Testing for Dyslexia

Testing for Dyslexia

If you think your child may have dyslexia, you should go to a qualified professional for an evaluation. Below are answers to some of the most common questions parents have when considering this step. Reposted from NCDL, originally posted on IDA website. 

If you suspect that a child has dyslexia, an evaluation can lead to a better understanding of the problem and to recommendations for treatment. Test results are also used to determine state and local eligibility for special education services, as well as eligibility for support programs and services in colleges and universities. Ideally, evaluation results provide a basis for making instructional decisions and help determine which educational services and supports will be most effective.

At What Age Should People Be Tested for Dyslexia?

People may be tested for dyslexia at any age. The tests and procedures used will vary according to the age of the person and the presenting problems. For example, testing with young children often looks at phonological processing, receptive and expressive language abilities and the ability to make sound/symbol associations. When problems are found in these areas, targeted intervention can begin immediately. Of course, a diagnosis of dyslexia does not have to be made in order to offer early intervention in reading instruction.

Who Is Qualified to Make the Diagnosis of Dyslexia?

Professionals with expertise in several fields are best qualified to make a diagnosis of dyslexia. The testing may be done by a single individual or by a team of specialists. A knowledge and background in psychology, reading, language and education is necessary. The tester must have a thorough working knowledge of how individuals learn to read and why some people have trouble learning to read. They must also understand how to administer and interpret evaluation data and how to plan appropriate reading interventions.

What Test Is Used to Identify Dyslexia?

There is no one single assessment measure that can be used to test for dyslexia. A series of tests (or sub-sections of tests) is usually chosen on the basis of their measurement properties and their potential to address referral issues. While a variety of tests may be used, the components of a good assessment remain the same. Special attention should be paid to gathering data in areas such as: expressive oral language, expressive written language, receptive oral language, receptive written language, intellectual functioning, cognitive processing and educational achievement.

What Should an Evaluation Include?

The expert evaluator (or team of professionals) will conduct a comprehensive assessment to determine whether the person’s learning problems may be specific to reading or whether they are related to other disorders such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), affective disorders (anxiety, depression), central auditory processing dysfunction, pervasive developmental disorders and physical or sensory impairments.

The following elements should be included in an assessment for dyslexia

  • Developmental, medical, behavioral, academic and family history;
  • A measure of general intellectual functioning (if appropriate);
  • Information on cognitive processing (language, memory, auditory processing, visual processing; visual motor integration, reasoning abilities and executive functioning);
  • Tests of specific oral language skills related to reading and writing success to include tests of phonological processing;
  • Educational tests to determine level of functioning in basic skill areas of reading, spelling, written language and math.


Testing in reading/writing should include the following measures

  • Single word decoding of both real and nonsense words;
  • Oral and silent reading in context (evaluate rate, fluency, comprehension and accuracy);
  • Reading comprehension;
  • Dictated spelling test;
  • Written expression: sentence writing as well as story or essay writing;
  • Handwriting;
  • A classroom observation, and a review of the language arts curriculum for the school-aged child to assess remediation programs that have been tried.


What Happens After the Evaluation?

Discuss the test results with the individual who did the testing. You should receive a written report consisting of both the test scores as well as an explanation of the results of the testing. The names of the tests administered should be specified. The strengths and weaknesses of the individual based on interview and tests data should be explained and specific recommendations should be made.

In the case of school-aged students, a team meeting should take place when the evaluation is completed. This meeting should include the student’s teachers, parents and individuals who did the testing. When there is a reading problem, the report should suggest recommendations for specific intervention techniques. This intervention should be provided by skilled teachers who are specifically trained in explicit, research-based instruction.

How Long Does Testing Take?

An average series of tests will take approximately three hours. Sometimes it will be necessary to conduct the testing in more than one session, particularly in the case of a young child whose attention span is short or who might fatigue easily. The extent of the evaluation is based on clinical judgment.

Who Is Entitled to Testing?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides for free testing and special education services for children attending public school. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provide protection against discrimination in federally funded programs for individuals who meet the criteria for qualification. This includes individuals diagnosed with dyslexia.

For more on dyslexia, check out these 10 dyslexia resources.


Adapted with permission from the International Dyslexia Association fact sheet “Testing for Dyslexia,” which was prepared with the assistance of Lorna Kaufman, PhD



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