency and accuracy

  • reading comprehension skills

  • early writing skills

  • spelling.

The skills assess a student's literacy ability, components of these, and tasks that explain why they might have difficulties with learning literacy (oral language, phonological and phonemic knowledge, concepts about print). Some tasks cover more than one of these skills. As you move through the modules, the tasks change to match expected developmental changes in literacy.

The Diagnostic Assessment Tools in English (DATE) assess English learning in students in Prep to Year 2. The tools monitor student progress in one or more modes of English throughout students' early literacy development and enable teachers to gain additional information about students' learning strengths and challenges. DATE can be used to complement findings from the EOI or as a standalone assessment tool.

DATE includes assessments from Foundation to Level 4 and could be used with students in later primary years where appropriate. Two banks of DATE tools are available:

  • Early literacy in English (9 tools):

    • skill-specific, and assesses the emergent literacy skills that develop reading, writing, speaking and listening capabilities.

    • divided into three levels: Beginning (well below Foundation), Progressing (towards Foundation) and progressing towards Victorian Curriculum Level 1.

  • Monitoring progress (18 tools):

    • used to monitor student progress and identify areas requiring specific teaching.

    • for students working between Victorian Curriculum Levels F–4 in Reading and Viewing, Writing, and Speaking and Listening.

Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills are short (one minute) fluency measures that can be used to regularly detect risk and monitor the development of early literacy and reading skills in kindergarten through to Year 8. The administration guide, student materials, scoring booklets and testing resources can be downloaded for free.

The Macquarie Online Test Interface (MOTiF) administers and scores a range of literacy tests developed at Macquarie University. You can administer the tests individually or to a group and the results are stored on your private and secure test page (you need to set it up and login). You can also download free hard copies of the test materials and administer the tests offline.

Some of the tests mentioned below may incur a cost. Your school may be able to purchase these tests as part of the wide range of practices and school activities supported through Tier 2 school-level funding: ‘purchasing specific equipment, adaptive technology, devices or materials to support learning’. You can find more information (in the Guidance section) on Disability Inclusion Funding and Support: Policy.

Classroom texts

Classroom texts and take-home readers can be used to monitor students' progress with reading. If students are taking home decodable texts (in line with the classroom instruction), have them read these out loud and monitor their word reading accuracy and their fluency. For example:

  • is there a pattern to any words read in error?

  • how automatic is the student's decoding?

  • how fluent is the student's reading?

  • is the student reading with prosody (variance of pitch, loudness and duration) in their voice?

  • is the student able to answer simple questions about what they have just read?

This will help you to identify how well a student is keeping up with classroom instruction and importantly, can help you identify which students need additional support in mastering decoding.

Language and listening comprehension

Language comprehension refers to understanding spoken language. By assessing a student’s language comprehension, you can identify the extent to which it may be contributing to reading comprehension difficulties. The ability to read for meaning is the product of a student’s ability to decode and their ability to understand spoken language. Therefore, listening comprehension is central to both understanding verbal and written information.

Listening comprehension calls on many aspects of oral language including grammatical knowledge, vocabulary knowledge, story grammar (how stories are typically constructed) and inferential language comprehension. Therefore, the assessment of language comprehension must always consider the student’s background knowledge as well as linguistic knowledge.

Informal observation is one important way of evaluating a student’s listening comprehension. Noting their ability to follow instructions of varying length and complexity provides important formative information about a student. To assess a student’s listening comprehension, have them listen to a narrative and then retell the story and answer questions about it.

The student’s retelling of the narrative is scored, and should focus on:

  • the number of ideas the student mentions in their retelling. Count the number of separate ideas in the original test and the number of ideas mentioned by the student.
  • the student’s qualitative use of oral language. Note their use of vocabulary, ability to express ideas in sentences and to link the ideas to paragraph meanings, as well as their ability to sequence ideas appropriately.
  • the features or elements of narrative included in the student’s retelling. Narratives have a setting or context, an initiating event, an internal response to the event by the protagonist and an attempt to solve it, a consequence and an end.

The elements mentioned by the student in their retelling indicates their understanding of the narrative genre. When they listen to, read or write a narrative, this is the structure they use to organise their ideas. For examples designed for children up to age 7.5 with rubrics to assist you with the evaluation, see story retell tasks.

