Reviews & Replies

Reviews & Replies

Many educationalists use the Waddington Diagnostic Reading, Spelling and Math Tests.
Here are some examples of questions, feedback and research by others:


Question about the Waddington Diagnostic Mathematics Tests

Email 8th Augist 2019

Hi Neil

We’re using your Waddington tests and are very happy with them.

Do you have or know of a similar test for numeracy mapping?

Are the numeracy tests progressive like the reading test (i.e. do they start at a prep and progress up in difficulty) or do we need to test at a particular year level and administer mulitiple tests to ascertain a level?

Thanks for any advice …..

Kind Regards

High School QLD


Thank you for your email and kind comments about my reading and spelling tests. Thank you also for your question about tests for numeracy.

Yes, I supply low-cost tests for mathematics, whereby each test is split up into strands including number (numeracy). Their detailed scope and sequence also fit within the Australian National Curriculum. See more information here:

and here (including free workbook materials for each part of each test):

Yes, the tests are progressive, both in terms of the strands within the tests and the numbered tests themselves. The links given in my previous email to further information about the Waddington Diagnostic Mathematics Module Tests show where each test fits across the age and grade levels. However, the strands also account for skill acquisition laterally because lower order skills are always covered before their higher order counterparts, both within tests and across tests. See the example given about how telling the time is handled across tests, including the subskills required such as numeral recognition, counting by fives, tens and the concepts of half and quarter. The tests are so carefully constructed that a higher order skill of telling time via an analogue clock-face is only introduced after the associated numerical (number strand) skills are covered first. Therefore, it can be a complete waste of time, even confusing and self-deprecating, to expect a child to understand how to tell the time on a round clock face if they first do not understand targeted number pre-skills and having them first in their mathematical skill foundation. This is how all concepts are covered, gradually, incrementally and positioned for purpose both longitudinally and laterally. I’ve been using the concept of strands since I first brought out the tests and the National Curriculum also recognises the conceptual arrangement.

As for your second question about whether you “need to test at a particular level and administer multiple tests to ascertain a level”, if you’re dealing with students in junior primary or any aged student with poor mathematical skills, I recommend starting at Test 1. However, if you’re faced with testing a whole class of older students, then I’d probably start at Test 7, which is where we’d expect average grade 2 junior primary students to be operating successfully (greater than 80% correct). Then you can take the majority of the class forward but also start at Test 1 for individuals who fail Test 7. As you are based in a high school, the following example will be about a struggling teenager whose parents desperately wanted him to receive help. I’ve tutored many older students and it’s always been worthwhile in the long term to start with Test 1 and then build an individualized program for them based on their performance over a group of tests before they start recording less than 80% correct. In particular, it is the older student who presents with serious flaws in their mathematical foundation who needs the most carefully constructed approach because they are the ones failed by the system and you do not want to fail them again with this approach.

Please refer to the teenage boy Kane example in my Diagnostic Standard and Advanced Reading and Spelling Tests 1 & 2 Update 1 ebook which you have, page 94, Case Example 3, whereby I explain how, in basically 1 hour per week, I tested him, put together workbooks targeting his maths needs, provided one-to-one assistance, gave plenty of concrete, semi-concrete leading to abstract examples involving hands on tools, as well as a reward system in place. This boy is now a successful carpenter yet he didn’t know how to position a ruler for measuring when I first started to test him. When you have a whole class of students with varied abilities, you can still treat them in the same way as Kane, by strategically testing, putting together their workbook materials (see the link with free workbooks materials for each test strand), working with them with some one-to-one – especially when a page needs to be marked (all students must never proceed to a new page until the one they are working on is marked in a one-to-one conferencing type teacher-student environment). Don’t get me wrong, this is hard work but it is vital work and it is what teaching should be all about. The student can clearly see where they are heading and what needs to be done and the teacher has a framework for all students which is individually tailored to each student. If the classroom is set up to provide plenty of tools so students can decide themselves which is best (e.g. placed on shelves or in cupboards with poster labels – see the free ebook “Instant Classroom Posters” you have in your previous purchase, you will see the poster for “Number” and how it covers essential components which, if I again refer to Kane, combined with your focus on numeracy, it necessitates organising a variety of measuring tools on that shelf, such as different types of rulers, tape measures (various length retractable, dress-making, surveying…), trundle wheel, laser measuring device etc.. In a whole class, you’ll soon see co-operative groups forming naturally based on their shared skill levels whereby they may ask to complete a workbook page together if they notice they are about to do the same page of work.

My Mathematics Tests are a starting point but they are also a very important structural device in which you can enhance with your own work materials, your own cutting-edge tools and self-created worksheets and/or computer activities. If the tests and workbooks contain the core framework, then what happens on a day-to-day basis becomes more routine with less nasty surprises with periods of failure or reinforced failure. The classroom should also run in a way that sees the teacher as a facilitator. If the teacher has to deal with a major issue or the teacher is absent, the class should still work like a well-oiled machine so to speak. In my case, I position myself as a constant in the room, one that all students can approach when they need help and when they need a page marked. Of course, this approach can also have certain lessons thrown in which cover immersive topics which may not always be based at every student’s level of conceptual understanding. However, the focus must always return to what they need most and that is a carefully put together, individualized mathematics program which makes the most of every minute of their lesson.

I hope this has given you some further insight about the tests and their purpose.

Kind regards,

Neil Waddington



Teacher Registration Board Submission

Currently I have a submission before the Legislation Reform Unit SA Department for Education for consultation on enhancing teacher registration in South Australia. You can read it below.

