Dyslexia Screening and Interventions: State Requirements and Resources

A Brief Overview

  • Washington passed a law in 2018 that requires schools to screen children in kindergarten through second grade for signs of dyslexia and to provide reading support for those who need it. The law takes full effect in 2021-22.
  • Schools already can evaluate students to identify learning disabilities and design interventions, regardless of whether the student has a formal diagnosis of dyslexia or another condition. Specific Learning Disability is one of the general categories of disability that may qualify a student for an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
  • The Revised Code of Washington (RCW320.260) requires schools to provide support to students identified as having dyslexia through “multi-tiered” programming. That means schools provide different levels of help for all students who need it, regardless of whether the student qualifies for special education.
  • By June 2020 the state’s Dyslexia Advisory Council will recommend specific methods to help schools implement new programs, train staff and share resources with families. The council is responsible to share resources and best-practice strategies for students at all levels, not just those who are identified before third grade.
  • Listen to a young adult talk about her life as a student with dyslexia in a 15-minute online video: Succeeding with Dyslexia.

Full Article

A child who struggles to read can quickly fall behind in school. Nearly every academic area includes some reading, and children might become confused or frustrated when they don’t get help to make sense of their schoolwork. Behavior challenges can result, and sometimes schools and parents struggle to uncover the root of the problem.

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, providing an opportunity to consider what is being done to evaluate and serve students who struggle to read because of disability.

Washington State has committed to helping more students with a law that requires early dyslexia screenings and interventions. The law takes full effect in 2021-22. State lawmakers in 2018 passed Senate Bill 6162 to require schools to assess children from Kindergarten through second grade. Schools who start using the state-recommended literacy screening tools before 2021-22 are considered “early adopters.”  

Child Mind Institute offers a Parent Guide to Dyslexia. Included are a few examples of signs parents might look for to consider whether dyslexia might be impacting a child.  

A young child with dyslexia may:

  • Have trouble learning simple rhymes
  • Be speech delayed
  • Have a hard time following directions
  • Have difficulty with short words or omit them (and, the, but are examples)
  • Have trouble differentiating left from right

In school, children with dyslexia are likely to:

  • Have significant difficulty learning to read, including trouble sounding out new words and counting the number of syllables in words
  • Continue to reverse letters and numbers when reading (read bear as dees, for example) after most kids have stopped doing that, around the age of 8
  • Struggle with taking notes and copying down words from the board
  • Have difficulty rhyming, associating sounds with letters, and sequencing and ordering sounds
  • Have trouble correctly spelling even familiar words; they will often spell them phonetically (cmpt instead of camped)
  • Lack fluency in reading, continuing to read slowly when other kids are speeding ahead
  • Avoid reading out loud in class
  • Show signs of fatigue from reading with great effort

Dyslexia affects the brain’s perception of written language

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), which oversees schools and agencies providing education to Washington public-school students, provides detail about the work of an advisory council that formed in Fall 2018 to plan for the state’s implementation of the dyslexia screening law. Early work included a definition of dyslexia, which is a disability that affects the way the brain perceives written language. The state’s definition is similar to a definition promoted by the International Dyslexia Association.

According to Washington State’s definition:

“Dyslexia means a specific learning disorder that is neurological in origin and that is characterized by unexpected difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities that are not consistent with the person’s intelligence, motivation, and sensory capabilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological* components of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

*The term “phonological” refers to patterns of sounds and word parts.

Through its website, OSPI provides a free downloadable Dyslexia Resource Guide. A print copy can be purchased for $10, and instructions for ordering are included on the website page.

A Learning Disability can qualify a student for an IEP under federal law

An evaluation to determine whether a student has a learning disability is part of the protections of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal grant program that provides money to schools to guarantee that students with disabilities received a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to meet their unique, individualized needs.

The IDEA lists Specific Learning Disability as one of the 14 general categories of disability that may qualify a student for an Individualized Education Program (IEP), if the disability significantly impacts access to education and requires specially designed instruction. Schools can evaluate students to identify learning disabilities regardless of whether the student has been diagnosed as having dyslexia.

