You are on page 1of 7

The Names Test: A Quick Assessment of Decoding Ability Author(s): Pat Cunningham Source: The Reading Teacher, Vol.

44, No. 2 (Oct., 1990), pp. 124-129 Published by: International Reading Association Stable URL: . Accessed: 11/04/2011 18:14
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

International Reading Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Reading Teacher.

Pat Cunningham

The A of


Test: assessment

quick decoding

for figuring out unfamiliar words strategies such as using context, structural and clues, of letter-sound knowledge relationships. While most readers use all three mediation readers younger and less proficient strategies, tend to depend more on context (Stanovich, 1980). Stanovich suggests that these less profi cient readers use context to make up for a defi cit in letter-sound decoding skill; the overuse of slows down the reader and context, however, takes attention away from reading comprehen sion. According to Stanovich, good readers are more able to rapidly decode words without us that this ability ap ing context. He concludes pears to promote fluent reading. The ability to decode unfamiliar words using only letter sound relationships as an is thus recognized important goal of reading instruction. Adams dec (1990) reviews and analyzes a convincing ades of research and makes case for the necessity of rapid, automatic decoding. that "In summary, deep and of letters, spelling thorough knowledge pat and of the phonological terns, and words, translations of all three, are of inescapable im to both skillful reading and its acqui portance concludes sition" (p. 416). She

is a professor of Cunningham Education at Wake Forest University

in WinstonSalem, She has conducted North Carolina. and research

written widely on the topics of teaching and assessing decoding abilities.

are My goals for reading instruction for children to enjoy reading, to learn through reading, and to think about what they read. To achieve these goals, it is essential that readers be able to recognize words. words For fluent the majority of reading, encountered should be sight words, that and is, words that are immediately recognized that require none of the mediation (e.g., de that may interfere with comprehen coding)

sion (Perfetti & Lesgold,

LaBerge, Even 1983).

1979; Samuels &

en readers, however, proficient counter words that are in their listening vocab ularies but unfamiliar in print. In Beginning to words

Limitations of existing decoding

to effectively teachers skills, decoding about their ability thing There are many phonics most of these assessment In order enhance students' must know some to decode words. tests available, but are group devices

Read, Adams (1990) estimates that 95% of the

different fewer that children must read occur 10 times in every million words of text. These words are encountered fewer than 10 times in a whole year's worth of reading. To become must children have readers, good than


The Reading


Vol. 44, No.



paper-and-pencil the beginning

such as writing indicat letters under pictures, vowels are long or short, and di whether ing are commonly into syllables viding words used. Children who can spell the words find tests. Tasks indicate tasks easy, but the tasks may abil their spelling knowledge (i.e., encoding of letter rather than their knowledge ity) these sound relationships children Many (i.e., who ability). decoding score well on these

sons' names. movies their and






interact with

neighborhoods constantly hearing they don't see in print. As a result, most chil dren have many more names in their listening vocabularies

peers and adults in and schools, they are that first and last names

tasks cannot apply their de paper-and-pencil unfamiliar skills to actually pronounce coding "know the Teachers that children words. say skills but just don't use them." Unfortunately, tests can only assess if chil paper-and-pencil letter-sound dren know certain not whether they can apply to unfamiliar words. knowledge A more valid way to decide decode unfamiliar words associations, letter-sound if a child can

than in their reading vocabu laries. This provides an ideal source of words for use in assessing skills. The pur decoding of this article is to describe the develop pose ment of and uses for the Names Test, a test of decoding ability.

is to have

the child

attempt to read unfamiliar words. This proce for each child dure takes only a few minutes

and will yield useful information about the child's decoding ability if an appropriateword
or creating such a word list is used. Choosing task. is a complex list, however, or high frequency words are If common them as sight the reader may know used, one is not assessing thus, words; decoding ability. The validity of nonsense word tests is because many children refuse to questionable nonsense even try to pronounce words or, when they do pronounce them, they turn them into real words. Further, an important part of

A more valid way to decide if a child can decode unfamiliar words is to have the child attempt to read unfamiliar words. This procedure takes only a few minutes for each child and %mll yield useful about the child's decoding information ability if an appropriate word list is used.