NAPLAN often prompts discussion in the media, as well as across parents of students undertaking the NAPLAN tests and educational professionals involved in their administration. They have become very controversial and it is questionable whether they have any value. 

I'll provide my take on NAPLAN with some replies below and a letter to two state ministers, starting with a reply I sent 27/5/2018 to a teacher asking whether the Waddington Tests will become fully computerised or an app made available for making their administration and results easier for users.


Teacher Registration Board

From: Burt, Jamie (Education) <>
Sent: Monday, 3 June 2019 10:50 AM
To: Waddington <>
Subject: RE: Enhancing Teacher Registration in South Australia - Legislative Reform [SEC=PUBLIC]

Dear Mr Waddington

Thank you for your recent submission to the consultation on enhancing teacher registration in South Australia.  Your comments will help inform the next stage of the potential reform of the Teachers Registration and Standards Act 2004.

Kind regards

Legislation Reform Unit
Department for Education | 31 Flinders Street, Adelaide SA 5000
t (08) 8226 1386 | e| w
Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn


From: Waddington <>
Sent: Monday, 13 May 2019 1:45 PM
To: Education:Ed Law Reform <>
Subject: Re: Enhancing Teacher Registration in South Australia - Legislative Reform
Importance: High

Dear TRB,

I completed your survey and I did not like some of the questions due to their underlying premise.

I have this to say:

In the past, I've written to the TRB and Ministers a number of times about the wrong direction taken by the TRB of SA, especially the renewal process, but it's like talking to a brick wall.

Read Gabrielle Stroud's article published , about how teachers are becoming bogged down with red tape continually having to prove themselves when the real issue should be about how hard and effective the on-going work between teacher and student is. Both need to enjoy what they do first and foremost. The teaching and learning program must be straight-forward, based on the needs of the child, believed and supported by all parties and easy to implement no matter who does it with the child. You do not need a 4 or 5 year degree, hours upon hours of professional development or NAPLAN testing to ensure this happens effectively.

Too much time is wasted on red tape and the teacher is no longer seen as an extension of the family unit, in 'loco parentis', but is being programmed like a machine to be some sort of elite disconnected professional bound by an ethos which is now largely the focus of economic and corporate principles. Children need to be loved by the people around them. The best teachers are good parents. Spend some time with my dear old Aunty Phyl who turned 103 this year and you'll discover this in no time. It truly does take a good family and community to raise a child. It's also at the heart of true nation building.

It should not be the domain of the TRB to work out whether a teacher is effective or not. That lies with the people at the coal face, including the recipient of the service believe it or not e.g. the children! Your job should be to simply register and re-register people who have the basic qualifications to teach, nothing more, nothing less. You are nothing more than the holders of a list. Do you seriously believe just because you provide a person with teacher registration that they are a good person to do the job? Do you believe you can make them better? Rubbish. All you are doing is taking more valuable time away from the actual teaching and learning process. We should be asking ourselves the question, why do teachers need 50 minutes per day away from direct contact with children in the classroom these days? Almost one day out of every week doing everything else BUT actual face-to-face work with children. And you guys are making this problem worse! I've had better parents helping in my classroom than some teachers you register and they've done nothing more than the training I provided. Yet, their 'sleeves rolled up' hard work approach gets results. They're not charged to the eyeballs with professional development, they do not have to spend hours upon hours justifying what they do to be active in the educational advancement of children and they should not be restricted by police checks which only serve to alienate the very people who should be a part of a better community and nation building approach, welcomed into schools as much needed volunteers.

As a profession, we need to get off our high horse and just do the job in a far more enjoyable and loving environment than what currently exists. Teachers need professional respect. Give more control to teachers and stop taking more and more away from them.

Kind regards,

Neil Waddington



Question about the Waddington Reading Tests

Hi Neil, 

As I am analysing the Waddington Diagnostic Standard and Advanced Reading and Spelling Tests 1 & 2, I have really appreciated the direct instructions you have for educators on page 5, I do have a question for you please. What instructions are given for when a child cannot read any further in the test?  As we use this at my school, we just say when it gets too hard or you don't know the answers stop there. Is this the correct response ? Thankyou again. Tracey 23/4/2019

Hello Tracey,

Thank you for your email and question about when to stop administering the reading tests.

You are right about page 5, the core preparations and testing requirements are provided on that page for the tests, especially the time limit for the reading tests, and additional guidance for the reading tests is given within the oral instructions on page 24. Time limit is 30 minutes but the testing can stop earlier if a student clearly cannot cope after looking/having a try on each page. Sounds like you’ve encountered that enough times to consider adding a statement about when students might be advised to automatically discontinue.

 I considered including a statement about stopping if it gets too hard (and your statement about stopping is a well worded one) but, in the end, I didn’t want to give students an automatic “way out” as it’s been my experience some students can be automatic quitters without applying enough effort. This was also important given some students can have skills enabling them to do some questions on different pages, even if a particular page may frustrate them prematurely. So, with the knowledge that some students might have a hard time coping at some point, teacher observation and intervention is the key. This should be a teacher driven thing, as the teacher moves around the room (as stated on page 5 and page 24), observing student effort during the earliest stage of the reading test administration - checking how effectively the students complete the sample questions and then later – check for missed questions or pages. It may be so, that some students need 1:1 administration of the test, especially those who cannot successfully complete the sample questions via guidance in a group administered situation.

As more and more test taking becomes computerised these days, it’s becoming a rather alien concept for teachers to move around a room, closely observing and intervening based on their own professional judgement of the student and the situation at hand. So, having a high expectation of trying and completion not only keeps each student on their toes but also the teachers too. I believe this heightens the validity of the test and ensures every student gives their best effort based on what they can actually really do for themselves, within a three dimensional physical, interpersonally interactive and multi-sensory environment.

I hope this has provided some further insight. Please let me know if you would like to discuss things further.

All the best with your teaching and test analysis work, Tracey!

Kind regards,

Neil Waddington


Question about an online version of the Waddington Tests 

Hi there,

I’m teacher currently spending my weekend analysing a lot of assessment and writing reports. At my school we use the Waddington Spelling Test as a consistent measure across the school to track students’ progress in spelling. I love the test and how it provides information about where kids skills and knowledge are. However, marking and analysing the test to get this nifty information is incredibly time consuming...
Please create an online version of this test.

KB Vic

It sounds as though you are a dedicated and passionate person with an eye on technology and your suggestions in your written communication I have read. Therefore, I shall give you a reasonably thorough response it deserves because I am a dedicated and passionate teacher and I care enormously about the education of Australian children. I also want to convey why a computer or an ‘app’ will not do the important tasks of assessment in a way that best provides follow-up for the ultimate benefit of the individual child.

1. I’m assuming you have based your critique and want for an ‘app’ on the current edition – the Waddington Diagnostic Standard and Advanced Reading and Spelling Tests 1 & 2 Third Edition Update 1? If not, I recommend you read it and understand why the tests were created and how the form they take will help to identify and diagnose children abilities. It highlights the importance of actual student written responses, by way of providing a proforma and a structure for marking/assessment. The teacher is central to this process.

2. When the tests are marked, they must also be assessed. Spelling cannot be viewed as a separate discipline divorced from reading and writing (written language and handwriting/typing/texting), especially during the early learning years. In the Introduction of all editions (First, Second and Third), I clearly state the importance of the accompanying publication’s information provided with the tests. This is why my tests are not supplied, or to be administered and assessed, on their own without referencing the important back-up documentation. In particular, it explains how the tests are constructed and supported. It is heavily dependent on solid teaching techniques. A computerized adaptation would not provide the same wealth of diagnosis teachers must gather together if they are to be ‘at one’ with the individual student and the necessary follow-up, not just with program creation but also understanding fully the individual student’s actual written responses from observation and then critical marking. I’ll give you a simple, yet important, example of many. The first 12 words of either Spelling Test 1 and 2 contain all the letters of the alphabet. This necessitates a student writing the range of letters and the teacher viewing and marking discernibly, every response provided by the student. A computer can not do this for you. I’m not talking about simple right and wrong answers, nor black and white responses. I’m aware of so many variations with regards to student responses and even after 30 years of teaching, I never fail to be surprised at what I see and how important it is to adjust to ensure a proper diagnosis and a proper program is established for an individual student. Unfortunately, if I extend this example to current ‘popular’ computerized testing, too many people think NAPLAN will give them easy answers when it actually has many critical limitations. To associate that type of computerised assessment with quality testing, diagnosis and proper follow-up with real individualized program creation that will make a difference, is one of the biggest educational hoaxes committed against the Australian people in my living memory. My tests are not just about a student’s summative/calculated spelling age but they represent so much more, as explained in the chapters of the publication – information that needs to be read and accounted for when the actual tests are used.

3. If the spelling tests were computerised, there would be nothing to show for the child’s natural written response and once again, it would be impossible to account for all the different variations in style and application. All children must learn how to write with a hand (in most cases) and paper. Not only is handwriting a critical fall-back option when we’re without an electronic device, but it forms important hand-eye and cognitive brain functioning. A good test will seek to account for these skills. In fact, hard copies of the Waddington Spelling Test are frequently called upon by other professionals when they need to assess a child further, such as speech pathologists and occupational therapists.

4. Computerized voices are simply that and are not human or natural. They should never be used to dictate a child’s ability. I won’t go into my opinion with regards to computerized voice application in relation to the importance of children being tested by the people they interact with on a daily basis. Nor will I go into detail about computerized analysis of students because if we go there, then we may as well dispense with real humans as teachers in classrooms. Testing children is at the heart of an absolutely essential human approach that must not ever be compromised.

5. Computerized tests can create laziness and they will create a disconnect from the vital diagnostic as well as critical teaching and learning opportunities. I don’t say this lightly or without back-up. I’ve put in the hard yards creating back-up resource materials that lock into various stages of teaching and remediating spelling skills, so people using my tests are not ‘left in the lurch’. It’s easy to identify a child’s overall spelling age, or give them a score or other rating, but it is a lot harder to identify their foundation of spelling skills and what they need in the way of an effective spelling and reading program to strengthen and build upon their existing skills for future better learning opportunities.

6. Computers are good at calculations and speeding up mundane tasks. However, you must first have a very knowledgeable human making sure what a computer does, does it properly. We can program a computer to provide answers largely anticipated but what about the responses we may never anticipate? For example, when the way a child may write a ‘g’ is not granted or even understood by computer recognition technology. Or the follow-up one-to-one diagnosis between a teacher and a child that elicits critical information for a child’s learning program? This is one example why you must actually mark and assess every child’s test, with some structure and some guidance that can alter in an instant as you progress through the marking recognise critical re-assessment.