Despite the IDEA, many states have struggled to identify dyslexia early enough to provide appropriate interventions before a student falls behind. On October 23, 2015, the US Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague letter to encourage schools nationwide to do more to identify and serve students with dyslexia. In its opening paragraph, the letter states that parents and other stakeholders were concerned that schools were reluctant to identify and serve students who might have specific learning disabilities:

“The purpose of this letter is to clarify that there is nothing in the IDEA that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP documents.”

Since 2015, nearly all states have passed laws to require schools to assess students and provide support for those who need help learning to reading because of dyslexia.

After passing the 2018 law, Washington formed the Dyslexia Advisory Council and included school administrators, non-profit organizations, school psychologists, special education and elementary teachers, parents, literacy specialists, experts in English language learning, state leaders and others. In June 2019, the council published a list of six recommended tools and resources to help schools screen for dyslexia. A downloadable list of the recommended screening tools is available through OSPI’s website.

The council chose screening tools intended to:

  • Satisfy developmental and academic criteria and consider typical literacy development and a specific child’s neurological development
  • Identify areas of weakness that can predict future reading difficulty: phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, rapid naming skills, letter sound knowledge, and family history of reading and language difficulties

By June 2020 the state’s Dyslexia Advisory Council will recommend specific methods to help schools implement new programs, train staff and share resources with families. The council is responsible to share resources and best-practice strategies for students at all levels, not just those who are identified before third grade.

The state’s law is described in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW 28A.320.260). In summary, schools are required to provide support to students identified as having dyslexia through “multi-tiered” programming. That means schools provide different levels of help for all students who need it, regardless of whether the student qualifies for special education. The intention is to intervene before students fall significantly below grade level. Students who don’t respond well to the initial extra help are evaluated to see if more specialized instruction—at a higher level/tier—is needed. The state requires that schools use the screening tools identified and recommended by OSPI.

Students can get various levels of help

According to the Revised Code of Washington: “If a student shows indications of below grade level literacy development or indications of, or areas of weakness associated with, dyslexia, the school district must provide interventions using evidence-based multi tiered systems of support, consistent with the recommendations of the dyslexia advisory council under RCW 28A.300.710

“The interventions must be evidence-based multisensory structured literacy interventions and must be provided by an educator trained in instructional methods specifically targeting students’ areas of weakness.”

State law requires that schools provide instruction in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to the maximum extent appropriate. A higher level of support may be provided after further evaluation and determination of need, and schools are required to include families in the process:

“For a student who shows indications of, or areas of weakness associated with, dyslexia, each school district must notify the student’s parents and family of the identified indicators and areas of weakness, as well as the plan for using multitiered systems of support to provide supports and interventions. The initial notice must also include information relating to dyslexia and resources for parental support developed by the superintendent of public instruction.

“The school district must regularly update the student’s parents and family of the student’s progress.”

National resources include comics and videos

Dyslexia awareness is promoted by the National Center on Improving Literacy (NCIL), which provides resources designed to support parents, teachers, and policy makers. On its website, the agency includes state-specific information, recommends screening tools and interventions and provides research data about early intervention. Through social media, the agency in October promotes a hashtag campaign, #DyslexiaAwareness.

NCIL provides a unique resource in the format of an online or downloadable comic book: Adventures in Reading Comic Books stars Kayla, a girl with dyslexia.

Here are a few video resources:

 

Child Find: Schools Have a Legal Duty to Evaluate Children Impacted by Disability