Test development
My goal was to create a list of 25 first and last names which, when paired, would look like a classroom list and would validly mea sure children's to decode unfamiliar ability words. other books, Telephone sources containing and 62 names were baby books, names were and con

the decoding process is knowing when to stop;

stop when they arrive at a generally a word they know. A is which pronunciation nonsense this expecta word task violates tion and thus may not be a valid indicator of readers





sulted selected that met four criteria: 1. The names are not some of the most common names. For first names, all names were checked against the "top names for boys and girls" listed in The New American Diction

1976). Cunningham, from less fa Lists could be constructed words. This is probably miliar, low-frequency to select the the best solution, but it is difficult words. small listening words will these low-frequency vocabularies, not be meaningful; thus, trying to read a word creates that is not in one's listening vocabulary the same problem created by nonsense words. For students who have

ary of First Names

(Dunkling & Gosling,

1985). Any names found there were excluded. For last names, any names that had more than a column of listings in three local telephone books were excluded. 2. The names commonly are fully decodable given rules and/or analogy taught to decoding. For example, Blake vowel

An alternate

test of decoding


that There is one type of word, however, is not often seen in print but can be found in most children's vocabularies: per listening

approaches could be decoded using the "vowel/consonant/ e" rule or by analogy it to a by comparing known word such as make or snake. The sylla

bles in Pendergraph could be decoded using

vowel/consonant rules or by recognizing the

The Names

Tfest: A quick



It takes little time to administer

Photo by Robert Finken

The Names

Test to a student.

using ment

syllables pen and graph and then by the der/her the place analogy. Because of accent varies with dialect and geo no attempt was made to region, graphic


determine which should be accented syllable when constructing the test, and students were to have correctly decoded polysyl considered labic words regardless of which syllable they accented. Syllables which would have had the schwa sound (/?/) if not accented were consid as schwa or if pro ered correct if pronounced nounced with the sound that syllable would have if the syllable were accented. 3. The names represent a good sampling of the most common English spelling patterns. While the test could not contain enough items to make assessments reliable for all letter so sound correspondences, it was designed that teachers could identify particular areas of Thus, names were strengths or weaknesses. included with single initial consonants (e.g.,

Jay, Tim, Gus), with initial blends (e.g., Stan conso and with common ley, Glen, Grace), nant digraphs Shaw, Whitlock, (e.g., Chester, The variant sounds of c and g were Thornton). Cornell, by the names Conway, represented and Ginger. Gus, Glen, Cindy, Spencer, Names were included for all short vowels and all long vowels except /?7 (the least common In addition, names were included long vowel). to represent common phonograms (e.g., Jay, Tim, Chuck, Hoke). The intent was to include of initial consonants, blends enough examples and digraphs, long and short vowels, and pho so that conclusions nograms might be drawn about students' decoding ability of these types a balance of short was easy to find it and long words. While names of one and two syllables, three syllable names that met the "fully decodable" criterion were scarce and no names of four or more syl of letter-sound relationships. 4. The names represent

lables could be found. After field testing (see

section), following of 23 one-syllable the Names names, Test consisted 19 two-syllable


The Reading


Vol. 44, No.



Procedures and scoring

for administering the Names Test

Preparing the instrument 1. Type or print legibly the 25 names on a sheet of paper or card stock. Make sure the print size appropriate for the age or grade level of the students being tested.


2. For students who might perceive reading an entire list of names as being too formidable, type or print the names on index cards, so they can be read individually. 3. Prepare a protocol (scoring) sheet. Do this by typing the list of names ina column and following each name with a blank line to be used for recording a student's responses. Administering 1. Administer the Names Test the Names Test individually. Select a quiet, distraction-free location. 2. Explain to the student that she or he is to pretend to be a teacher who must read a list of names of students in the class. Direct the student to read the names as if taking attendance. 3. Have the student read the entire list. Inform the student that you will not be able to help with diffi cult names, and encourage him or her to "make a guess ifyou are not sure." This way you will have sufficient responses for analysis. 4. Write a check on the protocol sheet for each name read correctly. Write phonetic spellings for
names that are mispronounced.

