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Assessment Strategies and Reading Profiles

Print Skills

Phonemic Awareness

Acronyms and Abbreviations

ARCS = Adult Reading Components Study

NRP = National Reading Panel

PA = Phonemic Awareness

TAAS = Rosner Test of Auditory Analysis Skills

Phonemes are the smallest units of sound of a language. For example, may has two phonemes, /m/ /ay/; sit has three phonemes, /s/ /i/ /t/; tax has four phonemes, /t/ /a/ /k/ /s/.  To understand spoken language, we must distinguish very slight differences between the phonemes or speech sounds with little or no conscious effort; think how easily we understand the difference between "a sick politician" and "a slick politician."

Phonemic Awareness (PA) is the awareness that speech is made up of a sequence of sounds that can be manipulated—changed, added, or subtracted—to form different words: sick, slick, slim, slam. (Phonics, another term for Word Analysis, refers to the knowledge of letter sounds, syllable patterns, and the rules used to decode words.)


The ARCSRR administered the Rosner Test of Auditory Analysis Skills (TAAS) to assess Phonemic Awareness. Using syllable and phoneme deletion tasks, the TAAS assesses one of the more challenging phoneme manipulation abilities listed by the National Reading Panel (NRP).RR

Approaches to instruction

Phonemic Awareness instruction: ResearchRR has found that, "Adult non-readers are unable to consistently perform on their own almost all Phonemic Awareness tasks....very few adult non-readers possess even the most basic Phonemic Awareness ability." In addition, many adults who have trouble with reading as children show persistent difficulty with phonemic awareness in adult life.RR

ABE readers who are not progressing in Print Skills can be assessed in Phonemic Awareness. They may profit from instruction in Phonemic Awareness such as isolated practice of a single PA task.  When sounds are matched to letters, Phonemic Awareness becomes part of Word Analysis (phonics) instruction.RR

Nonnative Speakers of English (NNSE) in ABE classes who are fluent readers of their native languages usually have little difficulty transferring what they have learned about how phonemes work in reading and spelling to learning English Print Skills, especially if their native language is alphabetic like Spanish, Russian or Arabic.RR Possible exceptions:

  • some (but not all) readers of logographic languages like Chinese;
  • and the small percentage of NNSE who may be reading disabled.

If NNSE are in Beginning Level classes and they are not literate in their native language, they will probably have difficulties with Phonemic Awareness that will adversely affect learning to read.  Like other beginning readers, they will need explicit instruction in phonemics and phonics.

NNSE in Intermediate Level and ASE classes are usually able to transfer what they know about the relationship between sounds and letters to reading English words—especially if they are already literate in another alphabetic language such as Spanish.RR They may, however, need instruction in some of the English letter sounds that are hard for them to distinguish and produce. This will also aid their pronunciation and spelling.

Find out more about Phonemic Awareness and suggestions for instruction:

  • McShane, S. (2005). Applying research in reading for adults: First steps for teachers. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy. (1.1MB) PDF

  • Moats, L. (2000). Speech to print: Language essentials for teachers. Baltimore: Paul Brookes Publishing.

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