7. The Waddington Tests are relatively easy and inexpensive to administer and are accessible when a teacher needs them, no matter when or how many. But they are powerful because the teacher is in full control. This is the best way because who will be ultimately responsible for the child’s program and the child succeeding well? Not a computer and not anyone else but the teacher who is administering and assessing the child’s test. There is also nothing more powerful than a child’s actual written responses when meeting with parents and explaining first-hand important elements of their diagnosis and their needs. I have knocked back all requests by others to adapt my tests into computerised versions. The tests and their accompanying back-up information stand in their current form for many sound educational reasons. They have been painstakingly researched, developed, trialled and implemented widely over 30 years with consistently high reliability and validity. Their form and any derivatives are strictly protected under copyright.

Teaching is hard work. There are no easy answers when you are a teacher because you are dealing with individual little human beings who are usually always very different, even more so where students with special needs feature. In my test publication, I stress that all students have special needs and it takes a highly organised and hard-working teacher to identify each and every child’s special needs in their care by using as diagnostic tools that work and are really useful. So, I am very pleased to read your statement, “At my school we use the Waddington Spelling Test as a consistent measure across the school to track students’ progress in spelling. I love the test and how it provides information about where kids skills and knowledge are.” However, (I won’t mince my words here) if a teacher finds the task of testing and diagnosis hard using my tests, I’d hate to think how they approach the day-to-day hard work ensuring all children in their care succeed to the very best of their individual abilities. Fortunately, my tests are not computerised and have to be administered by a real person with the child. Yes, they can be administered on a group basis but any vagaries associated with this are all part of the diagnosis of individuals.

Sorry, but I will not be providing an ‘app’ or computerised version of my spelling test. However, I do supply free of charge School Data Express which helps teachers record/calculate results and find/sort data over time which may assist with programming and reporting, as well as indicate trends and other worthwhile information.



Letter to Education Ministers in NSW and SA 4/5/2018 regarding NAPLAN

Dear Honourable Minister Rob Stokes,

I totally support your stand on NAPLAN, as reported by the ABC today and I am sending a copy of this email to my own state Minister, the Honourable John Gardner.

As a teacher myself and a life-long educationalist, for 40 years, with a background in student testing for diagnostic purposes well accepted across the country, I support your calls for NAPLAN to be scrapped. NAPLAN has evolved into something that is representative of the worst reasons for testing and this was even evidenced by Federal Education Minister Birmingham’s TV interview statements last week revealing it is primarily for systems-wide purposes.

NAPLAN has been around for a decade and its own results show it has done nothing to improve student learning, most likely it has caused poor and dysfunctional student learning. Its move to total online testing creates further distance between core teacher and student learning processes, especially if wanting to establish worthwhile intervention programs. And I am hearing from schools as recently as this week that internet use has to be restricted, as well as regular core teaching and learning, due to NAPLAN.

Rarely a week goes by when I am not contacted by a teacher or principal telling me what happens in their schools due to a need to maximize their NAPLAN performance. Ranging from strategically excluding students, teaching to the test, to cheating the system, I’ve heard it all. We’ve even heard from an overseas educationalist how bad the NAPLAN tests are and how students can cheat them. The time and stress suffered by staff, students and parents is appalling. As a form of valid and reliable standardized testing to provide diagnosis against a clear core scope and sequence of important in-class learning outcomes, it is not. But the biggest cheat upon the education system is NAPLAN itself.

For too long teachers have been stressed out chasing their tails. We have the schools we have got because they are built in places to support and develop good communities as well as nation building. We should not be stressing out our teachers and we should never label any school as being a poor performer, instead, all schools and staff need full and proper support. I do not believe schools are funded adequately from the federal level and this has had its part to play in poor long-term academic results. I also believe too much teacher time is taken up dealing with unnecessary things removed from core coal-face teacher-student day to day teaching and learning.

The bottom line is this; teachers and parents are the fundamental factors in ensuring a child learns well, not NAPLAN. There are no easy answers only HARD WORK – hard work that should not be seen to be hard work by the child. Hard work with a lot of positive reinforcement. This goes for adults too. Where do we see the positive reinforcement of teachers and parents in NAPLAN? It’s not only non-existent but NAPLAN works against any possible positive reinforcement for the people most concerned with interpreting its results. I’ve also seen this outcome happen by unrealistic expectations becoming common amongst Teacher Registration Boards and their growing list of requirements for teachers when all they should be doing is keeping a simple list of people with a qualification to teach and not being a font of knowledge for any ‘hit of the day’ thing. Unions are also to blame because they have lost touch with how far teachers can be expected to do their job well and the disconnect if teachers and schools are not deemed to be an extension of an effective family unit. If teachers are labelled only as “professionals”, someone who constantly needs re-training because what they believe in or value is never good enough, like something out of the cold corporate world, then the love and passion for their work and all children is diminished.

Teachers do not need to be overly trained. I’ve had parents with criminal records come into the classroom, feel a proud sense of respect and value to their community and be great workers and teachers because they too benefit from everything education is about. Parents are the best teachers of all and bad parenting skills can actually be fixed by their involvement with their own child’s education.

NAPLAN has evolved into a costly cheat upon the system of education that I know and love, creating very bad and expensive educational outcomes. I knew this from the start. The bottom line with teaching and poor student performance is actually hard work and it should be conducted within a supportive, positive and inclusive environment.

Thank you for the stand you are taking and I wish you well.

Kind regards,

Neil Waddington

CC South Australian Minister for Education, Honourable John Gardner



I am doing a review of the Waddington Diagnostic Reading Test as a reading assessment tool and was wondering if you could inform me as to the information source the test questions (that reflect the scope and sequence of reading skills) are based on please.  