Scoring and interpreting the Names Test 1. Count a word correct ifall syllables are pronounced correctly regardless of where the student places the accent. For example, either Yo*7lan/da or Yo/lan7da would be acceptable. 2. For words where the vowel pronunciation depends on which syllable the consonant is placed with, count them correct for either pronunciation. For example, either Ho/mer or Hom/er would be ac

3. Count the number of names read correctly, and analyze terns indicative of decoding strengths and weaknesses.

those mispronounced,

looking for pat


names. and 8 three-syllable 31 first and 31 these four criteria, Using last names were selected and paired to form a class list of 31 names for field testing.

The Names Test

Jay Conway Tim Cornell Chuck Hoke Yolanda Clark Kimberly Blake Roberta Slade Homer Preston Gus Quincy Cindy Sampson Chester Wright Ginger Yale Patrick Tweed Stanley Shaw Wendy Swain Glen Spencer Fred Sherwood Flo Thornton Dee Skidmore Grace Brewster Ned Westmoreland Ron Smitherman TroyWhjtlock Vance Middleton Zane Anderson Bernard Pendergraph

Field testing
A test is useful only if it is valid and reli able. Validity refers to a test's ability to mea sure what to measure. it purports Reliability to the ability of a test to consistently refers measure this trait. To gain some information about the reliability and validity of the Names se to 120 randomly Test, it was administered lected second-, third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students in two schools. The sample consisted of 30 children at each grade level, was made of boys and girls, and up of equal numbers 35 minority contained students. The Names Test was prepared and individually adminis to the proce tered to these students according dures presented in the Table. of the 120 students to the The responses 62 items (there were 31 first and 31 last names in the field-tested version of the instrument)


to yield 62 item-test correla analyzed and reduce the To increase reliability number of items on the test, the 6 first names and the last 6 names with the lowest item-test were eliminated. On the final set correlations tions.

of 50 items (25 first and 25 last names shown

of internal-consistency 20) was com (Kuder-Richardson reliability of the The resultant KR-20 reliability puted. in the List), a statistic

The Names

Tfest: A quick




Test was

.98, a high



Validity of a test can be established in a

variety of ways. The criteria described previ one represent ously under test development construct way of establishing validity, which the psy is the degree to which a test measures or behavioral ability being evalu chological ated, in this case children's ability to decode common words containing spelling patterns. can be demon Another type of validity on the different performance strated based of the second-, and fifth-grade third-, fourth-, students. Since increases ability decoding in the early elementary and greatly grades a valid test then tops out in later grades, lower scores at the sec should result in much scores at level and almost perfect ond-grade the fifth-grade level. The results of the field test indicated that this was indeed the case. For the 50 first and last names, the average score for the second grade was 22.6, whereas score was 47.3. More the average fifth-grade score is the fact that the lowest revealing was 40. achieved by any fifth grader

and special teachers could reading. Remedial also use the Names Test to gain some informa of students abilities tion about the decoding with reading. difficulty experiencing no norms have been established for While

the test, the field testing did confirm that the

second grader read a little less than average and the av half the names correctly (x=22.6) almost all the erage fifth grader pronounced names (x=47.3). correctly Second-grade teachers should probably not be too concerned about children who can pronounce most of the names but who experience diffi one-syllable with the longer names. Fourth graders, culty should be able to pronounce most of however, of the the short names and a good number names. long a general to getting In addition impres are at de of how successful students can obtain some teachers words, coding based on patterns of information diagnostic errors. While there are not enough items on sion about individual judgments can letter-sound judgments correspondences, be made if children make similar errors on many words. Here are some of the error pat terns observed in the field testing: Some students, particularly the second even try the long wouldn't graders, words. (e.g., nell). Other students pronounced for Cor a big guessed Corn the test to make

