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Dyslexia Assessment… is it really necessary? (Part 1) SEND Magazine

A detailed understanding of a learners abilities and attainment is essential to effective intervention. Catherine Wright

Statistics show that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia of a certain degree. Of those approximately 2-3 of a more severe nature. Generally, in a class of thirty children 3 will be dyslexic and 1 more severely. If you start to look at other specific learning difficulties as well a teacher would have at least 4 students in their class that need support of a more specific type. To really understand and support a student it is essential that you know their strengths and areas of improvement and how they learn best. An in-depth assessment can support a teacher’s understanding of their learners in many ways and as such help a teacher to put in place the appropriate support. This does not always mean there is a need for extra funding, there are ways of supporting learners that are subtle and yet very supportive. Gaining the trust of parents and keeping the communication channels open also helps the learners.

Within this article I will be looking at the elements of a diagnostic assessment and discussing why these areas are being assessed and what they mean for the learner and teacher if there are weaknesses in this area. Within this article we will focus on reading activities, the next article we will look at spelling, writing and cognitive processing. These areas are just some that are assessed, and it is not an exhaustive list, but they are the main assessments carried out within a full diagnostic assessment by a teacher or a psychologist. There are further assessments on top of these assessments in order to help support a diagnosis, such a silent reading and assessments for mathematics and motor coordination difficulties. However, we will not be addressing these in this article as this time.

It is important to gain a full understanding of a learner’s requirements and how they are able to gather and retain knowledge. It is believed that the maintenance of knowledge is the more difficult area for a dyslexic learner to grasp, they can often seem like they have absorbed the knowledge in class but the next day it could be lost and you feel like you are starting at square 1 again. The difficulty of course in the classroom is that you do have to move on to the next lesson. This then becomes a problem for the dyslexic learner because they are struggling with the follow on of knowledge. You could use the analogy of a brick wall with poor foundations; you can only build the wall so far until it falls over when the foundations give way. If a student is to maintain their learning it has to be built on solid foundations. Understanding the learner completely through assessment enables the teacher to build their learning more effectively.

A child could fail to read at the level of his or her peers due to problems with any component of the reading system; for example, they might have problems recognising letters or in storing the representations of words (Jackson & Coltheart, 2001). In order to know how best to help a child who is struggling to learn to read, it is necessary to determine which component reading skills are sources of difficulty for the child (Hempenstall, 2009; Kame’enui et al., 2006)

Usually within most assessments the assessor will test single word reading, non-word reading and reading comprehension at the least. Reading accuracy and rate and timed comprehension are also an area that can be assessed but usually for slightly older students and for access arrangements.

Single word reading tends to be the go to test for schools. This gives you a good idea of a student’s ability to read out of context. Some students can be good at this yet will still struggle with comprehension and non- word reading, whilst other students could be poor at single word reading but can be good with comprehension, because they are used to their intelligence and knowledge in order to work round any words they struggle with. When words are taken out of context there are no clues for the learner to use. There are quite a few tests used for single word reading by teacher assessors and consultant psychologists all will tend to be similar; words getting progressively more difficult. You can observe a student’s ability to decode and break words down within a single word reading test so it is always important that this is assessed, but not in isolation.

Reading comprehension assesses the ability for a learner to understand text. Using a comprehension test is probably the next most important way of assessing reading abilities. There are quite a number of different tests that assess the learners comprehension. This can be tested in a number of different ways: -

•Reading the statement and saying whether it is true or false

•Reading a question and filling in the missing word, close tasks (with or without pictures)

•Reading the passage out loud and answering the questions

•Reading a passage and adding in the appropriate punctuation

Many learners can be very daunted by reading passages so it is important to ease a learner into the task, starting with relatively easy tasks to build their confidence even if they are staring lower than the basal point in the task as assessing their absolute understanding of the text is important.

Assessing non-word reading is an area that is common place in Year 1 but often is not assessed much after that point. Assessing non-word reading (reading words that are made up or alien words) provides us with a good understanding as to whether a learner can break a word down into their phonetic part (syllables, blends, phonemes, graphemes and digraphs) and understand phonics and sounds as opposed to sight reading words. If students struggle with non-word reading they will potentially struggle to read words that they do not recognise and their reading and vocabulary will suffer, people only have a certain volume of sight words that can be memorised at once (dyslexic learners also are recognised as having a weaker short term and working memory so recognising sight words and memorising words is not usually a forte) The older we get, the better we tend to get at this, that is why many adults do not have to decode words. But if anyone sees a word that is alien to them we all need to be able to decode effectively. If a learner has a lower than average non-word reading ability and a weak understanding of phonics, these are known as pre-cursers for dyslexia, research has shown that most individuals with developmental reading disabilities present with a phonologically based deficit (Rack, Snowling, & Olson, 1992). This has been recognised in year 1. If we could get some good supportive, targeted, intervention in year 2 and 3 we would save a lot of time and money in later years.

Using all three of the base line assessments with a learner will enable teachers to gain a much deeper understanding of the difficulties a learner is facing and enable the school to provide a more targeted intervention strategy rather than a shot gun approach. All support should be coordinated, structured and cumulative. If and intervention is being delivered within withdrawal sessions it is vitally important that this is reinforced and followed up in class. Intervention, whether in small groups or on a 1 to 1 basis should involve a structured scheme that enables the learner to cross from non-words and phonics to reading full words. Then, the word reading needs to cross over to spelling and using the words in context. All the reading should then link to comprehension. There are quite a few reading interventions as well as spelling interventions, but it is important that the systems teachers adopt enable the learner to cross over their skills. It is also important for all lessons to be recapped as many times as is required. ‘If a student does not learn the way we are teaching them, teach them the way they learn’. Teachers and support staff need to be able to have a detailed knowledge of interventions in order for us to effectively ‘teach’ and not just work in a specific system in rote fashion. Every learner is different so every learner will require a slightly different approach. The ability for support staff and teachers to migrate systems and interventions as well as improving the learners self-esteem and motivation is essential.

Enabling a learner to receive a detailed assessment is core to being able to teach them effectively. There are detailed assessments on the market that the teacher and support staff can use but it is important to understand why we are using them and what to do with the results. Similarly, if a parent has gained a report from elsewhere and produces it to help the teacher support their child it is important to read it thoroughly in order to make your interventions even better and tailored to the individual. A parent that is conscientious enough and worried enough to pay for what can be considered as an expensive assessment will welcome an open communication channel and will support the school in any way they can.

Catherine Wright – National Dyslexia Network (Dyslexia Network – Specialist Tutor and Assessment Network)- MA AMBDA Dip in SpLD (Dyslexia) BPS MDG CCET Cert Ed (and Dyslexic)

Hempenstall, K. (2009). Research-driven reading assessment: Drilling to the core. Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties, 14, 17–52. doi:10.1080/19404150902783419

Jackson, N.E., & Coltheart, M. (2001). Routes to reading success and failure: Toward an integrated cognitive psychology of atypical reading. New York, NY: Psychology Press

Kame’enui, E.J., Fuchs, L., Francis, D.J., Good, R., III, O’Connor, R.E., Simmons, D.C., …Torgesen, J.K. (2006). The adequacy of tools for assessing reading competence: A framework and review. Educational Researcher, 35, 3–11.


Rack, J.P., Snowling, M.J., & Olson, R.K. (1992). The nonword reading deficit in

developmental dyslexia: A review. Reading Research Quarterly, 27, 29–53.

Testing for Dyslexia Part 2 ( SEND magazine)

Catherine Wright continues her series on dyslexia assessments with a look at spelling, writing and cognitive processing skills

In the previous issue of SEN Magazine (SEN97, Nov/Dec 2018), I discussed why it was important for schools and specialist providers to understand the needs of a learner in order to support them effectively. I focused on the different reading tests that are available and why you would use a range of tests to identify the areas a learner may find difficult. In this article, I will focus on assessing spelling, writing and cognitive processing skills, and how assessing these skills can inform teaching and support.


There are many different spelling tests available to teachers and psychologists. All of them follow the same format, asking the learner to spell words and gradually getting more difficult as the test continues. Shorter tests may be quicker and will provide a standard score but will often not provide you with a good analysis of spelling difficulties. In order to support a learner, it is important to understand how they are spelling. Many dyslexic learners spell phonetically; they will often struggle with high frequency irregular words and do not have a good grasp of spelling rules – for example “do” being spelt as “dow” or “few” being spelt “foow”. Many learners miss out or insert sounds or syllables, use the correct letters in the wrong order, or confuse sounds (like “th”, “f” and “v”), or words (such as homophones, like “their”, “they’re” or “there”, or confusable words like accept and except).

It is also important to look at the way that learners spell when they are writing, and are able to choose the words that they use.


“Overcoming writing problems begins with a good assessment. Many individuals with dyslexia or learning disabilities think that writing comes easily for others, but this is not the case. Writing is a complex process. Even great writers need to work at it. They draft, edit, and re-write many times until they are satisfied with the final copy” (

It is of great importance to assess a learner’s writing skill as you can gain so much knowledge from observing a piece of writing and how it is put together. Writing is often the last skill to be mastered, there is so much to process when writing and many skills are required to deliver a good piece of writing including:

•how to hold the pen

•writing on the line

•formation of letters

•what to write

•spelling of the word

•the order of the word

•sentence construction




It is no wonder that writing is one of the most difficult skills to master for learners.

