TOP TEN TIPS for getting started with SWR

5.  Give the Diagnostic Spelling Test

If you’re starting with a non-reader, you will wait to give the test; you don’t need to read this page now. The WISE Guide will remind you to give this test when it’s time. Then you can come back and read this tip.

If you’re starting with a student that already has some reading and writing skills, then read on.

Give the test

SWR Scope & Sequence Step #4 instructs the teacher to administer a diagnostic spelling test to a student who has some reading and writing skills. You’ll administer a test to your student who is reading if:

1. you’re starting the program for the very first time,
2. you’ve used the program before, but are starting a new year, and
3. you’ve been using the program and want a progress report on how your student is doing

See the instructions for the Diagnostic Tests (SWR pp. 196-198). Make a copy of p. 196 to use for the test. Write at the very top of the page which test number you are giving. Fill in the student information or have your student do it.

Provide a distraction-free environment for your student, and try to administer the test at a time when he’s alert and focused.  Encourage his attempts, but never let on that a word has been misspelled. Pronounce the words as you do in your normal speech. Do not give hints or enunciate carefully. Does the child know the word or not? That’s the question. If he self-corrects, that’s fine, but if he’s going back and forth, not sure of the spelling, it’s clear that he’s not firm on the spelling. Move on. Do not use the test as a time to teach spelling or to correct his errors with him as he goes.

After many years of standardized testing in both the classroom and in the Speech Pathology setting, I learned a good rule for these kinds of tests: be sure to administer enough to be sure you have exhausted the student’s capabilities. We don’t want to stop before he’s proven what he can do. A common error people make is to stop administering the test once the student makes a mistake or two. However, if the student is cooperative, try to get 5-10 consecutive errors before stopping the test. Of course, if your student melts into a sea of tears because she is making mistakes (they know, don’t they), then don’t push it. I tell the kids that the test gives me a “peek into their brains.” I actually want to see what they do with words they don’t know. This tells me a lot of useful information about what they DO understand about the written code we call English and what I need to teach. You know your students best, so if the child is frustrated but you have a good sample of errors, you can call it quits. That means that when you start, you won’t know how many words you’ll be dictating. Tell him at the beginning that you’ll let him know when you’re getting close to being done.

When the student is done, take the test and do not show it to him again. To go over the test with him, especially after it’s been scored, is to invalidate its use ever again. We cycle through these tests, so keep the tests “for teacher eyes” only. If your student wants to know how he did, let him know all the ways you were pleased with his test behavior. It’s up to whether you will share the score and grade level with him, but don’t show him the test.

If you don’t have the books yet, and you’d like to give the first test to your student, download the Spelling Diagnostic Test 1 and instructions here. Administer the test per the instructions on the download handout and on this page (see paragraphs just above).

Score the test

  • Carefully read through the test and find the words that are misspelled. Either circle or cross out the number in front of the word and then write the word correctly next to it. This will help you when analyzing errors later. Add up the total number of words spelled correctly and write that at the top of the page.
  • Locate the first error and write that word number also at the top of the page.
    • NOTE: Is there a sizable gap between the first and second error? For example, did the student miss word #8 (led) and then not miss anything again until word #23? This is common in older students. You’ll still count word #8 among the errors when looking for the total correct, but you’ll use the error at #23 for the “first error” since this student obviously has some spelling skills.
  • Look at the chart in SWR on p. 198. Notice that there are two halves to this chart, and each half has a first, second, and third column.
  • For grade level, locate the student’s total number correct in the first column and slide your finger across to the second column. Write this number at the top of the page.
  • For spelling mastery, locate the number of the first error in the first column and slide your finger across to the third column. Write this letter at the top of the page for “Tension of Learning Level.”
  • For placing the student in the Wise List, continue on to “Determining Starting Place in Wise List.”
  • As you progress through the year, you’ll continue to give this test periodically. To understand and interpret the information you gather from these tests, print out and read the Understand the Dx Test handout.


Determine Starting Place in Wise List

SWR Scope & Sequence Step #11 (SWR pp. 63-65) helps you determine your student’s best place to start in the Wise List, using the Tension of Learning Level you discovered when scoring the test in addition to the following factors:

  • previous experience the student has had with SWR,
  • whether the student will be taught alone or in a group, and
  • the student’s age/grade.

Would you like help placing your student after you’ve administered and scored the test? Ask on the SWR Yahoo Support Group!

SWR Diagnostic Spelling Test

In a Facebook Live broadcast, Endorsed SWR Trainer Liz FitzGerald discussed how to administer and score the test, as well as how to use it to help place a student starting SWR in the Wise Spelling List. The topics include:

  1. who will be taking the test,
  2. the purpose for the test or the information you’re collecting from the test,
  3. the procedure for administering and scoring the test, and
  4. a demonstration of the process for three different students.

Download SWR Spelling Diagnostic Test 1