A Brief Overview

  • School districts have an affirmative duty to locate, evaluate and potentially serve any infant, toddler or school-aged student impacted by disability under the Child Find Mandate — part of special education law.
  • Adequate marks and “passing from grade to grade” does not erase the school’s responsibility to evaluate under Child Find. School refusal, missing social skills, trouble with emotional regulation and behavior struggles can trigger an evaluation.
  • Each school district has a duty to locate students residing within the district who might need special education. In order to meet its obligation under Child Find, a district has procedures to locate, identify, and evaluate students ages of 3-21 who are suspected of having a disability.
  • If parents at any time believe that a child may need special education and related services, they can contact the school and/or the district office to request an evaluation. A suspected disability that might significantly impact learning meets the standard for evaluation. Data from that evaluation determines eligibility. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has more information.
  • PAVE recommends that parents make a request for evaluation in writing and provides a sample
  • Screening and evaluations are free. Early intervention and special education services through the public-school system also are at no cost to the family.
  • Parents have the right to request an evaluation from the public-school district regardless of whether a child attends public school.
  • Parents who disagree with the results of an evaluation—or a school’s decision to not evaluate—have the right to dispute decisions through a variety of informal and formal processes, described in the Procedural Safeguards.

 

Full Article

Parents, teachers or anyone else can refer a child for an educational evaluation if there is reason to suspect that a disability is impacting that child’s ability to learn. The local school district provides a comprehensive evaluation, free to the family, if there is a known or suspected disability and reason to believe that appropriate early learning or school success requires intervention.

The school district’s duty to seek out, evaluate and potentially serve infants, toddlers or school-aged students is guaranteed through the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), as part of the Child Find Mandate. The law says that this obligation to evaluate exists for all children ages 0-21, regardless of whether they:

  • Attend private or public school
  • Are housed in a stable way or are homeless
  • Live with a birth or adopted family or are a ward of the state

Receiving adequate marks and “passing from grade to grade” does not erase the school’s responsibility to evaluate. Impacts to all areas of school and learning are considered. Academic challenges might trigger an evaluation. So can school refusal, communication deficits, missing social skills, trouble with emotional regulation and behavior challenges.

Children in private schools are protected by Child Find

Parents have the right to request an evaluation from the public-school district regardless of whether a child attends public school. If the child is found eligible for services, the local district is responsible for providing those services unless the family doesn’t want them. In some cases, families arrange to have a child attend a private school but receive special-education services through the public school. Private schools do not have to evaluate children or provide special education, but they are responsible to provide equitable services and to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. See PAVE’s article about navigating private school.

The IDEA includes 14 categories of disability that might qualify a student for special education services at a public school. PAVE has an article with more detail about the IDEA and additional articles with information about evaluation process.

Request an evaluation in writing

PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff recommend that families request evaluation formally—in writing. Specific deadlines apply in the evaluation process. Washington schools have 25 school days to decide whether to evaluate. After parents sign consent, the school has 35 school days to complete the evaluation.

A sample letter to request evaluation is available on PAVE’s website. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides more detail about state requirements. A national agency called Wrightslaw has additional information about Child Find.

The Child Find Mandate requires states to implement programs to locate children who might need more support, particularly those who might need services as infants or toddlers. Child Find is written into the IDEA in “Part C,” which protects children 0-3 with known or suspected disabilities in need of early intervention. However, Child Find applies to all children who might need services—through age 21 or until high-school graduation.

Testing determines whether the child has a disability that is causing learning delays. For very young children, this includes a known or suspected disability that might delay learning. For a child younger than 3 in Washington State, early intervention is provided with an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). PAVE’s website includes an article with more information about early intervention services and the transition to school-aged services at age 3.

For a child ages 3-21, an evaluation determines whether specialized instruction is necessary for the student to access learning at school. PAVE’s article about the Individualized Education Program (IEP) provides detail about how special education services are delivered.

Schools use data to determine whether a child is eligible for services

If parents at any time believe that a child may need special education, they can contact the school and/or district office to request an evaluation. A suspected disability that might significantly impact learning meets the standard for an appropriate and comprehensive evaluation. Data from that evaluation determines eligibility. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has more information.

The referral process includes a review of existing data about a student. Existing data might include information from families, medical providers and anyone who can discuss a child’s performance at public school, preschool, private school, at home or in another setting. Based on this data, the district decides whether to evaluate. Sometimes the decision is discussed at a “referral meeting” with school staff and parents, but a meeting is not required. OSPI has additional information about how the state implements Child Find.