Writing can be assessed informally by asking the learner to write on a given topic for a set amount of time, usually ten minutes (if they can sustain writing for that length of time). There are also a number of standardised assessments of writing. Some of these have a variety of tasks, for example, assessing copying speed as well as free writing, while others are sentence completion tasks. Most give standardised scores only for writing speed, although there are some tests which measure additional aspects of writing, such as punctuation and grammar. Standardised tests have to be used to assess writing for exam access arrangements.

When assessing writing skills, it is important not just to look at the word count. This may provide you with a writing speed but will not give you qualitative information about spelling, punctuation, grammar and syntax. Criteria for analysing writing quality may include:

•main idea



•word choice

•sentence fluency


There is a lot of information that can be gained from observing a learner as they write: how they grip the pen, how they form letters, and whether they have difficulty with letter and word spacing or keeping to the line. It is also useful to note whether they slow down or speed up as the writing progresses. It is best to assess at least ten minutes of free writing – though 15 minutes will be even better and higher education assessment should always be at least 15 minutes – because the first five minutes can easily be the quickest; they have fresh ideas, then they start to lose focus and their hand will often ache. It is worth observing if the learner starts to rub or shake their writing hand.

For exam access arrangements it is also worth repeating the free writing task on a computer to see if word processing is more appropriate for the learner (as long as it is their “normal way of working”). The use of technology for younger learners in primary school can be appropriate for a student with dysgraphia or dyspraxia and for longer pieces of writing, but should not replace handwriting for most learners. It is very difficult to change a handwriting style in secondary school.

As with most interventions, assessment is a key component in developing an effective writing programme to meet individual needs. Assessment can highlight specific areas of difficulty, allowing you to create a systematic and individual lesson plan.

Cognitive processing skills

“Phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed are all aspects of phonological processing and a convincing body of evidence shows that difficulties with them are reliable markers of dyslexia” (Rose, 2009).

Teachers and psychologists have a number of assessments available to them to investigate cognitive processing skills:

•phonological awareness – “phonological awareness refers to an individual’s awareness of and access to the sound structure of his or her language (Mattingly, 1972)

•short-term and working memory – refers to coding information phonologically for temporary storage in working or short-term memory.

• processing speed.

There are a variety of assessments that can be used to screen or assess a learner's ability in these areas. There are usually several subtests that provide a composite score. These assessments are very important to provide a clearer understanding as to why a leaner is showing certain difficulties.

You can often triangulate a learner’s deficits by understanding their phonological awareness difficulties. Sometimes parents can get worried and they think it is the learner’s hearing that is the problem (sometimes it is, so do not rule this out) when really is it the learner’s ability to discriminate sounds from each other. There are a range of tests used to assess phonological awareness, including rhyming, phoneme deletion, word blending, and identifying target sounds in words (initial, final and medial). Weaknesses in literacy skills can often be linked to weaknesses in phonological awareness. An understanding of a learner’s phonological awareness provides a good platform to devise an appropriate support structure.

Short-term and working verbal memory are usually assessed by digit span tasks, where the learner is asked to repeat increasingly lengthy strings of digits (and sometimes, letters) forwards and also, in some tests, backwards. There is a wide range of other memory tests, including additional verbal subtests and visual memory subtests.

People with dyslexia often have difficulties with the rapid retrieval of information from long-term memory. Rapid naming tasks are often used to measure how efficiently an individual can retrieve and say verbal “labels” (such as names of digits, letters, colours or objects). Rapid naming tasks are straight forward and quick to administer. Versions of rapid naming tasks are found in a variety of different assessment test batteries and are accessible to a wide range of ages.

Difficulties with short-term/working memory and verbal processing are sometimes misinterpreted as behavioural issues; children may be labelled as lazy, slow or inattentive, when they are actually having to concentrate and work harder than their peers. Assessments of memory and processing speed can help parents and teachers understand a child’s difficulties better and enable them to make simple adjustments that can make a big difference to the child.

In this and the previous article, I have provided a quick overview of the commonly used assessments within the batteries of tests available to teachers and psychologists. In the next and final article, I will review assessments of underlying ability that are commonly used. Tests of underlying ability can provide a clearer view of the learner’s verbal and nonverbal skills.

Further information

Catherine Wright is a Director of the National Dyslexia Network, a group of specialist dyslexia teachers and consultant psychologists:


•Barnett, A., Henderson, S.E., Scheib, B. and Schulz, J. (2010) Detailed Assessment of Speed of Handwriting 17+ (DASH 17+), Harlow: Pearson Education. Age range 17 to 25.

•Mattingly, I. G. (1972) Reading, the linguistic process and linguistic awareness. In Kavanagh, J. and Mattinglly, I. (Eds), Language by ear and by eye (130-137) Cambridge, MA:MIT Press.

•Rose, J. (2009) Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties: An independent report from Sir Jim Rose to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

•Wagner, R. K., Torgeson, J. K., Rashotte, C. A. and Pearson, N.A. (2013) Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing - Second Edition (CTOPP-2). PRO-ED Inc.


It is no wonder that writing is one of the most difficult skills to master for learners

Assessment is a key component in developing an effective writing programme

Weaknesses in literacy skills can often be linked to weaknesses in phonological awareness

Dyslexia Network News

An ongoing series of informational entries

Questions to ask at parents evening?


Questions to Ask at Parents’ Evenings

Are you concerned about your child’s learning at school? Is your child struggling? We have put together a list of questions which should help you to get more information from your meetings with teachers.

Here are some suggestions:

Can you explain to me the difficulties my child is experiencing?

How are these difficulties affecting my child’s self-esteem and confidence- as reflected in the classroom?

What are you doing to help with this?

Could they be dyslexic or have some other specific learning difficulty?

Have you screened my child for these? (This tells them whether your child may be at risk of difficulties, but is not a diagnosis.)

Can I have my child diagnostically assessed for dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties?

If a diagnostic assessment not available through school, then contact the National Dyslexia Network for a FREE ADVICE SESSION to discuss diagnostic assessments by Educational Psychologists and Specialist Teacher Assessors. Many Parents find this very helpful, as it puts them in control of knowing specifically what their child needs. It can also be comforting to the individual to know there is a reason to why all of their hard work is not paying off.

Other Questions

How are you helping my child with these difficulties?

How effective has this help been?

What effect has this lack of success with these activities had on my child?

If these have not been successful, would you agree it’s time for something different, rather than more of the same?

Are the groups run by a Specialist Teacher of Specific Learning Difficulties?

Hopefully they are, otherwise, they will be ‘more of the same’- which your child has failed at previously.

Has my child been considered and assessed for access arrangements for their work in the primary/secondary classroom and for tests and exams?

If you would like to discuss any of these questions or answers you’ve been given, please book a 30-minute FREE ADVICE SESSION with a highly qualified and experienced professional.

September 13, 2017

Cognitive Ability Testing


What are CATs? (Cognitive Ability Tests)

What are CATs?

Many secondary schools use Cognitive Abilities Tests (CATs) to test general intelligence and to stream children into sets.

They are designed to assess a pupil’s ability in three different areas:

1. verbal (thinking with words);

2. quantitative (thinking with numbers);

3. non-verbal (thinking with shapes and space).

Many secondary schools don’t like to judge Year 7 pupil’s attainment on entry to school solely their Year 6 SATs result. This is due to concerns surrounding ‘over-coach’ for the tests, resulting in artificially high results.

CATs are used to give a snapshot of a child's potential, what they could achieve and how they learn best. The results can help teachers to set the right learning pace for each pupil, monitor their progress and identify areas where they might need extra support.

The tests are designed to be taken without any revision or preparation so they can assess a child’s potential in his or her ability to reason. CATs are not testing children's knowledge and understanding as a maths or English exam might, so they can't ‘learn’ how to answer the questions. Though many parents feel familiarity with the format and style of the test would improve their child’s performance. Past CATs papers are not available for parents to buy from any official assessment body.

The result will be given in SAS (Standardised Age Scores) so they take into account a pupil’s age. The average SAS is 100. The scores can be used to calculate predicted academic levels and can also be used to predict the outcome of GCSEs. If there is a wide variation between the scores in different aspects of the test, this may flag up a child who is experiencing difficulties in one area and can lead to a diagnosis, such as dyslexia. Extra support can then be put in place to help the child with or without a formal diagnosis.


September 22, 2017

Early Identification


Early Identification

The Benefits of Early Identification – Under 7s

The four-year-old who can't quite learn about letters becomes the seven-year-old who can't match sounds to letters ,the thirteen-year-old who dreads reading out loud, the sixteen-old-year who thinks they are not ‘clever’ enough to achieve GCSEs and the twenty-one-year-old who reads excruciatingly slowly and doubts they are ‘good enough’ to apply for their dream job. This negative thread is something that can persist throughout a person's life and is an experience many of our adult learners share.

But, with early intervention, this scenario doesn’t need to happen.