I realise that research into the validity and reliability of the standardised tables was conducted in 1999, however it is the source of the information on which you chose to base the content of the test that I am after. Was it based on specific academic research or publications?

I am currently studying a subject "Approaches to reading difficulties" as part of a Special Education masters degree and it has been very worthwhile spending the extra time not afforded in undergraduate degrees or even on the go when teaching to focus on specific programs and assessments that help us to program more effectively for student learning. Unfortunately, I was only able to ascertain a full text of your Second Edition, however, understand that your Third Edition includes advanced tests that cater for a wider age group which many other reading tests fail to do. I have the details of how you obtained the standardised norms for your previous test as they are recorded in Chapter 7, was there many changes to the way you undertook the sampling for the third edition?

Your test was one of the few diagnostic tests that we were asked to use during my earlier teaching career, however, we were only ever handed the photocopied test and asked to hand the results back to the head of primary or learning support. I can now see how important basic training or provision of the accompanying test information from the head of primary would have been to us as teachers back then so that we could have understood the purpose of the assessment tool better and used the result information to plan more specifically for those students who were experiencing difficulties in reading skills.

RB  30/4/2018

Thank you for your email and requesting information about my reading tests.

I am assuming what you ask about my test questions relate to my current edition, the Waddington Diagnostic Standard and Advanced Reading and Spelling Tests 1 and 2 Third Edition Update 1 (2017). The last detailed re-sampling of the tests was conducted in 2011, not 1999 and published/released in 2012. Detailed information about this is provided in chapter 7 of the Third Edition Update 1, along with references and acknowledgements on pages 114 – 117.

The source of each reading tests’ questions are mine. They are original and relate to no other person’s work.

There are 4 reading tests – 2 standard reading tests (1 & 2 in parallel form where the texts have remained constant over editions 1, 2 and 3 including update 1) and 2 advanced reading tests (1 & 2 in parallel form, introduced in edition 3).

Each reading test’s questions were created after a lot of serious thought and assessment. I even have video tape documentation where test elements were broken down to reflect core teaching and learning strategies, implemented by others with children during the make-up period of the first tests. When I created the reading tests in the mid-1980s, there were no Australian based reading age tests used by teachers and, as a young Australian teacher fresh out of teaching college teaching reading to children, I could not comprehend why. Pages 20 – 23 break down the subsections of each test and how they relate to important key diagnostic properties and teaching/learning pointers. I can also add that the questions were developed as a result of the following:

1. What I inherently know about the scope and sequence of the learning to read process based on my early teaching years and academic work, the special education co-ordinator work I did with teachers as well as parents and other non-teachers working with children helping them learn to read, combined with my ongoing studies/readings.

2. How different academically challenged students I worked with learnt to read more efficiently depending on the modifications to their individualised learning programs and the hard work inputted by those working with them.

3. What I knew about myself and the struggles I had learning to read as a student, then how I was able to learn via better ways and improve fluency. I felt like I was too long meandering on dirt tracks of learning when I wanted to be like others who I saw were on the highways of learning.

4. What I observed and learnt about how teachers and non-teachers were best matched with learners and the in-service training provided so they too understood the basics of how children could acquire efficient skills for reading. 

5. Extensive individualised and group sampling, including qualitative assistance from other professionals (junior primary, primary and secondary school teaching professionals) to establish the best question sets and a hierarchical order for each test’s individual questions.

Over time in which the tests were first published, revised and used, then re-used, by thousands of schools, teachers and other professionals across vast numbers of students, over three decades, it becomes evident that the tests are accepted as very valid and reliable for the things they purport to test and the diagnosis they provide about individual students. Although my tests can be copied freely under educational statutory licence, they are not initially provided for free, therefore my tests have inherent value and worth when professionals see a need to acquire them. 

It is interesting that you bring up the importance of test questions because they relate importantly to student diagnosis on an individualised basis and this is most recently a significant topic of discussion about Australia’s current state of education and service delivery. Along with chapter 5’s Further Diagnostic and Intervention Procedures, it is also the reason why I firmly believe my type of testing has a high acceptance by professionals charged with teaching students, and not testing conducted via unknowns or transient computer generated screens but tests fully presented in hardcopy form, on paper, by the classroom teacher and marked by that same person so the teacher can clearly see how the student has responded to individual questions, making connections with what she/he already knows about the student. Computers do this poorly and always will. This is also the reason why my tests have always been provided with a detailed yet straight-forward supporting publication so the tests are not only explored in break-down, question by question, fashion but are supported by direct common-sense theory, back-up resources (such as phonic based materials and Reader Express in the case of reading development) as well as case examples and intervention procedures (chapter 6). Unlike testing like NAPLAN, my tests contain questions and other elements which are highly consistent from test time to every further re-test time, are not politically motivated and the results are not meant to be used for short term labelling or comparing of students, classes or schools. I specifically state in every edition of my reading and spelling tests the following;

“The true value of each test and checklist in this publication lies in the diagnostic information which can be extracted for programming purposes. One important part of the diagnosis will be the identification of a reading and/or spelling age level. However, I strongly recommend that users of these tests discover many diagnostic properties and procedures by reading fully each section of this publication.”

My tests are constructed to provide direct individualised diagnosis by highlighting student strengths and weaknesses through-out the questions and sub-sections completed by the student, including concrete assistance for individualised student programming by the very people working directly with the student which most likely will involve testing across other disciplines such as mathematics (particularly important in the early years). The tests have additional value given they can provide a lot of detailed information via an efficient group administration basis. You might find useful further information here.

