Materials Review: Test of Orthographic Competence

We’ve added the Test of Orthographic Competence (TOC) to our assessment closet as a way to more accurately understand students’ reading difficulties.

Steven Feifer, author of the recent Feifer Assessment of Reading (FAR), tells us that the research points to seven areas to consider when assessing students who struggle with print;

  1. phonemic/phonological awareness
  2. rapid naming
  3. verbal memory
  4. reading fluency
  5. orthographic skills
  6. attention
  7. executive function

Chances are you have measures for most of these between the comprehensive batteries like theĀ  Woodcock-Johnson and other common cognitive and achievement tests, but assessing orthographic skills was a new idea to me and we needed something to fill the gap, so we went with the TOC.

The TOC is very easy to administer. All you need is a protocol and the manual, and a way to keep time. I say manual because it includes all the scripts for each subtest, and I’m sure after several administrations you won’t even need it. The TOC can also be given to a group of students, and although I think it’s a bit long to be used as a screening (I keep clocking in over 30 minutes), that’s still a handy feature. I think, like the WIST, I’ll start using it as a pre- and post- assessment of small group interventions.

The test is made up of nine subtests, and which ones you administer vary by the age of the examinee. Those subtests include;

  1. Signs and Symbols
  2. Grapheme Matching
  3. Homophone Choice
  4. Punctuation
  5. Abbreviations
  6. Letter Choice
  7. Word Scramble
  8. Sight Spelling
  9. Word Choice

So far I can only speak to the subtests for ages 13-17, which do not include the first three subtests listed. I will say that the main difference between the 8-12 form and the 13-17 form appears to be that the subtest Homophone Choice is administered instead of Word Choice.

So what are the implications of some of these subtests. Word Choice and especially Homophone Choice, I think, gives a good indication of which students will benefit from the use of computer spell check, because they require that we identify the correct spelling of a target word. Letter Choice pretty clearly shows how well a student visually processes letters and words; in this timed subtest, students add one of four letter (p, d, b, q) to a few other letters to make real words. The same is true about Word Scramble, which is exactly what it sounds like; unscramble letters to make real words. When I look at the subtests, I’m reminded of some of the word scrambles, word searches, and other puzzles I was asked to do in elementary school that I thought were a waste of time, and that I occasionally see getting a bad rap and requests for opt-out on Twitter. Could it be that, intentionally or unintentionally, my teachers were improving my orthographic ability?

Ultimately you won’t learn much that you didn’t already know from observing a student’s writing. You will get norm referenced scores though.

Reading teachers have known for a long time that for some students, especially older struggling readers, phonics instruction is not sufficient to make them independent readers. This has been a bit of a revelation for me, where I’ve been using an explicit phonics program for every student with basic reading skills deficits because it’s all I had and I didn’t know any better. More on that in future posts.

So the TOC is a useful little tool when it comes to comprehensive evaluation. We can do a better job matching students to interventions if we do not ignore orthography. I think we all have experience with students who receive years and years of phonics instruction but make little progress with word recognition, and the TOC can provide an early indication that an alternative approach is necessary.

What kinds of interventions would you consider based on results of the Test of Orthographic Competence? According to the Dyslexia Training Institute, the focus should be on the structure of written language. Students with orthographic deficits will access reading by studying spelling. I’ve been criticized by general education teachers in the past for teaching struggling readers spelling, but if a student can spell a word, they can read that word. And what’s the general approach to teaching spelling? A strategy for dissecting multiple syllable words and systematic teaching of syllable types and morphographs.

Hit me up with questions or concerns about this post. And stay virtuous!