PAT Early Years Reading

The following topics are covered in this article:

Assessment overview 

PAT Early Years Reading is an assessment of pre-literacy and early reading skills, covering print conventions, decoding, listening comprehension and reading comprehension. It has been specifically designed for the first two years of formal schooling (Foundation and Year 1), a time when students are building their foundational literacy skills to become independent readers.

There are four PAT Early Years Reading tests, which increase in difficulty and are accessible across the two-year period. The number of tests provided allows educators to monitor progress of a variety of literacy skills over time.

As with all PAT assessments, each PAT Early Years Reading test is made up of items – or questions – that cover a spread of difficulty and allow for some overlap in the skills assessed between the previous assessment and the next assessment.

The PAT Early Years Reading Framework covers five strands of early reading and aligns to the Australian Curriculum.

The five strands are:

  • PR (print conventions & environmental print)
  • PH (phonics & phonemic awareness)
  • VO (vocabulary)
  • LC (listening comprehension)
  • RC (reading comprehension)

The strands differ from those reported in PAT Reading 5th Edition as PAT Early Years Reading tests cover skills specific to emerging readers. These new strands reflect a mixture of constrained and unconstrained skills (Paris 2005). Constrained reading skills relate to the ‘mechanics’ of reading and require a level of automaticity to be effective, as demonstrated in the skills required to decode written letters and words into sounds (Clay 1989). Constrained skills have a ‘ceiling’ and once they have been mastered, all learning is complete. Other skills, such as vocabulary and comprehension, continue to develop across a lifetime and are therefore referred to as unconstrained skills.

The number of items that assess constrained skills are high in the first two PAT Early Years Reading tests. These questions decrease in number in the following tests. Conversely, items that assess unconstrained skills increase in number as the tests go along to match the expected progression in students’ reading skills.

PAT Early Years Reading is designed to be administered on a tablet where young students can touch the screen to respond, rather than having to operate the ‘moving and clicking’ of a mouse. If only desktop computers are available, teachers should monitor and support young students to record their responses using a mouse. There are two ways to respond to different questions – by ‘touching’ (or ‘clicking’) on an image or text or ‘dragging and dropping’ letters into the correct order. Questions can be standalone or part of a unit that involves a narrative or information text. Listening and reading comprehension units include richly illustrated books with a maximum of four page tabs to mimic a picture book. It is crucial that all students complete the practice program to understand how to navigate and interact with these items and online picture books.

Choosing the right test 

The PAT Early Years assessments have been named ‘Start Foundation’, ‘Mid-Foundation’, ‘Mid-Year 1’ and ‘End Year 1’ to indicate a suggested time to administer the tests to students and to communicate the progressive difficulty of each test. A brief outline of how the content of each test aligns with the skills of students is included below:

  • Start Foundation – students are not yet reading but may recognise some words and letters.
  • Mid-Foundation – students can read high-frequency words and some simple sentences with strong support from illustrations.
  • Mid-Year 1 – students have increasingly fluent decoding skills and can read simple texts with some support from illustrations.
  • End Year 1 – students are reasonably fluent readers and only pause to decode for unfamiliar, difficult words. Illustrations are increasingly less likely to be needed.

There are some important caveats to this information:

The test names are guidelines only
As with all PAT assessments, the aim is to provide the student with a test that will enable them to answer about half the items – or just over – correctly in order to establish what the student already understands and ‘where to next’ in their learning. It is strongly recommended that teachers familiarise themselves with the content of the four assessments and use their expertise and judgement when deciding which test is most appropriate for each student.
Avoid unnecessary over-assessment of the same skills
Some state education departments in Australia already provide school-entry literacy tests for Foundation students. These assessments are usually a one-on-one interview style (with the teacher and student), but can be other tools such as observational records and may be mandatory. There is no added value to be gained from running two school-entry assessments with a child in the same time frame; this is likely to add unnecessary fatigue and stress to both teacher and students. Rather, evidence gleaned from any state-mandated school-entry tests can be used to inform the teacher's decision on which PAT Early Years Reading test is most appropriate to use in four to six months’ time to see what progress has been made.
Learning progress is accelerated in the first two years
PAT Early Years Reading provides four tests across a two-year period, which aligns to testing times every six months, rather than once a year for other PAT assessments. This is because learning in the first two years of school generally occurs at a faster speed than learning at other times in formal schooling and requires more frequent monitoring of progress and potential gaps. One of the factors that contributes to the speed of learning in early literacy is the inclusion of ‘constrained skills’ content (see above). Remembering and applying letter sounds and symbols is a rote-type  task (even when taught in context) and for most students is mastered relatively quickly, which speeds up their ability to start decoding and making meaning from text. It is important that teachers are as up to date as possible in regards to each student’s level in the two core areas of literacy (decoding and comprehension), as these are the crucial years for all students to become literate.
The PAT Early Years Reading tests are designed to be diagnostic and to pinpoint strengths and gaps early so that monitoring of long-term progress can be better followed in the PAT Reading 5th Edition tests to Year 10. Therefore, administration times of the tests can be adjusted to the needs of the student. For example, by allowing longer than six months between PAT Early Years Reading tests for a struggling student (while using other resources and teacher judgement to indicate when they will be ready for the next test), or by allowing a shorter period of three or four months for a student who is improving rapidly and working beyond their expected level.
A small amount of content is beyond the F–1 curriculum
Many important factors were taken into account for the content and structure of the four tests. They needed to capture the skills of as many students as possible without containing too many items that would cause fatigue and stress. It is important to identify the skills of lower-performing students to establish a starting point for teaching and planning. For this reason, some PAT Early Years Reading test content is pre-Foundation level. And it is just as important to try to capture some sense of how far ahead high-performing students are so that they are also given the appropriate learning path and do not become disengaged with content that is too easy for them. Therefore, there is some content that goes beyond the recommended year level, appearing sparingly in the first set of tests and increasingly in the final test. The End Year 1 test contains four units and the final unit is at a Year 2 level. Teachers should use their own expertise and evidence to decide which students are capable of this test – remembering that they do not need to get everything correct in a PAT test for good measurement purposes.

Comparison to PAT Reading 5th Edition Test 1

PAT Early Years Reading is a comprehensive suite of four test forms with embedded audio support, specifically developed to assess students in the first two years of formal schooling.

PAT Reading 5th Edition includes a Test 1, which has been targeted to students in Year 1, resulting in some overlap with PAT Early Years Reading. The table below summarises the features of the assessments.

ACER recommends using PAT Early Years Reading to assess and monitor student progress across a range of pre-literacy and early reading skills.

PAT Early Years Reading PAT Reading 5th Edition – Test 1
A suite of four test forms:
  • Start Foundation
  • Mid-Foundation
  • Mid-Year 1
  • End Year 1
A new test form within PAT Reading 5th Edition
Features new content developed to assess pre-literacy and early reading skills across five strands:
  • Listening Comprehension
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Phonics
  • Print
  • Vocabulary
Developed using existing PAT Reading content to assess reading comprehension skills across two strands:
  • Interpreting explicit information
  • Retrieving directly stated information
Most suitable for students in Foundation and Year 1 Most suitable for students in Year 1
Uses new interactive item types such as drag-and-drop and hotspot Uses simple format multiple-choice items
Includes embedded audio support to allow students to complete tests independently and at their own pace Simple test design to support the typical reading levels of six and seven year-old students
Student results are reported on the PAT Reading scale Student results are reported on the PAT Reading scale


Administering the test 

Test administration instructions

The practice program

All students (even the very tech savvy) should complete the practice program prior to sitting a PAT Early Years Reading assessment for the first time. This can be assigned to students in the same way the tests themselves can be assigned.

It is strongly recommended that the teacher first models the practice program for students and then gives students the opportunity to complete the practice program by themselves. In particular, students need enough practice to ensure that they understand how to navigate the digital stories within the tests.

Students are not able to return to previous questions once they have clicked Next. The test questions are designed to be attempted in sequential order, so students should practise clicking Next only once to avoid accidentally skipping questions.

The practice program can be done at any time in the year and is recommended to be done at least twice in the week leading up to the assessment, but not immediately before the assessment itself, as this makes for an overall longer test time for very young students.

The practice program is designed to model all the navigation and question formats that appear in the test. The practice questions are intentionally easy, so that students are not distracted by the content and are able to focus on becoming familiar with the navigation.

Students can have unlimited teacher support for the practice program. Response data is not part of the final score.

The role of audio

Audio support is embedded in the PAT Early Years Reading tests and so headphones or a quiet space is needed for each student, but it is important to note that the students do not all need to complete the assessment at the same time. The audio ‘button’ that appears onscreen is used to listen to instructions as well as to assess what letter sounds and words students can or cannot yet recognise. This means that once a student has worked through the practice program and is confident with navigation, the teacher is not required to read out instructions or questions for the student. In the most difficult assessment, two reading texts appear without audio support to measure students’ independent reading levels prior to moving up to Year 2. It is crucial that students are given time to work through the practice program to make sure they understand how to activate the audio and navigate through the assessment correctly.

Students with additional needs

Teachers are able to support students with additional needs by providing help with operating the device/desktop to record responses. The embedded audio feature already provides an extra level of support for a number of needs including some levels of visual impairment. Any significant changes to the testing conditions should be recorded for future reference and consideration when looking at test results.

How long will it take?

These times are only a guideline provided for teacher scheduling. The assessments are not timed and students are encouraged to go through them carefully and at their own pace.

  • Reading practice program: 5–10 minutes
  • Reading assessment: approximately 30–45 minutes

Students need to complete one assessment in one sitting. The time students spend on the test may vary considerably depending on their level of skill and the pace they prefer. Once logged in, students can complete the assessment independently. Students with no previous computer experience will likely require some ongoing support. ACER recommends small group administration of 6–10 students who can be supervised by a teacher aide.

Using the results 

Although scale scores are an excellent way to track growth over time in the PAT Reading 5th Edition tests, they should not be viewed in the same way for PAT Early Years Reading. This is largely because the PAT Early Years Reading testing times are more frequent, with a shorter duration in between. Furthermore, the content structure changes across the four tests from a large component of ‘constrained skills’ in the first tests to only ‘unconstrained skills’ in the final test. This means that the PAT scale scores of students who are significantly stronger in one skill over the other may not appear to reflect growth because the scale score represents overall ability across both skills. PAT Early Years Reading results are best understood by looking at students’ responses by each of the strands to see where students’ levels are in each skill. There are five strands and two sets of skills. The table below shows how they align.

Strand Skill 
PR (print conventions & environmental print) Constrained (stops when mastered)
PH (phonics & phonemic awareness) Constrained (stops when mastered)
VO (vocabulary) Unconstrained (lifelong)
LC (listening comprehension) Unconstrained (lifelong)
RC (reading comprehension) Unconstrained (lifelong)


While students need to master the set of ‘constrained skills’ to be able to decode for reading, the other set of two ‘unconstrained skills’ (Vocabulary and Listening Comprehension) contribute to the ability to make meaning from reading. These two sets of skills should be assessed and taught simultaneously to achieve sound reading skills in students without one being given priority over the other. By viewing the reports by strands, teachers will be able to see if clusters of incorrect or missing responses are appearing and begin to map some ‘where-to-next’ strategies. It is also a good idea to use strand data to create class literacy groups based on ‘like needs’ rather than ‘like abilities’ to encourage progress and movement between groups.

Not all relevant content and skills can be included in the four tests and still keep them within a 30-minute time frame for each. The data generated should be regarded as indicative and teachers should always follow up with individual students if the data does not match other evidence that the teacher has gathered. Although the data and scores from PAT Early Years Reading cannot be directly compared with the data provided by other assessment tools, the information that is extracted from various sets of data (for example, strong listening comprehension skills but weak decoding skills) can be compared and recorded to build a rich student profile.

Supporting documents 

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