Question: My third grade teacher asked be about eliminating spelling tests.  She will introduce words each week but rather focus on the phonics skills with a group of words. Her reasoning seems right on:

“I have been really thinking about what she said as most of my student memorize the words for the test but when asked to recall them weeks later, they don’t remember. I’m thinking about not doing a spelling test on Friday as I want to focus more on phonics with the spelling words. I will do phonics with spelling everyday as I know phonics is a weakness. Each spelling lesson has a phonics rule for the week.”

I wanted to know your thought on this topic

My response:  I think this is really smart thinking and I appreciate that the teacher is not just going through the motions, which often results in the rapid forgetting that comes with spelling tests!  I, too, agree that the point of the spelling tests is to make sure that kids have internalized the patterns of the words they are learning in their phonics/multisyllabic word instruction that should be happening daily in 3rd grade.  Here are a couple of thoughts that I had (and that I think you should discuss with your teacher and see what you come up with!)

  1. What do we do with high frequency words? Should those be tested since ultimately they are memorized?  (Or have they been already mastered in 3rd grade?)
  2. Can she do a word sort (“Group all of the words that have the ‘ee’ spelling for the long e sound and let’s read the words together.”). Or she could do dictation to confirm that the kids have internalized the patterns and hold them accountable for it?  (Instead of a spelling test, dictation could sound like this: Okay, we are going to write the word “friction.”  What is the first sound you hear in friction?  Write it.  (And the teacher roams and checks as kids write the letter/spelling on a white board or sheet of paper.)  What is the second sound you hear in friction?  Write it.  (More checking)…and so on through the word.  This encourages the kids to think of the sounds in the word before they write, plus it allows the teacher to correct mistakes or talk about sound/spellings as they go.  It’s hybrid testing and teaching and I’ve seen it really lead to mastery and be a nice alternative to the typical spelling test.

What I love about this question and the conversation you’re having with the teacher is that you’re thinking about the question that haunts me (in a good way!) every day: Is this really worth it in the end?  And by that, I mean if it takes me 20 minutes to give the spelling test (after I have to reread the words a zillion times because kids misheard me or were finishing up the previous word and didn’t Hear me at all), then I have to grade them and I ultimately give them back with little to no work on the errors or strengths, then I have spent a lot of time on it and it better be worth it in bringing kids to benchmark!

I would say test it for a month or so…see what you notice.  See if the lack of spelling test causes problems in mastery.  Try it!