PAT Reading: What is going on!?

Does assessment data always accurately reflect the capabilities of our learners? As teachers we use multiple data sources to inform our  OTJs, in order to account for the odd bad day or fluke test. But when we know we had positive testing conditions and that our children are motivated, we cannot dismiss our results.

Last year I felt that my class had performed really well in reading. Their class work, learning conversations, increased interest in reading and running records (which are administered by a relief teacher) all pointed towards positive shift. We used even used Read Theory, a website not too dissimilar to the PAT tests, to practice for them. So I was really disappointed when the results came back - most of my learners results demonstrated they'd made average shifts, despite some increasing their reading age by over two years.

What does the research say?
Corkey (2014) studied the PAT results of a group of year 8 students who were stronger decoders than comprehenders. I found this study interesting as it was based on a similar group of students to my own and the researcher unpacked the reasons for incorrect responses. The most common cause of an incorrect response (47%) was in the students ability to inference. In their interviews with the students the researcher found that the learners read the text once and had poor recollection of it when attempting questions.  The students also struggled with unknown vocabulary, and incorrect use of prior knowledge.

This is interesting as we know that our students often struggle to make inferences and that part of this is due to their experiences and knowledge of the wider world. For example, one of our Probe tests is set on an old(1800's) sailing ship. As our students have limited knowledge of sailing and the 1800's, it is extremely difficult to pass the test as they struggle with the inference and vocabulary questions. It makes sense then that they would struggle to infer during the PAT tests, where they are presented with a range of texts set in a range of contexts.

What do other teachers say?
After talking to a range of teachers, we considered two further reasons that the students may struggle in the PAT tests.

1. Personal Connection/ Discussion In class and in the running record tests, the students usually answer comprehension questions orally and are aware that they are talking to another person. In the PAT test, they are sat alone in silence.

2. Scaffolding As well as being scaffolded by oral language, the students would usually answer comprehension questions after a guided reading session and usually after being given the time to read the text more than once. Even in the case of the running record test, the students read the text at least twice as they have to read it aloud as part of the test.  We don't really give many opportunities for our students to work with unseen texts. This is also the case at Tamaki College, where they are starting to get students to sit the unseen texts exam - they have also found that their students did better when responding to texts they had discussed in class.

Possible Approaches
I need to ensure that I am supporting my students to make inferences, to unpack unfamiliar vocabulary and that I give them opportunities to work without scaffolding. I believe if I expose my students to a wider range of texts about unfamiliar topics it will improve their inferencing skills and vocabulary. I could also include an activity a week where students independently respond to a short unknown text. I believe using Read Theory more regularly will also support this.


  1. Hi Danni

    I truly enjoyed reading your analysis of the possible reasons for students’ struggles in the PAT tests. You not only talked to colleagues but also referred to research articles! As you mentioned, in Corkey (2014), interviews were conducted with the students, trying to find the struggles students had. I was wondering whether you have done the similar thing? For example, talk to your students (formally or informally). Because I felt that the struggles that their students had do not necessarily the same as the ones that your students may have. Direct evidence from students (students’ voice) may further triangulate our analysis.



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