Currently, 47 states have enacted dyslexia-related legislation. According to Understood.org., under this legislation, the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) lists 13 conditions that can make students eligible for special education. One of these is specific learning disability (SLD), and IDEA lists dyslexia as a type of SLD. But IDEA doesn't tell states how schools should address it. So, what happens next? It's up to school districts to figure out how to pay for the training, resources, specialized staff, and other measures required by these laws.
Unfortunately, many schools lack the resources, time, staffing, and budget to address these needs adequately. The good news is that targeted diagnostic assessments can take some of the burden off staff, allowing them to get back to what matters—helping students achieve reading success. This article discusses what happens when schools do not adequately test students for reading disorders, why evidence-based assessments matter, and how targeted screening tools can improve staff and student experiences and lead to brighter educational outcomes.
The far-reaching consequences of inadequate testing
School administrators and special education directors understand reading is fundamental and facilitates all academic learning. They also realize that proper assessments are needed to diagnose reading disorders and to create the most effective interventions. So, what happens when students in your school haven't been adequately assessed, and what are the consequences for not implementing testing requirements mandated by the state?
According to APM Reports, the average cost to educate a public school student is about $12,500. And to educate a child receiving special education services can be more than twice that. With these numbers, it’s no wonder that many schools cannot adequately address these issues. Lack of proper assessment and its outcomes often fall on parents and teachers. When this happens, families may seek a private evaluation from a school psychologist, an educational psychologist, or neuropsychologist. This may involve academic assessments, neurological tests, and teacher, parent, and primary care provider input. When these evaluations are conducted outside of a school setting, they may be costly and are usually not covered by health insurance, according to DyslexiaHelp.
These evaluations may simply be out of reach for many families. What happens if parents and caretakers cannot afford these evaluations? Families have a right to request an educational evaluation by the school first. This should be the first place to turn. If the school declines the evaluation request, it needs to provide the parents with a reason for denial. Though universal screening assessment is conducted in some states that have adopted dyslexia-related legislation, much more is needed. For students identified as being at risk, teachers must determine what contributes to their poor performance. One way to do this is to incorporate assessment tools that help to determine why a student is struggling. And although valid screening methods should go hand in hand with interventions, it is not always the case.
Why diagnostic reading assessments matter
According to the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), screening tools, which provide critical data to inform the planning of instruction for students with reading disorders, are used infrequently, inconsistently, or not at all in schools. In addition, many teachers lack the training necessary to use assessment measures and many lack access. Without reliable and valid predictive screening measures, early intervention of dyslexia and related reading problems can be difficult. According to one study, without reliable and valid early predictive screening that reduces the burden on teachers, early intervention is nearly impossible. And when these issues are not addressed early, the burden will continue to fall on teachers and special education staff to deal with the repercussions throughout the student’s education.
Additionally, a school that does not implement testing requirements falls behind in critical data needed for curriculum and development programs. School administrators need this data to meet accountability reporting requirements, inform district goals, and measure the effectiveness of the reading curriculum and intervention programs. Reading assessment data also provides teachers with vital information to guide instructional decisions, plan future curriculum goals, and determine if interventions work.
Ultimately, a lack of testing and data hurts the student. Research reveals that those who aren't proficient readers by third grade are more likely to have low self-esteem, miss school, suffer from anxiety and depression, have disciplinary issues, and are more likely to eventually drop out of school altogether. Experts emphasize that timely identification and support for children with dyslexia is crucial for their future success. Delaying screening and assistance can result in long-term challenges with literacy, according to EdSource.org.
How targeted screening tools improve staff and student experiences
For districts that screen students appropriately for reading disorders and have the data, these schools often need specialized staff to carry out the proper interventions. Unfortunately, many schools are unprepared to execute the even more nuanced and time-intensive reading instruction required for students with dyslexia. Additionally, while dyslexia represents 80–90 percent of all learning disabilities, a child's reading disorder may be something else, creating a need for a more specific and nuanced intervention plan. Furthermore, a student may not have an SLD but may show weaknesses in certain areas where they could benefit from targeted instruction.
With this understanding, experts feel there are many subtypes of dyslexia, each with its own specific symptoms and interventions. Examining the underlying cognitive and linguistic processes that support proficient reading skills is essential for adequately identifying the nature of a student’s concerns and planning appropriate interventions.
Creating hope for the future
The good news is there are resources to help mitigate these reading challenges. Selecting a valid screening tool helps to make these overwhelming tasks easier and creates a better experience for staff and students. According to the International Dyslexia Association, when schools utilize evidence-based assessment tools and reading interventions, these models can deliver timely, effective support for those with reading disorders. Early identification of struggling readers and subsequent programs can reduce by up to 70 percent the number of children placed in special education, according to Education Week. And using a diagnostic achievement test, such as the Feifer Assessment of Reading (FAR), can provide your staff with the information to go beyond what they are receiving from reading tests that simply provide a comparison of one child’s score to their peers.
The FAR not only identifies the student's reading level but also helps schools determine the student's specific subtype of dyslexia to inform decisions about appropriate interventions. It takes a neurodevelopmental approach to reading, which suggests that multiple neural pathways underscore various aspects of the reading process, such as phonemic awareness, decoding, fluency, and comprehension. The assessment results and support deliver targeted intervention recommendations that can help staff know that they are targeting the right areas for intervention. The FAR Interpretive Report provides scores for all 15 FAR subtests. These subtests measure various aspects of vocabulary, phonological awareness, rapid automatic naming, decoding skills, orthographical and morphological processing, word memory, reading fluency, and comprehension skills. It also delivers targeted reading interventions based on current reading research tailored to the student's age and FAR scores.
“A diagnostic achievement test tells you why students are struggling—that’s a more important question, a more relevant question, and a question that is going to lead to better interventions,” said Steven G. Feifer, DEd, author of the FAR. “And that’s what is really of critical importance.”
To aid teachers and staff, school administrators and special education directors should explore evidence-based tools to help identify students with dyslexia and other reading disorders. The FAR provides numerous solutions, such as general screening of dyslexia, tracking skills progress for school systems operating in a response-to-intervention (RTI) paradigm, diagnosing a learning disability as part of a comprehensive psychological evaluation, and creating more targeted interventions. Assessments like the FAR can take the burden off schools and staff, allowing them to get back to what matters—helping children read and succeed.
Learn more about how one district implemented the FAR and achieved success.