Through modern techniques, it is possible to reliably identify boys and girls at high risk of experiencing literacy difficulties before they fall behind; specialist help is available all over the UK. Labelling a child with dyslexia at a young age may alarm some parents and schools but this should not be a reason for disregarding language and literacy tendencies that may lead to difficulties later in life. Additional support will never hinder a child, but it can be harder to close the gap if identification is left too late.

In line with recent reliable research, this is what we believe to be the most sensible approach to identifying young at-risk children before they experience reading and spelling failures:

1. Observe your child’s language development; be on the alert for problems in rhyming, pronunciation, peculiar word choices and word finding.

2. Observe your child’s ability to connect print to language; notice if he is beginning to name individual letters and see symbols in books and familiar signs.

3. Know your family history. Be alert to problems in speaking, reading, writing, and spelling, telling the time, learning times tables, memory and organisation. Some families who report dyslexic tendencies seem to have an abundance of family members who have pursued creative, sporty, caring and manual jobs. Somewhat less frequent, but still impressive, are the large number of families sprinkled with great writers, entrepreneurs, and jurists who are dyslexic.

Once difficulties are identified, an assessment of needs can be carried out by various service providers. In the first instance ask school and then referrals can be made to a Speech Therapist, Educational Psychologist, Dyslexia Specialist assessor, GP, Paediatric doctor, Parent Partnership or SEND local authority as required . It is worth pursuing all lines of referral, but be aware that the services available, and the cost of these services, may vary between local authorities.

During the process of early identification it is important to also focus on strengths as well as weaknesses. Strengths can be developed more easily, counteracting weaknesses and helping the child to have a more positive image; over emphasis on weaknesses may affect a child’s self-confidence and demotivate them. It is important to speak to your child openly and positively about what they are experiencing and show them how motivation, resilience and having a positive, calm attitude can support their learning and reduce stress.

Taking time to collect evidence of your child’s difficulties will help the various agencies to determine your child’s true learning needs and be able to provide the most effective strategies and resources; it is always better for parents and schools to choose evidence-based programmes. Through all your research you may become an expert!

Do not be afraid to ask for the support of a dyslexia specialist teacher or psychologist if necessary; a formal diagnostic assessment may be required. Do get in touch with NDN to speak to one of our specialist teachers or assessors. Our initial advice is free. There are also other organisations specialising in dyslexia but ensure they have postgraduate qualifications and are fully registered with PATOSS, Dyslexia Guide or British Dyslexia Association.

Nessy and Dyslexia Awareness Week


Dyslexia Network are proud to be a partner with Nessy. Nessy has been making fun,educational software for children since 1999 and has developed a reputation for exceptional quality . Nessy offers the complete dyslexia aware solution with a suite of multi-sensory products aimed at making learning  to read, write and spell fun. Nessy is used globally by hundreds and thousands of teachers and students and is a 3 time winner at the prestigious Education Resources Awards.

You can also access a Dyslexia Working Memory module free for Dyslexia Awareness

Be Positive about Dyslexia


Dyslexia Network are proud to be a partner with Text help. It is important to support people with Dyslexia in as many ways as possible to make their life more manageable and enable people to achieve their potential. It can be very difficult for someone wit dyslexia to proof read their own work, we tend to read what we think we have written rather that what we actually have. Read and Write Gold help you to listen to your work and thus help you recognize mistakes. Allot pf people that are not dyslexic find this really help as well. There are so many other features on Read and Write Gold that support you in the work place and whilst studying.

Be Positive about Dyslexia


It is very difficult as a parent when you find out that your son or daughter has dyslexia. But  dyslexia can be very positive in many way. People can build up a resilience in life and achieve great things with their talents. Hannah Williams ( formerly Wright) passed out at Cranwell and an RAF Offices last week. She have achieved so much including a Master in Aeronautical Studies. She was also awarded the RAF award for someone that showed that they are determined and will try no matter what. She has had to work twice a hard as others throughout her life to achieve her dreams and her ambition.

Yes, she still finds English difficult and still uses technology to support her ( and a bit of mum and dad and husband now) but we all need support in one way or another .

The message here is never give up on your dreams.

The Start of Dyslexia Network


Thank you to all the staff and parents that are supporting Dyslexia Network. Since the demise of Dyslexia Action the Regional and Area Managers have been hard at work setting up the National Dyslexia Network. The Dyslexia Network in the Yorkshire, Humberside, Newark and Lincolnshire is managed by Catherine Wright, the former Regional Manager. She runs and supports Dyslexia Network alongside a team of 4 teachers, assessors and Psychologists. We will be adding new information to the site. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you require any information that we can share.

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