Essentials does assess spelling, but not through traditional spelling tests. Rather, we assess foundational spelling skills and understanding of spelling concepts, and then we measure mastery of specific spelling words through dictation.
We have not found any research that indicates that students memorizing words in isolation and being quizzed on them weekly promotes spelling mastery; in fact, there are studies that suggest the opposite. In our experience, having students write dictation phrases and sentences that use the phonograms and spelling rules they have been taught is a much better way to access what students have learned. It is also a better assessment of true mastery because it focuses on real-world application, as the words are not being used in isolation.
Each unit in Essentials has a Check Your Understanding assessment that includes dictation. The phrases and sentences will ask students to apply the phonogram, spelling rule, and grammar knowledge they have learned by that point in the curriculum, as well as to demonstrate mastery of specific words they have analyzed and practiced in this unit and previous units. There are also practice dictation phrases and sentences throughout the lesson, so students can have the benefit of ongoing practice with this more authentic writing assessment.
Each Check Your Understanding also includes phonogram dictation, in which the teacher says phonogram sounds aloud and students write the phonograms with no visual reference. Most also include a section in which students identify particular words that follow a rule they have recently been taught. In this way, teachers and students work together to check students' underlying understanding of the tools used to spell the words and identify areas where clarification is needed. This process gives teachers a much better sense of students' progress in developing strong spelling skills than simply checking whether or not they have memorized a short list of words.
Our goal is for students to understand how English spelling works, which is more important than memorizing the spelling of a specific word. If students are able to ask the correct questions and understand English spelling patterns they will be able to spell many more words than they would if they simply memorized a list of individual words each test.
A note about grading: Since understanding the reasons and patterns is a key indicator of spelling skill, we encourage teachers to give partial credit to students who make a logical guess at spelling a word based on the tools they know and spell most of the sounds correctly, even if they choose an incorrect option for a particular sound that particular word. A student who writes owt for out, or unresunable instead of unreasonable, is demonstrating strong understanding of a lot of spelling concepts, despite not remembering which phonogram option for a sound was the correct choice in this case.