II. Procedures for the Assessment and Identification of Students with Dyslexia
“Research shows that children who read well in the early grades are far more successful in later years, and those who fall behind often stay behind when it comes to academic achievement.”— Snow, Burns, and Griffin, 1998
The early identification of students with dyslexia as well as the corresponding early intervention program for these students will have significant implications for their future academic success. In the book Straight Talk about Reading, Hall and Moats (1999) state the following:
- “Early identification is critical because the earlier the intervention, the easier it is to remediate.
- Inexpensive screening measures identify at-risk children in mid-kindergarten with 85 percent accuracy.
- If intervention is not provided before the age of eight, the probability of reading difficulties continuing into high school is 75 percent” (pp. 279–280).
Research continues to support the need for early identification and assessment (Birsh, 2011; Sousa, 2005; Nevills & Wolfe, 2009). The rapid growth of the brain and its responsiveness to instruction in the primary years make the time from birth to age eight a critical period for literacy development (Nevills & Wolfe, 2009). Characteristics associated with reading difficulties are connected to spoken language. Difficulties in young children can be assessed through screenings of phonemic awareness and other phonological skills (Sousa, 2005).
- Nevills, P., & Wolfe, P. (2009). Building the reading brain, PreK–3 (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
- Sousa, D. A. (2005). How the brain learns to read. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Keeping the above-referenced information in mind, it is important that the school district not delay identification and intervention processes until second or third grade for students suspected of having dyslexia. This identification process should be an individualized evaluation rather than a screening. Further, the evaluation should be conducted through §504 procedures or through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004).
The identification and intervention process for dyslexia can be multifaceted. These processes involve both state and federal requirements that must be followed. In this chapter, the differences are discussed as needed for understanding. Generally in Texas, however, dyslexia identification and intervention most often happen through general education rather than special education. Special education and the assessment through IDEA 2004 may occur when dyslexia is associated with factors complicating dyslexia, thus requiring more support than what is available through the general education dyslexia program. The following link to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) provides a §504 and IDEA 2004 comparison chart:
In Texas and throughout the country, there is a focus on a Response to Intervention (RtI) or tiered intervention process as a vehicle for meeting the academic and behavioral needs of all students. The components of the Student Success Initiative (SSI) and other state-level programs offer additional support. Current federal legislation under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) calls for the use of benchmark assessments for early identification of struggling students before they fail. In fact, state law requires the use of early reading assessments that are built on substantial evidence of best practices. Carefully chosen, these assessments can give crucial information about a student's learning and can provide a basis for the tiered intervention model. Through the tiered intervention process, schools can document students' learning difficulties, provide ongoing assessment, and monitor reading achievement progress for students at risk for dyslexia or other reading difficulties.
Early intervention is further emphasized as the result of research using neuroimaging. Diehl, Frost, Mencl, and Pugh (2011) discuss the need to determine the role that deficits in phonological awareness and phonemic awareness play in reading acquisition, thus improving our methodology for early intervention. The authors note that future research will be enabled by longitudinal studies of phonology remediation using various treatments. “It will be especially important to take a multilevel analysis approach that incorporates genetics, neuroanatomy, neurochemistry, and neurocircuitry, and also to combine the strengths of the different neuroimaging techniques” (Diehl et al., 2011, p. 230). Evaluation followed by structured intervention that incorporate new scientific research must be embraced.
As referenced in the letter from the “Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) to the State Directors of Special Education,” states have an obligation to ensure that evaluations of children suspected of having a disability are not delayed or denied because of implementation of the RtI process. For more information, please visit
Progression through tiered intervention is not required in order to begin the identification of dyslexia.
The use of a tiered intervention process should not delay or deny an evaluation for dyslexia, especially when parent or teacher observations reveal the common characteristics of dyslexia. The needs of the students must be the foremost priority. Frequently, a child with dyslexia may be making what appears to be progress in the general education classroom based on report card grades or minor gains on progress measures. While various interventions may prove to be helpful in understanding curriculum, a child with dyslexia also requires a specialized type of intervention (See Chapter III: Instruction for Students with Dyslexia) to address his/her specific reading disability. The use of a tiered process should not delay the inclusion of a student in dyslexia intervention once dyslexia is identified.
Parents/guardians always have the right to request a referral for a dyslexia assessment at any time.
Once a parent request for dyslexia assessment has been made, the school district is obligated to review the student’s data history (both formal and informal data) to determine whether there is reason to believe the student has a disability. If a disability is suspected, the student needs to be evaluated following the guidelines outlined in this chapter. If the school does not suspect a disability and determines that evaluation would not be warranted, the parents/guardians must be given a copy of their due process rights. While §504 is silent on prior written notice, best practice is to provide a parent the reasons an evaluation is denied. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recommends that districts are able to provide documentation that the denial was based on data to support there is no disability. For more information regarding §504 compliance, visit the following:
When a referral for dyslexia assessment is made, districts should ensure that evaluation procedures are followed in a reasonable amount of time. Section 504 does not require specific timelines; therefore, it is beneficial for districts to consider the timelines Texas has established for the completion of initial special education evaluations through TEC §29.004(a). The OCR looks to state timelines as a guideline when defining the “reasonable amount of time” should a complaint be filed regarding the evaluation procedures.
- Diehl, J. D., Frost, S. J., Mencl, W. E., & Pugh, K. R. (2011). Neuroimaging and the phonological deficit hypothesis. In S. Brady, D. Braze, & C. Fowler (Eds.), In explaining individual difference in reading theory and evidence (pp. 217–237). New York, NY: Psychology Press.
- Norlin, J. W. (2011). What do I do when: The answer book on Section 504 (4th ed.). Horsham, PA: LRP Publications.
State and Federal Law Regarding Early Identification and Intervention Prior to Formal Assessment
Both state and federal legislation emphasize early identification and intervention for students who may be at risk for reading disabilities, such as dyslexia. Those professionals responsible for working with students with reading difficulties should be familiar with the legislation listed in Figure 2.1.
|Figure 2.1. State and Federal Laws|
This education code requires schools to administer early reading instruments to all students in kindergarten and grades 1 and 2 to assess their reading development and comprehension. Additionally, the law requires a reading instrument from the Commissioner's approved list be administered at the beginning of grade 7 to any student who did not demonstrate proficiency on the reading assessment administered under TEC §39.023(a). If, on the basis of the reading instrument results, students are determined to be at risk for dyslexia or other reading difficulties, the school must notify the students’ parents/guardians. According to TEC §28.006(g), the school must also implement an accelerated (intensive) reading program that appropriately addresses the students’ reading difficulties and enables them to catch up with their typically performing peers.
Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)
The provisions offered to students who are reported to be at risk for dyslexia or other reading difficulties should align to the requirements of ESEA legislation, which requires schools to implement reading programs using scientifically based reading research (SBRR).
Equal Education Opportunity Act (EEOA)
This civil rights law ensures that all students are given equal access to educational services regardless of race, color, sex, religion, or national origin. Therefore, research-based interventions are to be provided to all students experiencing difficulties in reading, including English language learners (ELL), regardless of their proficiency in English.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004)
The most recent reauthorization of this federal act is consistent with ESEA in emphasizing quality of instruction and documentation of student progress. A process based on the student’s response to scientific, research-based intervention is one of the criteria included in IDEA 2004 that individual states may use in determining whether a student has a specific learning disability, including dyslexia.