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Choosing Valid Reading Assessments: Essential Information for School Psychologists

School psychologists play a key role in reducing the number of students falling behind in literacy and enhancing the number of proficient readers. They are also pivotal in assessing and determining the appropriate educational placements for students, influencing their academic journey. Regrettably, school psychologists face limitations due to their heavy workload and lack of resources. Furthermore, many school districts do not have the resources needed to adequately address all student needs. 

The article addresses roadblocks school psychologists face and why utilizing diagnostic achievement tests for reading can help mitigate some of these challenges. We also explore the importance of exploring reading difficulties beyond dyslexia; the value of an assessment that offers targeted interventions; and how these solutions save school psychologists valuable time, money, and resources so they can focus on student success. 

Why choosing the right assessment matters 

School psychologists are crucial in making informed decisions about students with learning disabilities. To ensure accuracy, it is essential for them to carefully choose and effectively utilize measures that provide reliable scores and valid insights. However, a report finds that a common decision school psychologists make is failing to use targeted evidence-based assessment practices. 

Insufficient use of valid assessment tools with sound psychometric properties based on recent dyslexia research also poses a problem in certain schools. Some district guidelines identify poor phonological awareness as the only linguistic risk factor for dyslexia. Although weaknesses in phonological awareness can contribute to reading difficulties, research supports that dyslexia also includes multiple linguistic risk factors. Research from the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity suggests that even though dyslexia represents a majority of all learning disabilities, a child's reading disorder may be something else.  

Some reading challenges result from specific differences in how the brain processes written words and text. With this understanding, experts have identified  subtypes of dyslexia (i.e., surface, dysphonetic, and mixed). There are a range of concerns when it comes to reading disorders, from phonemic processing deficits to concerns with reading speed and fluency; phonological processing deficits to rapid naming concerns, phonemic awareness skills to writing disorders. With a range of symptoms this wide, it’s important to pinpoint the skills a student may be struggling with specifically.  

These subtypes highlight why examining the underlying cognitive and linguistic processes that support proficient reading skills is essential. Where a traditional achievement test will tell you a student is weak in reading, a diagnostic achievement test will explain why they are struggling with reading. With this understanding, it's critical to use a diagnostic achievement test to determine the breakdowns in reading, such as vocabulary, reading fluency, decoding words, or phonemic awareness. How can a targeted reading assessment help? 

  • When schools utilize evidence-based tools and reading interventions, they have data that can help them to deliver effective support for those with reading disorders, according to the International Dyslexia Association.  
  • According to Education Week, early identification of struggling readers and subsequent programs can reduce by up to 70 percent the number of children placed in special education. 
  • Children at risk for reading problems can be reliably identified, even before kindergarten, by assessing their emergent literacy skills. 

Targeted assessments also help school psychologists work with parents, school administrators, policymakers, and other relevant stakeholders to gather crucial data. This data is vital for obtaining funds necessary for special education resources and future literacy programs. 

Reducing barriers and producing targeted data

School psychologists have the background and skills to identify a child's level of reading performance and appropriate interventions. However, they are also highly overworked. Studies show that school psychologists are overwhelmed with job responsibilities, case overload, and engagement in caring for others. Utilizing an evidence-based diagnostic test that not only provides information on a student’s areas of weakness but offers specific targeted interventions based on that information can reduce the burden of identifying  specific student needs and creating appropriate solutions.  

The Feifer Assessment of Reading (FAR) is a valuable tool for alleviating the challenges faced by school psychologists. The FAR can provide this critical support as it goes beyond the average reading test. This diagnostic achievement assessment not only identifies the student's reading level but also helps determine the student's specific subtype of dyslexia to inform decisions about appropriate interventions. Furthermore, the FAR can be administered by teachers and the intervention recommendations can be put right into a student’s individualized education plan (IEP). 

The FAR measures four subtypes of reading disorders: phonological dyslexia, surface dyslexia, mixed dyslexia, and comprehension issues. Recommendations are based on FAR scores and the dyslexic subtype, allowing for more tailored interventions to help students become better readers. It also provides a progress monitoring report, or the FAR Interpretive Report, for school psychologists. This benefit means psychologists can give the test to the same student repeatedly. With this data, school psychologists can provide tangible proof to administrators demonstrating their students' success. The data can also help make a case for resources for advanced literacy programs.  

Creating a holistic student picture 

The FAR Interpretive Report helps explain a student's reading concerns in ways parents and teachers can readily understand. It enables them to realize that reading has more functions and processes than sight-word recognition and comprehension. The FAR subtests measure different aspects of vocabulary, phonological awareness, rapid automatic naming, decoding skills, word memory, reading fluency, and comprehension skills. In other words, it helps parents understand where their child's reading gaps are as opposed to thinking they just "can't read." This benefit reduces parental stress, offers beneficial insights so teachers can create targeted interventions, and saves valuable time. 

The FAR also provides other helpful solutions, such as tracking skills progress for school systems operating in a response to intervention (RTI) paradigm and diagnosing a learning disability as part of a comprehensive psychological evaluation. 

Learn more about how two students and one school district used the FAR as a roadmap to reading success. 


Compton, Donald. (2020). Focusing our view of dyslexia through a multifactorial lens: A commentary. Learning Disability Quarterly, 44. 

Heubeck, E. (2023, March 21). Most states screen all kids for dyslexia. Why not California? Education Week. EdWeek.,that%20start%20in%20late%20kindergarten.

International Dyslexia Association. Advocating for students with dyslexia in public schools. 

Peterson, R. L., Pennington, B. F., Olson, R. K. (2013). Subtypes of developmental dyslexia: testing the predictions of the dual-route and connectionist frameworks. Cognition. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2012.08.007.  

Terada, Youki. (2015, December 30). Response to intervention: Resources for educators. Edutopia. 

Vanderheyden, Amanda. (2018). Why do school psychologists cling to ineffective practices? Let's do what works. Retrieved from's_Do_What_Works 

The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity