Many children have difficulty learning how to read or improving their reading. Some read reasonably well, but their spelling and writing skills are poor. If any of these issues sound familiar, your child is a prime candidate for a reading evaluation.
An estimated 80% of individuals diagnosed with learning disabilities have difficulty with various aspects of reading, including decoding, comprehension, and written expression.
An evaluation should be both diagnostic and prescriptive—that is, it should define and describe the problems as well as provide suggestions for remediating them.
The first step in the evaluation process is to find a reading expert who is skilled at administering and interpreting reading assessments. While many evaluators have knowledge and expertise about learning disabilities in general, it’s critically important to find someone who understands how the brain is wired to learn reading (the neurology of reading disabilities).
Because reading is all about processing language, it’s important that the reading evaluation be done by someone who understands language development at a deep level, including how to measure the oral and written language skills necessary for reading and writing proficiency.
The evaluation should include a series of standardized achievement tests to determine how your child performs relative to a normal sample. But it shouldn’t stop there. If your child is struggling with sounding out (decoding) and spelling (encoding) words, the examiner should determine if he has difficulties with phonological processing (breaking down aural language into smaller components—words, syllables, etc.).
Since most reading disabilities are rooted in language processing, these skills must be measured. There are three aspects to phonological processing:
- Phonological awareness (understanding that each word can be isolated from a stream of spoken words)
- Naming or processing speed
- Working memory
When one or more of these areas is below average, reading, writing, and spelling are often impacted.
While much of this testing yields important standardized scores, the evaluation should also include qualitative information, including insights into how your child spells, reads different types of text, the types of questions he is able to answer to demonstrate comprehension, and the quality of a story “retell” (used to observe comprehension and language skills). Along these lines, you can also expect to find a description of your child’s behavior during testing.
In addition, you will want to make sure the evaluator describes your child’s strengths and aptitudes. When prescribing a course of action for remediation, those skills and interests will be used to strengthen learning weaknesses. This is especially important as your child gets older and is more apt to compare his performance with his peers. His teachers will need to know what his gifts and talents are.
The most important part of the evaluation comes after the test results are analyzed, and a summary is presented that describes how your child learns and what teachers need to know in order to help him learn effectively.
These are the recommendations for a remedial program that matches your child’s profile and addresses his reading difficulties. The recommendations form the basis of his Individual Education Plan (IEP). They may also include recommendations for accommodations such as extended time.
The recommendations should be specific enough to be translated into IEP goals and objectives and include suggestions for monitoring your child’s progress to ensure that the interventions are working.
To track your child’s progress, tests that have established norms should be given throughout the year. If the tests show that your child isn’t making adequate progress in order to ‘close the gap,’adjustments must be made to the interventions.
Ask to receive the evaluation report in plenty of time to read (and reread) it before you’re expected to act on it. It may include unfamiliar terms and information you’ll need to digest and discuss with someone else. Once you’ve highlighted parts of the report and prepared questions, arrange to speak with the evaluator. The more you understand, the greater success you’ll have advocating for your child.
The author is the President of Literacy How and a Research Affiliate at Haskins Laboratories, which conducts basic research on spoken and written language. She is also a member of the Smart Kids with LD Board of Directors.
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