Finally, I need to say there is no perfect test, no perfect set of questions, nor are there easy answers to be found when testing students. There is also no quick fix or ‘pot of gold’ to be found at the end of every learning to read rainbow. Although I believe my tests are extremely worthwhile because they are cleverly constructed, easily understood and can be implemented effectively and efficiently for the benefit of students and those who work with them. The teaching and learning process does not need to be overly complicated. Unfortunately, politically driven governments, economically driven education departments, as well as professionals so far removed from the teaching and learning coal-face that they probably haven’t worked with hard student cases for any length of time, have had far too much say and influence over the last decade or so. Some will have you believe a particular reading test or program is the ‘be-all and end-all’ and many times such reading tests or programs may cost a lot of money or be state sanctioned with the luxury of little criticism. Yet, a simple and low to no-cost approach, including teacher made tests (they’ve been doing them for centuries), can also work well and get outstanding results. This is because primarily, a lot of hard work has to be involved with every individual student and let’s face it, who will be the person ultimately responsible for a student’s progress? – The student’s actual teacher(s), and here I include the child’s own parents. Besides the hard work, there can also be a lot of love and enjoyment if the student’s reading/learning program is put together well. Love and enjoyment within the teaching and learning process is critical, as is respecting the varied methods used by teachers to inspire and motivate students to do their best. I believe my tests work extremely well to not only support best practice but to also achieve these goals.

I hope this information is worthwhile for your studies and I wish you well.



"We test our students in semester 1 and at the end of semester 2 to look for student growth. Should we be using the same diagnostic test (eg. test 1) in both semesters or is the system designed to use test one first and test 2 in the second semester? Some staff have asked if using test 2 in the second semester produces a skewed result when they have used test 1 initially." EP, Primary School South Australia

When we use the words, ‘best practice’, we need to be sure our focus is on similar objectives and goals. To start with, we must be sure about why we are testing. Testing for the sake of only obtaining summative data is not a good reason for testing on its own. It might provide some insight to growth but that can be vexed by many factors, such as test error of measurement, which I will touch on in this reply. The focus must be on skills and viewing each student as an individual. We need to diagnose each individual student’s current skills, in view of consolidating skills they can independently reapply, then working out the best way to add to them via effective teaching and learning opportunities. Luckily, even though my reading, spelling and math tests will provide summative data such as an age grade, they provide much more diagnostic information relating to the individual student.

Semester 1 is a 6 month time frame, so I’m not sure when you actually do your testing in semester 1. Best practice, in my opinion, is to test the students for reading, spelling and maths in week 2 of term 1. This is best done as early as possible in the year so the teacher can plan each student’s learning programs. Week 1 is a settling-in period, so student anxiety doesn’t affect test results. The administrative instructions presented on page 5, Preparations for Testing Checklist, state this. If testing is not done early, then you’ve most likely wasted a lot of tailored teaching and learning time when students need it the most.

You ask the question about the possibility of skewed results if using test 2 after test 1. The most important factor here is the time frame between testing and not the tests themselves. I’ll explain this further. The shorter the time frame between testing, the more significant the Standard Error of Measurement (SEm) of the derived score applied to students. The reading and spelling tests provide SEms on pages 38 (reading) and 64 (spelling). If you retest within a year, you really are talking about no more than 9 or 10 months. Can you really expect to see growth from a norm-referenced point of view over such a short period? Perhaps, but the SEm is critical. I’ll give you an example. The SEm of the Waddington Reading Tests 1 and 2 is ±2.8 months. In the world of norm-referenced standardized tests, this is a very low error of measurement, which is part of the reason why the tests are highly respected and used widely. If the test-retest period is 10 months, you can expect to see data supporting reliable growth. But who needs this data? If it’s not for the benefit of the child/student, then it’s a waste of time. If it’s needed to support observations about questionable teaching and learning practices, then maybe it has a place. But what’s the point of testing students at the end of the year? Best to do it again early in the following year by a teacher who is going to use the results for the intended proper reasons explained in paragraph 2 above – by the very person who is actually going to do something worthwhile with the results for each individual student under their care. Use those once a year results to compare performance if you must. My School Data Express program can do that sort of thing (e.g. compare average results between classes, years, gender etc..). But that’s more useful to the system and not to the student as an individual or their parents. Intervention early is the key. There is absolutely no benefit knowing if a whole school is under performing against the school up the road because results such as NAPLAN could be influenced by as little as a few students. I speak to principals regularly every week or so who lament over how their school could do better. Little do they know I also speak with other principals who do things to improve their results which are totally divorced from curriculum or teaching and learning strategies.

There are other factors, besides the time period in between, which can skew test-retest results. These might be a change in teaching style, programming, crowded curriculum, cheating, test fatigue, environmental conditions or something as benign as a student having an ‘off day’ when the test is re-done. To reduce test fatigue, I provide 2 tests for both reading and spelling in parallel form. The tests are very closely matched, backed up by estimates of their validity and reliability demonstrated on page 102. So you can use tests 1 and 2 interchangeably with a high degree of confidence. Of course, as previously explained, you will increase their effectiveness, as well as decrease the test error, by testing once a year, no less than 11 or 12 months apart, at a time of the year when a teacher and student needs the information the most for their teaching and learning.

Math testing is a bit different because it needs to be criterion-referenced (matched against a definitive curriculum broken down into small packets of skill sets and information in a careful order) rather than norm-referenced. Once again, by using criterion-referenced tests, such as mine, the focus is primarily on diagnosing individual student’s skills, against a carefully arranged scope and sequence of essential learning. The National Curriculum talks about strands (vertical/cross-ways skill introduction as well as laterally potted continuum of skills), whereas my tests have used this terminology and approach for almost 3 decades. Unfortunately, the National Curriculum tends skew its focus. It expects teachers to cover certain knowledge sets at each year level but not all students are the same and this can be dangerous for students who do not fit where someone else thinks they should. This is why I am a big believer in each student having their own math workbook based on their specific teaching and learning needs. The learning environment (e.g. classroom) can enrich this if the tools and learning experiences are innovative and made available when the students are ready to make use of them. So, all up, math testing can not be done only twice a year, it’s an on-going process.

Other forms of testing should be on-going, such as weekly spelling tests resulting from individual, or group based spelling/language programs, fitness scores, computer activity scores, project/assignment marks etc... Once again, this testing and scoring is done for the benefit of the individual student and it can show skill growth against a particular program over shorter periods of time compared to norm-referenced tests which tend to show more holistic growth. Some ‘old ways’ of doing things, such as weekly tests and marks, are still important today. School Data Express can be used to record these types of testing events and the individual tests can give a collective percentage which can be compared against previous period(s). Reading Recovery, PM Benchmarking, Lexiles, Jolly Phonics etc depend on frequent testing, such via running records and other various program and classroom based test regimes. They tend to be more time consuming and irregular and sometimes I question their real benefit if not done for a specific purpose. In my opinion, these can show growth only if the data can be standardized (e.g. teacher to teacher/year level to year level common approaches), stored, summarized and re-presented for making comparisons.

So this brings me back to the first question I posed at the start of this, and one that everyone should always ask themselves, “Why am I testing?” If it’s not for the good of the individual student, then you could be totally wasting your time retesting at the end of a year. In this regard, the question about whether to use test 1 or 2 for the end of year retest is totally redundant. Personally, I’d use test 1 for the early years. They’ll be some familiarity, but that can also be a good thing. Then use test 2 for middle primary. Use the alternative test where you think there might be an over-familiarity with the other test. Use test 1 again for upper primary and secondary. As per the page 5 instructions, only ever introduce an Advanced Reading Test for individual students who score 5 or less errors on a Standard Reading Test. The Waddington Standard and Advanced Spelling Tests 1 & 2 are cleverly presented and arranged so all students, regardless of age, can try and complete as much as they can (see page 54).



Thank you for your Spelling and Reading Tests.

As a private tutor in England, I have just tested a lower-primary student using the Waddington Spelling and Reading Tests. In 2018, I will re-test this student. My three aims for testing are a) to measure the student’s growth, b) ascertain the efficacy or value of the English program being used, and c) continually improve my effectiveness as an educator.

Kevin Hiscutt

20 September 2017


I'm a state based educational tutoring co-ordinator and I noticed a discrepency between a child's score on the Waddington Reading Test and PM Benchmarking by the school for that child. - July 2016

Yes, there can be differences and it boils down to whether the testing has been done properly and what each type of assessment tool is actually doing, how it relates to the reading and learning processes and how the derived result is a true reflection of the aim of the program, even what it may purport to achieve.

Here is some info about the PM Benchmark approach:

Young teacher first time using it

Australian website selling the resource and their key points

UK website selling the resource and their key points

Website - We must rethink our use of PM Readers and Benchmarking

Critical parent comments

I quote from the beginning of Chapter 3 from my Waddington Diagnostic Standard and Advanced Reading and Spelling Tests 1 & 2 Third Edition, “Reading has been defined as, “a message-getting, problem solving activity which increases in power and flexibility the more it is practised.”1 This problem solving activity involves the interrelated language modes of listening, speaking, reading, viewing and writing, as “one often supports and extends learning of the others.”2

My tests reflect a purposeful and successful approach to reading skill acquisition along with effective key teaching approaches. They are grounded in the very core elements of how reading embodies not only what is presented on a page/screen but how it interacts with the reader and their current skills, chiefly via 3 cueing systems:

1. Grapho-phonic knowledge (understanding of letter/sound relationships) - phonemic awareness and phonics,

2. Knowledge of the sentence patterns and structures of the English language (syntactic/grammatical knowledge) – fluency,

3. Knowledge of the world (semantic knowledge) – vocabulary knowledge and text comprehension 

This is why my reading tests come with spelling tests (grapho-phonic knowledge). This is why I also provide math tests (semantic knowledge). In the early stages of learning to read, it is not just about how a child can respond to text on a page/screen. Reading in its most elementary stages, is basically about decoding – making sense of symbols (letters of the alphabet) and the sounds they make in their most stripped down form at the earliest of stages. That is why my reading tests start with letters and the diagnostic properties contained in the first 9 examples cover many key elements without anyone having to think of them first.

Does PM Benchmarking attend to all that I write above and give enough credit to a person who is actually able to read (make sense of written symbols in their most elementary forms) skills which may precede or transcend text on pages in a pre-defined book at a pre-determined stage that is supposed to represent accomplishment at the earliest stages of reading? Do the PM Benchmarking levels truly embody and reflect what we should be teaching during the learning to read phases? How much does the judgement of the person administering the ‘PM test’ and the amount of coaching influence the outcome, especially during the taking of running records? As a professional, you need to answer these questions. I would say that most professionals would say they are a guide but do not reflect everything they do as a teacher, nor do they reflect everything a student can do when they read. Some may say the PM Benchmarking reflects long term reading goals but not the nitty-gritty of exactly what a child needs within a carefully constructed scope and sequence of important skills. As a teacher I need to use assessment devices that match what I am actually doing so I can be sure my teaching, and each student’s learning, is progressing well. I never use assessment devices I do not fully understand or assessment devices which are somewhat alien to my teaching style, goals as well as my student’s learning style and goals.

I would ask the child’s teacher how the PM Benchmarking result reflects the child’s general ability to read, where the child is under-performing and how the PM Benchmarking result provides a guide to what needs to be done to improve the student’s reading skills.

“how we can explain this discrepancy to the parents?” 

To start with, the Reading Age attained by the student you mention is 3 months outside of the ±2 SEm of the true score about 95% of the time standard error of measurement. If this score seems unnaturally high for the student, other factors may have been at play, such as test coaching, the test reflects too-closely what the teacher is teaching or what the student has recently been exposed to, over-acquaintance with the test by the student etc.. Testing the student with Test 2 might provide a more accurate reading age as long as the administrative instructions are followed closely. The same goes for the PM Benchmarking. Check its score’s error of measurement and the detail behind how it arrives at a reading age. Re-test, preferably with a different test administrator and see if you get a similar result. These are the main courses of action to see whether a discrepancy still exists. You can tell all this to the parents but first establish how concerned they are and how much they actually want to know about the technical details. I’d be fairly confident that all they really want to know is whether their child is at an age appropriate level compared to the average, whether they are progressing well and if not, how they and their child can be helped. Remember, learning progress is not just about reading books, it includes the ability to spell, write, understand mathematics and having exposure to a rich learning environment with different forms of resources and technologies. 

I think you answered your own questions well when you said, “I have no question about the result he has achieved on his Waddington assessment.  Whilst this student has been slow to pick up fluency skills, his understanding and articulation of concepts taught is most accurate.” It’s a bit like how we have to be aware of all forms of communication these days (texting on an iPhone compared to text in a book for example) and how they can have a beneficial effect on our learning and sometimes this will not show up easily in a test with a more narrow focus. 

1 Clay, M. 1991, Becoming Literate : The Construction of Inner Control

2 ACARA - Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, The Australian

Curriculum English: Foundation to Year 10, 2011, p3


International School in China
"Hello Neil,
We haven't met but I have been a long time user of your material. I thought I would offer an observation just out of interest.
I have been a teacher in SA for 35 years but recently my wife and I made a big move. I am at present working in China, at an International school. It runs on the British national curriculum with a bit of tweaking at the edges. I have a class of students who are ESL in the main (three native English speakers). The reading level tests used by the school are rather opaque for my tastes ( much of the UK testing is ) so I decided to pull out the Diagnostic Reading test No 2 to see if I could make sense of their abilities. I know that your baselines were established using Australian students so I wasn't sure what I was going to see in the results. The scores and their implications were in complete accord with my instinctive judgements of the student's abilities and lined up strongly with their chronological ages. This showed that many of the ESL students had been given a good grounding in phonics and essential reading skills in JP and that their rate of learning was consistent with your Australian sample. While I can't jump to conclusions it seems to me that the tests work consistently in an international school environment. I thought you might be interested.
" P Carter, International School CHINA, 25 October, 2012


Some links to user research and/or implementation  or here

Assessment Tools for Literacy Learning Matrix, SA Ed Dept, July 2012

Evidence that the Waddington Tests produce reliable results over short test - re-test time frames, Charles Darwin University

StarSkills Blog  Review


Studies / Use By Others:

SPELD SA and Education Department SA long term 13 year growth study of 850 Children from their first day of school to their last using the Waddington Diagnostic Reading and Spelling Tests 1 & 2 to measure outcomes 2009 - 2022. - Ms A Weeks, Clinical Director SPELD SA  Interim Report : or here

2010 OLPC NT Study using the Waddington diagnostic tests in Reading, Spelling and Numeracy in seven primary schools with two classes in each school ~ 350 students. One of the classes will receive laptops, the other will not. The schools are Braitling, Bradshaw, Ross Park, Gillen, Sadadeen, Larapinta and Ntaria (Hermansburg). The plan is to conduct the tests prior to distributing the laptops and at the end of the trial, then compare results with the similar classes which do not have laptops. Ian Paul Cunningham Project Officer Technology, Information and Planning NT Department of Education and Training Ph: 08 89516816 Link to OLPC Wiki

"The purchase will be used to strengthen literacy monitoring and evaluation, particularly within the TVET National Bislama Literacy Project."
DME Program Coordinator 2006/2007, World Vision Vanuatu

Two Studies on the Effectiveness of Contiguous, Graphemic and Phonological Interventions on Measures of Reading and Spelling, R J Bourne, Master of Philosophy in Education University of Sydney, University of Sydney 2002.

To test or not to test? The selection and analysis of an instrument to assess literacy skills of Indigenous children : a pilot study, John R Godfrey, Gary Partington and Anna Sinclair, Edith Cowan University and the Education Department of Western Australia, Perth, 2001 Also available here.

Evaluation of a Standardised Test, Suzanne Speers, University of New England NSW, 2000

PA-EFL: A Phonological Awareness Program For Indigenous EFL Students With Hearing Disabilities

Academic Review / Assessment of the Waddington Diagnostic Reading Tests by Marian Haselton, 2004

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