Assessment Of Dyslexia

Assessment for Dyslexia (An EP gives his opinion)


Dyslexia occurs when there is a significant disparity between a student's overall underlying verbal/cognitive ability and his/her literacy skills, despite considerable appropriate teaching.

I have met many bright students who have not been able to develop appropriate literacy skills despite of a tremendous struggle on the part of students, parents and teachers.  ( I have equally met many less able students whose skills were equally poor, but in reality they were "maximizing their potential" and were to be congratulated on such achievement.)

Literacy Assessment

While "dyslexia" is a useful shorthand term,  I find the phrase "specific literacy difficulties" more helpful, as it instantly flags up a more precise description by acknowledging the possibility of more than one area of weakness.

Most bright dyslexics can manage a survival level ofreading (Basic Reading), but their understanding of what they have read (Reading Comprehension), their ability to spell, and their skills of written presentation are often woefully below their intellectual capacity.  Consequently, any assessment of a literacy difficulty should consider all three areas mentioned above.  This is done by using a single word reading test, as is required by examination boards.

Psychometric Assessment

In the same way that I consider "dyslexia" to be a non-specific umbrella term, I find the use of unqualified intelligence quotient figures (IQs) to be equally unhelpful.  IQ figures are gained by averaging out scores relating to levels of underlying abilities.  In the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children III (WISC III), 11 subtests are administered. The subtests are divided into Verbal and Non-Verbal (or Performance). Five or six test scores can then be averaged out to give both a verbal and a non verbal IQ.  In turn,  these two figures can be combined to provide a full scale, overall IQ.  When the variance between scores is small, I believe this procedure has some use.  However, when there are considerable highs and extreme lows; 'a spiky profilr' (as there often are with a bright dyslexic student), any averaging out discards information and can give a false picture. Imagine if a student's left leg was one inch shorter than the norm, while his right one was an inch too long, then on average both his legs would be fine, however he would have a bad limp!

'Intelligent'  Assessment

It is far more useful, when variance in scores is high, to consider the pattern of strengths and weakness.  At the most crude level, verbal abilities can be compared with non verbal abilities. Good verbal abilities with poor performance skills may suggest dyspraxia, and further assessment from an Occupational Therapist may be appropriate.  Poor verbal abilities with good performance skills may point towards hearing and or speech problems, thus Speech and Language Therapy assessment and intervention may be of use.

More specifically, I have seen patterns that suggest deficiencies in some areas that I believe to underpin the reading process. Patterns of strengths and weaknesses begin to suggest approaches to improving literacy skills that can then be geared to developing truly individual education programs.  Strategies that harness the identified strengths can be encouraged, whilst avoiding directions which would require a deficient skill.  Programmes which improve underlying weaknesses through games and daily activities may be formulated; however it must be remembered that the student will find this difficult, especially as they become older.

Usefulness of Assessment (1)

My number one aim in helping the dyslexic student is to improve self esteem by showing them that they is not 'thick and stupid'; as they have often been told. With the bright student, I involve them in the scoring up of the subtests; we convert his actual 'raw score' to 'test age' equivalence. This means showing a 12 year boy who has a spelling age of 8 years (which he already knew) that his powers of cognitive reasoning are above the range of my materials; more than 16 years 10 months.  The 'in student' effect is often dramatic in relation to the extent that his self esteem and self confidence instantly increase.

I have also seen a father view his son in a new light. The father was convinced that the boy was an idle good-for-nothing teenager in relation to not doing his written work-sheet bound homework.  Hewas amazed to see the boys' level of comprehension, when the questions were read to him, move from 2 years below his chronological age to 1 year above! The dyslexic student and I then agree that they have a problem with literacy that needs to be dealt with, however we put it in the perspective, for example, the above student is likely to be, verbally, one of the brightest boys in the school.  We talk about the specificity of his problem and compare this with others who are tone deaf, or colour blind and conclude that once he has his master's degree, a secretary will deal with the literacy required to implement his board level decisions!

Usefulness of Assessment (2)

However at a more prosaic level, the student's school is informed of his pattern of abilities and reminded of its duty of care to meet their needs.  While I expect a more able student to be reading far ahead of his chronological age, this is seldom the view of the Local Education Authority, who usually measure any deficit against the norm.  If the need is very significant, a Statement of Special Needs may be forthcoming.  More realistically, examination boards accept that a student who has been officially recognised as dyslexic by an educational psychologist should not be unfairly disadvantaged, and in some circumstances they may allow extra time, use of a laptop computer, and in the most extreme situations, an amanuensis (an adult reader of questions and writer of answers).

These thoughts are mine.
They are not paraphrased from elsewhere.
They are not representative of any organisation.
They reflect my experience of31 years in education including,  the last 18 years of practising as an educational psychologist.

Ged Balmer
Chartered Educational Psychologist
Cert. Ed., BSc.(Hons), MSc.,
C. Psychol., AFBPsS.
British Psychological Society No: 34097