Can your child really read? Or is your child simply guessing what words are on the page? There's an easy way to find out. Just print out this Reading Competency Test from the National Right to Read Foundation: http://www.nrrf.org/readtest.html
Part I of the test consists of eight groups of simple sentences. The sentences in the first group are made up of words that follow the simplest phonetic rules: "The big red hen is mad." The second group includes some words with consonant blends: "Bang went the black drum!" The final group includes some words that follow more difficult rules: "Phone for some bread and fruit for the child." Part II consists of six paragraphs. The first one is simple, and each succeeding paragraph is more difficult.
To administer the test, print out two copies. Give one copy to the child, and have the child read each sentence. On your copy, make a checkmark each time the child skips a word, substitutes a different word (even if it means the same thing), inserts a nonrelated word, or mispronounces a word (remove the checkmark if the child corrects the mispronunciation).
This test helps you figure out whether your child is really reading or is just guessing. There's no picture of an angry red chicken to enable the child to guess what "The big red hen is mad" is supposed to mean. Unfortunately, many of our primary school teachers have actually been trained to teach children to look for clues of that kind instead of teaching children to sound out the words. How do those teachers expect children to comprehend what they read if the children can't figure out which words were actually written? As soon as those children start having to read real textbooks, instead of lavishly illustrated storybooks, they'll be in big trouble.
According to the National Right to Read Foundation, a student who has completed second grade but cannot read all of the sentences in Part I with one check mark or less in each group needs to study phonics. Likewise, any child who cannot read independently at grade level needs to study phonics. I would also add that any children who are having trouble reading should also have their hearing and vision tested.
When children study phonics, they are specifically taught how the letters of the alphabet are used to represent sounds in words. Unless they understand phonics, they will have a lot of trouble in reading any alphabetic language. In 1998, the National Academy of Sciences published a report titled Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Its main conclusion was that "Adequate progress in learning to read English (or any alphabetic language) beyond the initial level depends on having a working understanding of how sounds are represented alphabetically."