The only way to determine whether students have learned to spell a word is to have them write it from dictation. This way, they draw on knowledge that exists in their minds.
Multiple-choice tests that present several versions of the same word, only one of which is spelled correctly, sow confusion and reinforce misspellings.
To test spelling, follow this three-step process:
- Say the word.
- Use the word in a sentence that makes the word’s meaning clear.
- Say the word again.
Note: Do not stop to repeat a word in any of these steps.
The sentences used to put the word in context require some thought to avoid ambiguity.
To give context for a word like friend, a sentence like Jack is my friend is adequate.
Words that have homonyms—words spelled differently but sound the same—like piece and principal, need something more specific than “I want a piece” or “There’s the principal.”
Similar-sounding words, like accept and except, also need thoughtful sentences that make the meaning clear.
Here is a sample spelling test.
- eight—My brother is eight years old.—eight
- principal—The principal announced a snow day for tomorrow.—principal
- real—Joan of Arc was a real person, not a fictional character.—real
- weight—The horse pulled a heavy weight.—weight
- manner—That actor has a pleasant manner of speaking.—manner
- friends—David and Jonathan were close friends.—friends
- forty—He wrote a check for forty dollars.—forty
- accept—The fireman refused to accept the medal. —accept
- site—We visited the site where the new school will be built.—site
- piece—Please cut me a piece of cake.—piece
A test with more than ten items may be justified to establish reading level, as with the Morrison-McCall spelling scale. In ordinary circumstances, ten words at a time are enough.
NOTE: The Morrison McCall spelling scale is not a test. It is a diagnostic instrument that can give the teacher an idea of a student’s reading level. It is very long.