Dyslexia Assessment: It Takes a Village

Dyslexia is a disorder of the unexpected. It’s sometimes defined by the gap between a student’s apparent cognitive or intellectual ability and their reading ability. This concept, of course, can be problematic when the bias of low expectations comes into play, but it’s a helpful frame for observation when a student is struggling. Parents and educators who notice this discrepancy may be uncomfortable pursuing assessments for dyslexia, but early intervention can prevent many later struggles and provide the student the chance to achieve their full academic potential.

What Signs of Dyslexia Should Educators Watch For?

Best practices in teaching call for assessment-driven instruction, so educators who keep excellent records of evaluations and observations of their students are more likely to note the signs of a potential reading disability. However, the line between simply struggling academically and dyslexia can seem hazy. As with all data collection on students, determining whether a student has dyslexia involves collecting information from multiple measures in multiple settings. At the same time, age and grade level expectations also inform teacher expectations for reading and writing ability.

Early Childhood and Primary Grades

In the first few years, students are assimilating and accommodating a broad swathe of information about letter shapes and sounds, phonemes, wordplay, and so on. Students with dyslexia, however, have more difficulty with these concepts than their peers, particularly in the following areas:

  • Learning the alphabet and linking letters with sounds
  • Learning spelling rules and general phonetic spelling
  • Blending and rhyming
  • Sounding out sight words
  • Comprehending written texts (as opposed to understanding what they hear)

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Middle School and Secondary School

Middle and high school readers should be “reading to learn” and be beyond decoding as they read. Their fluency and reading comprehension should be strong enough to glean information from texts, including using context clues to figure out unfamiliar words. Educators should be on the lookout for signs such as:

  • Extreme reluctance to read and slow, word-by-word reading
  • Difficulty with nonsense words, word lists, and words not in their listening vocabulary
  • Very weak spelling, including leaving out sounds, adding or skipping letters or syllabus, or miscoding sounds
  • Poor vocabulary knowledge and use, particularly in writing
  • Writing that is of poor quality and quantity and trouble comprehending or using complex grammatical structures
  • Mispronunciation of common words when speaking
  • Assessments of timed reading comprehension weaker than listening comprehension

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Who Can Conduct a Dyslexia Assessment?

Diagnosing dyslexia is a team effort. Teachers and parents are usually the first to notice the signs of reading struggles, and their collective observations provide critical clues. Other members of the information-gathering and assessment team may include:

  • Speech and language pathologist
  • Educational assessment specialists, such as a literacy specialist
  • Medical personnel for co-occurring conditions

A qualified dyslexia evaluator has extensive knowledge about how dyslexia “looks” at different stages of literacy development and how language development and behavior affect that development. Speech-language pathologists, developmental-behavioral pediatricians, school psychologists, reading specialists, or pediatric neurologists often work together to gather and interpret data.

Learn more at WPS about how to help kids succeed in school using our dyslexia assessment tools like Tests of Dyslexia (TOD™).