Standardised assessments are also available (but not free). The Listening Comprehension Test 2 is designed for students aged 6–11 years 11 months and is administered individually. Students are assessed on their ability to determine the main idea from a passage read out loud, recall details, using verbal reasoning and vocabulary knowledge.

Individual word reading accuracy and automaticity

The identification and assessment of learning difficulties page on the department’s website features tasks to assess a student’s ability to read and spell words (across Prep to Year 2, years 3-6, and years 7-10. It comprises three main tasks: word reading, letter and letter-sound skills, and phonological skills.

Word reading accuracy is measured by asking students to read a list of words and determining the number or percentage of correctly read words. There are several tests that you can use (some are described below).

Word reading automaticity is measured by asking students to read a list of words under timed conditions.

Testing students' ability to read nonsense (nonwords) provides information about decoding. This is because students cannot rely on recall or context for any nonsense word, for example, 'gorp' and 'plarch'. It is essential that the nonsense words are made up of phonically acceptable letter combinations. For example, an item such as 'ngarl' is not helpful because in English, words do not start with 'ng'. See the freely accessible Diagnostic Reading Test for Nonwords.

The following examples are for Prep to Year 2.

The word reading test asks students to read two types of words; infrequent words with regular spelling patterns, and exceptional words that don’t follow phonic rules but are typical of words learned in this age range.

A list of 20 words (10 with regular spelling and 10 with exceptional spelling) at each year level from Foundation to Year 2 is provided. The words are organised sequentially to match the reading instruction program in the classroom. This assessment should take approximately five to eight minutes to complete.

You can use the word reading task to:

  • identify a student’s ability to decode
  • identify a student's year level word reading score.

For students who are having difficulty, you can then look for patterns of strength and difficulty in the student's word reading, for example, strengths may include being able to read consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words where the vowel is short. Difficulties could be:

  • lack of knowledge in consonant digraphs such as 'sh' and 'ch'
  • difficulties with words containing long vowels.

Use the data to determine how best to support the student to improve their word reading accuracy.

The letter and letter-sound knowledge test assesses a student’s ability to recognise the names of letters and the sounds they make. The test comprises:

  • knowing letter names
  • and writing letters in upper and lower case.

Each part of this assessment should take approximately five minutes to complete.

The phonological knowledge test assesses a student's ability to auditorily detect, isolate and manipulate sounds in words (phonemic awareness) and larger intra-word components (phonological awareness). Phonemic awareness is an important precursor skill for being able to read and spell words accurately and fluently.

Students who have significant difficulty with phonemic awareness should be tested on their phonological awareness. The task comprises four parts organised developmentally:

  • recognising and expressing simple rhyming units (phonological awareness: test only if necessary)
  • identifying the individual phonemes within words (phonemic awareness: segmentation)
  • blending phonemes to make a word
  • manipulating phonemes within words. For example:
    • what is the first sound in the word 'back'?
    • now, replace that first sound with the sound 's'.

Each part of this assessment should take approximately five to eight minutes to complete.

Taken together, the data from these three assessments can tell you whether a student’s word and spelling ability is typical of a literacy learning difficulty, the type of word reading/spelling difficulty it is and the potential cause of the difficulty.

Just like mainstream students, those with reading difficulties and reading disabilities, such as dyslexia, will benefit from explicit and direct teaching strategies to support individual learning needs. The delivery of explicit teaching will inevitably need to be provided more intensively so that those students can start closing the gap between themselves and their more able reading peers.

For more information refer to literacy and English tools and resources.

Reading comprehension

Neale Analysis of Reading Ability – Third Edition

This is a standardised, norm-referenced test that assesses oral reading accuracy, comprehension and fluency for ages 6–13. Comprehension tasks assess literal and inferential understanding and include supplementary tasks that test for possible causes of reading difficulties, including phonological segmentation and blending tasks, letter naming and sounding.

Reading outcomes are reported as standardised scores percentile ranks and age-equivalent scores. Comparison of the accuracy, comprehension and fluency data, together with phonological and letter naming and sounding scores, can assist in understanding the causes of a literacy difficulty.

