Assessing Dyslexia

Using data to inform and guide the instructional decisions of administrators, teachers, and specialists as they support students with dyslexia.

McGraw-Hill
Oct 14 · 4 min read

By Dr. Jan Hasbrouck, Author

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, aimed at furthering understanding of the condition that affects 5 to 10 percent of the world’s population. As part of the initiative, we have partnered with experts to share tips, tools, and resources for teachers to better support their students with dyslexia. Below is excerpt from “Conquering Dyslexia” by educational consultant Dr. Jan Hasbrouck, coming soon (2019) from Benchmark Education Company.

Educators and parents often ask, “Is there a single assessment we can use to identify dyslexia?” Unfortunately, such a measure does not exist. Dyslexia is a complex, multifaceted disorder and there is no one, single assessment that can be used to identify whether a student has dyslexia. The symptoms of dyslexia are complex and multifaceted, so assessments must examine the various components of dyslexia. Then those results must be interpreted by literacy experts who understand dyslexia. And, it is vital to identify and attempt to address dyslexia as early as possible.

Categories of Assessments: Screening, Diagnosis & Progress Monitoring

The most effective and high-achieving schools use data to inform and guide the instructional decisions of administrators, teachers, and specialists. These assessments should be (a) time-efficient, (b) trustworthy (reliable), and (c) useful (valid). The information obtained from the best assessments provide educators with clear guidance to directly help them design and provide the most effective instruction to all their students and evaluate its effectiveness. Researchers have identified three categories of assessments — screening, diagnosis, and progress monitoring — that provide educators with optimal, useful information in the most efficient and timely manner. These assessments are used in different phases of the assessment process to answer three different questions.

These are designed to answer the initial question: Who might need extra help? These type of assessments (often referred to as “universal screeners”) are typically administered to whole classrooms or entire grade levels to identify students who might benefit from additional instructional support. Screener assessments typically have designated performance benchmarks; students who fall below the benchmark are flagged as “at-risk” and are slated to have the next set of assessments administered (diagnostic).

These are designed to answer the next question: What kind of help do they need? This next level of assessments is typically administered only to those students who were found to be below the performance benchmark on the screening assessment, or to any student about whom the teacher or a parent has concerns. Diagnostic assessments are designed to examine a student’s ability and knowledge of specific skills such as phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics and decoding, automatic word recognition, reading fluency, and reading comprehension. Comprehensive diagnostic assessments of reading would also include an assessment of a student’s language comprehension.

These are a third category of assessments, administered after instruction or intervention has begun. They are designed to answer the question: “Is the work working?” Are the students learning? Are they making progress toward identified instructional goals? If they are, we can celebrate…and keep working! If they are not, teachers need to consider adjusting or modifying their instruction. Like diagnostic assessments, progress monitoring assessments are differentiated and primarily used with students who are receiving supplemental instruction or intervention. The frequency of the assessments is determined by the severity of the student’s learning difficulty.

In conclusion, understanding how to assess potential challenges for children with dyslexia is the first step. The next step is to provide support with a structured literacy approach, which is recommended by the International Dyslexia Association. I discuss these best practices, solutions, and more in a recent webinar, “Dyslexia Awareness,” which you can view here.


Jan Hasbrouck, Ph.D., is a leading educational consultant, trainer, and researcher. Dr. Jan Hasbrouck worked as a reading specialist and coach for 15 years before becoming teaching at the University of Oregon and later at Texas A&M University. She served as the Executive Consultant to the Washington State Reading Initiative. Dr. Jan Hasbrouck works with educators across the United States as well as internationally, helping teachers, administrators, and specialists design and implement effective assessment and instructional programs targeted to help low-performing readers. Dr. Jan Hasbrouck earned her B.A. and M.A. from the University of Oregon, and her Ph.D. from Texas A&M University. Her research in areas of reading fluency, reading assessment, coaching and consultation, and second language learners has been published in numerous professional books and journals. She is the author and coauthor of several books, including training manuals and administrator guides for GHA to support professional development and help educators change practices in schools.


Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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