The Names
can use

Test is a tool that teachers

information about

to obtain

how well students decode words which are apt to be in their listening vocabularies but not in their sight
vocabularies. It was developed to

only the first syllable of the big words

Con for Conway, A few students

word that started like the big word

for Conway, Kevin for (e.g., Connors These students might bene Kimberly). in decoding fit from instruction longer

tool to provide teachers with another use in diagnosing this important component of reading ability.

cessful words words.

few older with

students were quite suc oneand two-syllable

There might use



are a variety of ways that teachers from ad the information obtained at sec the Names Test. Teachers ministering levels might third- or fourth-grade ond-, to give the test to all their students at choose of the year to get some initial the beginning of the decoding ability of individ impressions ual children and the class as a whole. Perhaps a more economical use of time would be to ad minister the test only to children who demon some decoding strate in their difficulties

do the three-syllable became Pender or Pendergraph Westmorelandbecame West Pengraph; or Westland. more These students in also benefit from instruction might but couldn't decoding longer words. at most Some students were successful initial consonants and digraphs, but

had difficulty with words that began

with blends. Tweed became Teed; became Pencer; Skidmore be Spencer or Kidmore. came Sidmore These from some in students might benefit struction with blends.


The Reading


Vol. 44, No.



most A few children pronounced long e (Hoke, names with vowel ending Blake, Yale, Slade) using a short vowel benefit sound. These students might from learning words with the "vowel/ consonant/e" spelling pattern. Other children seemed to have little or no understanding of vowel patterns. the first consonant They got right and the rest (e.g., Chuck, became guessed


The Names Test is a tool that teachers can about how well stu to obtain information that are apt to be in their dents decode words but not in their sight vo listening vocabularies to provide teach It was developed cabularies. this ers with another tool to use in diagnosing

of reading ability. component important are invited to use or modify the list Teachers to suit their here and directions provided

Chad; Ned became Nick; Ron became

Roy). from These students might instruction with common benefit


patterns/phonograms. Not all children exhibited these clear pat but the ones that did gave indications of terns,

what decoding knowledge they lacked andwhat

strategies teachers could help them develop.


and conclusions

to read: Thinking and M.J. (1990). Beginning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. a synthesized P.M. (1975-76). Cunningham, Investigating Re word identification. theory of mediated Reading search Quarterly, 11, 127-143. P.M. (1976). Can decoding skills be validly Cunningham, assessed task? using a nonsense-word pronunciation 13, 247-248. Reading Improvement, dic L, & Gosling, W. (1985). The new American Dunkling, Li New York: New American tionary of first names. Adams, learning & Lesgold, A.M. and com (1979). Coding in skilled for read prehension reading and implications In L.B. Resnick & P. A. Weaver ing instruction. (Eds.), Hills of early reading Theory and practice (pp. 57-84). dale, NJ: Erlbaum. D. (1983). A critique of a the S.J., & LaBerge, Samuels, in reading: back: A retro ory of automaticity Looking of the LaBerge-Samuels spective analysis reading In L. Gentile, model. M. Kamil, & J. Blanchard (Eds.), research revisited OH: Reading (pp. 39-55). Columbus, Merrill. Stanovich, reading 71. K. (1980). fluency. Toward Reading an interactive-compensatory Quarterly, 16, 37 brary. Perfetti, CA.,

There are some limitations of the Names Test. First, the lack of additional of words three or more syllables and the fact that names could not be found for several common sylla of bles (e.g., tion, ture) limits the usefulness the Names Test with older and more skilled readers. Another limitation is the lack of eth nic names. Unfortunately, ethnic names could not be found which met the "decodable" crite rion; thus, this test may be inappropriate for

children for whom English is not their first


model of individualdifferences in the development of


The Names

Test: A quick