Progressive Achievement Tests – Reading

The Progressive Achievement Test (PAT) in Reading assesses the literal, inferential and evaluative reading skills of students between ages 5–and 8. It uses a multiple-choice format, is administered on a group basis and normed for each year level.

PAT Reading can be used to assess a student's specific comprehension difficulty, like Reading Progress Tests.

Test of Everyday Reading Comprehension

The Test of Everyday Reading Comprehension assesses how well a student can read in everyday situations. For example, when ordering lunch from a canteen menu or reading written instructions.

The test comprises 10 items that increase in difficulty. The student is asked two questions per item. A results page is created showing the overall score and the everyday reading tasks that the student can and cannot do.

Word reading and spelling tests

The Castles and Coltheart Test 2 assesses the functioning of the key processes in single-word reading: sounding-out ability and whole-word recognition ability. Sounding-out ability involves converting printed letters into their corresponding sounds. It is assessed by accuracy in reading out loud nonsense words, such as 'GOP'.

Whole-word recognition ability involves accessing stored knowledge about familiar words and is assessed by accuracy in reading out loud irregular words, such as 'yacht', which cannot be read correctly via sounding-out rules.

The full test (sits on MOTiF and you need to sign in) consists of 40 regular words, 40 irregular words and 40 nonsense words, presented one at a time in mixed order and with gradually increasing difficulty.

Progressive Achievement Test – Spelling

This test assesses a student's skill to write words spoken out loud in sentences. It is normed for students in aged between 7–16.

South Australian Spelling Test

This is also a standardised, norm-referenced test that can be administered individually or in groups. It assesses students' spelling of increasingly complex words and provides norms for students aged between 6–16. Based on the number of correctly spelt words, students are assigned a spelling age based on the normative data.

As you read each word out loud to students, you can observe the automaticity with which they spell certain words. You can also analyse the types of errors made to identify whether the students, for example, write a phonically equivalent form of the word (such as 'fone' instead of 'phone').

Sutherland Phonological Awareness Test – revised (SPAT – R)

This individual test of phonological and phonemic awareness assesses the identification and manipulation of syllables, rhymes and phonemes in students from Foundation to Year 4. It includes tests of nonword reading and spelling and takes 10 to 15 mins to administer.

York Assessment of Reading for Comprehension – Australian Edition

This is a standardised, norm-referenced test that individually assesses literacy skills for ages 5–8 in:

  • early word reading: this comprises letter-sound knowledge, early word recognition and phonemic awareness (sound isolation and sound deletion)
  • reading comprehension and accuracy: students read out loud graded passages and answer literal and inferential comprehension questions.

Reading outcomes are reported as standard scores, percentile ranks and age-equivalent scores. Comparison of a student’s word reading accuracy and comprehension outcomes, together with phonemic and letter naming and sounding tasks, can assist in understanding the causes of a student’s literacy difficulties.


Assessment of students’ writing is less clear cut than for reading and spelling. Writing is a complex and multi-componential skill set comprising elements of transcription (for example, handwriting/typing fluency, adequate posture and pencil grip, spelling, punctuation etc.) and ideation (generation of content), which involves planning, drafting, editing, vocabulary, text structure and genre.   

Performance on measures of reading has been shown to relate closely to measures of writing, particularly in the early years of school. Abbott and Berninger (1993) note that for young students, word reading ability closely mirrors word writing and spelling skills and reading comprehension measures approximate the capacity to write extended text. Similar evidence exists for older students.

Formative assessment of writing can be conducted using:   

  • empirical measures of aspects such as:
    • spelling accuracy
    • use of orthographic conventions (for example, punctuation, paragraphing, hyphens, quotation marks, etc.)
    • correct word sequencing.
  • independent writing to examine proficiency in aspects such as:
    • sentence-construction accuracy
    • use of a variety of sentence types (for example, simple compound and complex sentences, declarative (statements), exclamatory, interrogatives (questions and imperatives (commands)
    • use of a formal more literate style of writing (dependent on purpose) including the use of some Tier-2 vocabulary.

Rubrics are a valuable, analytic and systematic way of assessing writing for aspects including:   

  • on-task content
  • topic maintenance and relevance
  • use of cohesive devices including transition words and linking of contents throughout the writing sample.

Rubrics can be constructed for the purpose to evaluate writing samples of any length and type.