Testing & Evaluation

An evaluation is the process of gathering information to identify the factors contributing to a student’s difficulty with learning to read and spell. First, information is gathered from parents and teachers to understand development and the educational opportunities that have been provided. Then, tests are given to identify strengths and weaknesses that lead to a diagnosis and a tentative road map for intervention. Conclusions and recommendations are developed and reported.

When a student is having difficulties with reading and spelling, an evaluation is important for three reasons.

Why is evaluation important?

When a child is struggling to read, write or spell he or she must be tested for dyslexia or any other learning disability. Evaluation is a more accurate word to describe the process of determining if someone has dyslexia. The word evaluation encompasses identification, screening, testing, diagnosis, and all the other information gathering involved when the student, his or her family, and a team of professionals work together to determine why the student is having difficulty and what can be done to help.


An effective evaluation identifies the likely source of the problem. It rules out other common causes of reading difficulties and determines if the student profile of strengths and weaknesses fit the definition of dyslexia.

Intervention planning

An effective evaluation develops a focused remedial program. Students who have a specific learning disability in reading (dyslexia) need a specialized approach to reading instruction to make progress. It is crucial that this specialized instruction begin at the student’s current level of reading skill development, rather than at the student’s grade level. An effective evaluation helps parents and teachers see which specific skills are weak and where reading and spelling instruction should begin.


An effective evaluation documents the history of a student’s learning disability. One purpose of this documentation is to determine eligibility for special services, including special education. Documentation is also important for obtaining accommodations in O&A level examinations or on entrance exams (ACT, SAT), in college, or in the workplace.

When should a child be evaluated?

It is possible to identify potential reading problems in young children even before the problems turn into reading failure. Screening tests, developed by researchers for those purposes should be used with all children in a school, beginning in kindergarten, to locate those students who are “at risk” for reading difficulty. Preventive intervention should begin immediately, even if dyslexia is suspected. How the child responds to supplementary instruction will help determine if special education services are justified and necessary.

A child should be assessed if:

Family History and Early Development

  • Reports of reading/spelling difficulties across generations in the family
  • Normal prenatal and birth history
  • Delays/difficulties acquiring speech/language

Early Childhood/Primary Grades

  • Difficulty with rhyming, blending sounds, learning the alphabet, linking letters with sounds
  • Difficulty learning rules for spelling—spell words the way they sound (e.g., lik for like); use the letter name to code a sound (lafunt for elephant)
  • Difficulty remembering “little” words—the, of, said—that cannot be “sounded out”
  • Listening comprehension is usually better than reading comprehension—may understand a story when read to him but struggles when reading the story independently.

Middle and Secondary School

  • Reluctant readers
  • Slow, word-by-word readers; great difficulty with words in lists, nonsense words and words not in their listening vocabulary
  • Very poor spellers—miscode sounds, leave out sounds, add or leave out letters or whole syllables
  • Non-fluent writers—slow, poor quality and quantity of the product
  • When speaking, may have a tendency to mispronounce common words (floormat for format); difficulty using or comprehending more complex grammatical structures
  • Listening comprehension is usually superior to performance on timed measures of reading comprehension (may be equivalent when reading comprehension measures are untimed)
  • Weak vocabulary knowledge and use

Reference: International Dyslexia Association (Promoting Literacy through research, education and advocacy)