Phonological awareness and reading achievement

Studies have shown that early reading success is related to phonological awareness – the ability to segment, blend and delete letter sounds in words. Recent research indicates that it may, in fact, be the most stable predictor of reading development and therefore one of the most crucial pre-reading skills.

A Canadian study reported by G. Wayne MacDonald and Anne Cornwall, Children’s Hospital, Halifax, Nova Scotia, revealed that socioeconomic level, vocabulary development, word recognition and spelling achievement assessed at kindergarten were not significantly correlated with reading and spelling achievement 11 years later. In this follow-up study of 17 year olds who had been tested when they enrolled in kindergarten, phonological awareness was the best predictor of their current reading and spelling skills.

Kindergartners’ skills in the original study were tested with the Auditory Analysis Test, Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, the Reading and Spelling subtests of the Wide Range Achievement Test-Revised, and the Word Attack and Passage Comprehension subtests of the Woodcock Reading Mastery Tests-Revised. Results revealed that the Auditory Analysis Test (a measure of phonological awareness) was significantly related to all reading measures but not to vocabulary development or socioeconomic status.

In the follow-up study, these same results held true. Although the Auditory Analysis Test given at 6 years of age predicted word reading and spelling at age 17 better than any other factor, it did not predict reading comprehension. None of the tests given at age 6 predicted reading comprehension at age 17.

It should be noted that the follow-up study was limited in size – only 24 of the original 58 students were available to participate. In addition, this study included only middle class, white students and, therefore, findings may not be applicable to other populations of students. Despite these limitations, MacDonald and Cornwall conclude that these test results, in conjunction with previous research, demonstrate the importance of phonological training in early reading curricula and in remediation programs.


“The Relationship Between Phonological Awareness and Reading and spelling Achievement Eleven Years Later”, Journal of Learning Disabilities, Volume 28, Number 8, October 1995, pp. 523-527.

Published in ERN November/December 1995 Volume 8 Number 5

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