If it is apparent that your child is struggling in school, it is important to have a professional evaluation completed. An evaluation may be completed within the school or privately. Having a thorough evaluation will enable you and your child to understand his or her strengths and weaknesses and ensure appropriate educational instruction. Prior to a thorough evaluation, you can also have your child assessed by a qualified dyslexia screener.
Below is some information that will help you during the evaluation process:
PARENT INPUT: Whether your child is evaluated by the school or privately, the evaluator should ask for your input. The more thorough your input is, the more helpful it will be to the evaluator. Think of your contribution as your child’s biography. Include information about milestones reached (crawling, speaking, writing letters), successes and struggles each year of school, observations at home (reading, writing, homework), outside activities (sports, art, games) and behaviors (friends, siblings, sleep patterns). If you have some, go through old report cards and school papers to provide examples of work.
Binder: PC READS recommends that parents begin a binder to organize all relevant documents. Sample binder sections: professional evaluations, school reports, sample work, DIBELS scores, correspondence with teachers and correspondence with the school district.
SCHOOL EVALUTIONS: Evaluations by public schools are completed to determine whether or not students qualify as having a disability in the school setting that would qualify the student for special education services under the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). There are thirteen (13) qualifying categories under the IDEA and the category dyslexia falls under is named, “Specific Learning Disability.” Utah follows the federal definition for Specific Learning Disability, or “SLD” which states:
SLD is a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia, that affects a student’s educational performance.
“Specific learning disability” does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; of intellectual disability; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage. (34 CFR §300.8(c)(10)) See: http://www.schools.utah.gov/sars/Programs-Areas/Disability/Categories.aspx
Thus, if your student is evaluated by the school, the word “dyslexia” may never be used to describe your child. A school evaluation typically only determines whether a disability is present, but does not provide a specific diagnosis.
If you have previously had your child privately evaluated and received a diagnosis of dyslexia, or have a dyslexia screening report, you will want to consider providing this to the school. In October 2015, the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, published a “Dear Colleague” letter that states, “[t]he purpose of this letter is to clarify that there is nothing in the IDEA that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP documents.” Moreover, there is nothing in the IDEA that would prohibit a school from including “dyslexia” in an IEP document.
Link to Dear Colleague Letter: https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/guidance-on-dyslexia-10-2015.pdf. Also see this article posted to Understood.org: U.S. Department of Education Encourages Schools to Use the Terms “Dyslexia,” “Dysgraphia” and “Dyscalculia” in IEPs.
Unfortunately, many school evaluations focus on cumulative test scores and do not adequately address subtest scores and scatter. Often, dyslexic students who are struggling in the classroom are able to test “average” on cumulative scores. Yet, a close look at subtest scores shows significant deficits in particular areas that are in need of intervention. As awareness and understanding about dyslexia increases, PC READS hopes that school evaluations will become more thorough and accurate.
Finally, if you disagree with the results of a school evaluation, you may want to meet with an advocate to understand your rights. For example, you have the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation by an outside professional. While parents can request that the school cover the cost, the school may not agree. Additionally, while the school may deny that the student is eligible for special education services, the testing results may still support the implementation of a 504 Plan.
PRIVATE EVALUATIONS: Typically, a private evaluation will be much more thorough than a school evaluation. Private diagnostic evaluations can be completed by neuropsychologists or other psychologists. When selecting an evaluator, it is essential to hire someone with expert knowledge of dyslexia. If your child is particularly young, you should meet with a pediatric neuropsychologist. Also, if you have had a prior dyslexia screening done, it should be shared prior to testing.
Licensed private psychologists are able to provide a diagnosis of “Specific Learning Disorder” using the criteria provided in the DSM 5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition). Below are the codes used for a “Specific Learning Disorder” diagnosis:
315.00 With impairment in reading:
Word reading accuracy
Reading rate or fluency
The following “Note” is included under this section:
Note: Dyslexia is an alternative term used to refer to a pattern of learning difficulties characterized by problems with accurate or fluent word recognition, poor decoding, and poor spelling abilities. If dyslexia is used to specify this particular pattern of difficulties, it is important also to specify any additional difficulties that are present, such as difficulties with reading comprehension or math reasoning.
315.2 With impairment in written expression:
Grammar and punctuation accuracy
Clarity or organization of written expression
315.1 With impairment in mathematics:
Memorization of arithmetic facts
Accurate or fluent calculation
Accurate math reasoning
The following “Note” is included under this section:
Note:Dyscalculia is an alternative term used to refer to a pattern of difficulties characterized by problems processing numerical information, learning arithmetic facts, and performing accurate or fluent calculations. If dyscalculia is used to specify this particular pattern of mathematic difficulties, it is important also to specify any additional difficulties that are present, such as difficulties with math reasoning or word reasoning accuracy.
TESTS & ASSESSMENTS: A professional evaluation will typically include both a multi-subject achievement test and an intelligence test. Many of these tests are referred to by their initials, followed by the version. For example, WISC-IV refers to the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, 4th edition.
Below are some common tests used when assessing struggling readers:
Multi-subject Achievement Tests:
- KTEA-II (Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement)
- WIAT-III (Wechsler Individual Achievement Test)
- WJ III ACH (Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement
Intelligence Tests (provide IQ scores):
- WISC-IV (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children)
- WJ III COG (Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities)
Additionally, the following “Single Subject Tests” are often used to provide more information in specific academic areas:
- GORT-5 (Gray Oral Reading Tests)
- CTOPP2 (Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing)
- TOWL-4 (Test of Written Language)
- TOWRE-2 (Test of Word Reading Efficiency)
- TOSWRF (Test of Silent Word Reading Fluency)
Many professionals will complete additional testing to provide a thorough picture of your child’s strengths and weaknesses. This assists with understanding if other issues are contributing to your child’s struggles (i.e., anxiety, ADHD, dyscalculia, executive functioning).
Book recommendation: All About Tests & Assessments: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (WrightsLaw)
SCORE INTERPRETATION: Understanding test scores can be daunting. Results often include standard scores, scaled scores, percentile rankings and grade-equivalents. Additionally, within tests there are subtest and composite scores. Composite scores are made up of several subtest scores. It is imperative that subtest scores be closely examined, especially when there is great variation. This is referred to as “subtest scatter” and is often present for dyslexic students. Many dyslexic students composite scores are in the average range; however, a closer look often shows subtest scatter.
The links below are to charts and tables that you may want to print out as resources while reviewing test scores.
A few quick definitions helpful for understanding scores:
Standard Scores (SS): Typically use a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of +/- 15. Sixty-eight percent of all scores fall between one standard deviation above or below the mean.
SS = 100 is the 50th percentile
SS = 85 is the 16th percentile
SS = 115 is the 84th percentile
Scaled Scores: Most subtests are reported in scaled scores, using a mean of 10 and a standard deviation of 3.
Percentile Rankings: These scores compare your child’s scores to other children of similar age or in the same grade. A percentile ranking of 35% means your child scored as well as or better than 35% of his peers (by age or grade). This does not refer to the number of questions correctly answered.
Grade-Equivalents (GE): These scores provide quick references to estimate skill levels. A GE of 2.3 means 2nd grade, 3rd month.
FINANCIAL INFORMATION: Paying for private evaluations and tutoring is expensive. It is worthwhile to find out if your insurance company will cover testing. You should also investigate using your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA) for expenses. Additionally, some employers offer specific programs to assist families with special needs children.