Child Find requires schools to do outreach

School districts operate Child Find programs in a variety of ways. For example, a school might:

  • Train teachers to recognize signs that a student might need to be screened
  • Publish, post and distribute information for parents so they can understand how to request evaluation and why a child might benefit from services
  • Offer workshops or other trainings to parents about evalution, early intervention and special education

When should a parent be concerned?

If parents don’t think their child is growing or developing like other children the same age, they can request an educational evaluation, even if a pediatrician says there is no cause for concern. The national Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR website: ParentCenterHub.org) provides a list of developmental milestones to help parents recognize potential delays. Early intervention can be critical. Parents can contact their local school district or seek more information and assistance from Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT), managed by Washington’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF).

To determine whether early intervention is needed, an evaluator checks:

  • Physical skills (reaching, crawling, walking, drawing, building)
  • Cognitive skills (thinking, learning, solving problems)
  • Communication skills (talking, listening, understanding others)
  • Self-help or adaptive skills (eating, dressing)
  • Social or emotional skills (playing, interacting with others)
  • Sensory processing skills (handling textures, tastes, sounds, smells)

The evaluator uses natural situations to look at these skills while a child stacks blocks, draws, counts, cuts with scissors, jumps, or performs any other wide variety of activities. Testing time varies, and parents can ask how much time was spent, which settings were reviewed, and who conducted the review.

Parents can decide whether they agree with the results and whether they believe the evaluation was appropriate. “Appropriate evaluation” is protected by special education law, the IDEA, as a primary principle. Parents who disagree with the results of an evaluation—or a school’s decision to not evaluate—have the right to dispute decisions through a variety of informal and formal processes, described in Procedural Safeguards.

If an evaluation determines that a child requires early intervention, then those services are provided through an IFSP. Early intervention services might include speech and language therapy; physical therapy; psychological services; home visits; medical, nursing, or nutrition services; hearing or vision services.

In most cases, services are provided in the home or in a child-care setting. The goal is for services to take place in the child’s “natural environment.” Occasionally a child may visit a provider’s office for specialized services.

What does an older child’s evaluation look like?

Educational evaluations for children 3-21 are conducted in consultation with a team that includes parents, teachers, special education professionals and school district administrators and evaluation specialists who can interpret and explain the results.

The assessments can look like academic tests, questionnaires or informal observations. There are no right or wrong answers, and the evaluators are looking for clues that might show an area of need for different or specialized instruction. A comprehensive evaluation can measure a child’s ability to:

  • Think, reason and problem-solve
  • Understand spoken language
  • Explain ideas and speak clearly
  • Understand facial expressions and body language
  • Use facial expressions and body language to express emotion
  • Remember what they hear and understand different sounds
  • See differences in pictures and designs, remember what they see, and understand those visual images
  • Use body parts with physical skill
  • Get along with other people
  • Read, write, spell and do math
  • Hear and see

Parents can provide a health history and notes and diagnoses from medical providers that contribute outside information to be considered as part of the assessment.

The Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City provides a comprehensive list of commonly used assessments for a variety of disability conditions.

Children ages 3-5 with identified disabilities can receive free special education and related services at preschools run by the local public-school district or through federal Head Start or the state-run Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP). Often these preschools are specifically designed for children with disabilities, so inclusion with general education students may be limited.

Once a student enters the local public school for kindergarten, specialized instruction may be provided in general education by special educators who “push in” with support in the classroom. The IDEA requires education in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to the greatest extent possible with typically developing peers. Special education is a service, not a place.

Some children do not thrive in typical classrooms. The IEP team, including the parent, may determine that a smaller classroom or “pull out” instruction is needed for the student to make meaningful progress. These decisions are documented in the IEP.

“Related services” might include speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, mental health counseling or special transportation to school or extracurricular activities. Training about positive behavior interventions for parents, school staff and children could be provided as a related service.

What happens if a doctor or teacher refers a child for evaluation?

Any adult knowledgeable about a child’s condition can refer that child for evaluation. If a person outside the family makes the referral, parents get a formal written notification about the referral. Parents must sign consent for an evaluation process to begin.

Parents/guardians do not have to give permission. Parents who refuse to give permission have the right to request an evaluation later.

If school staff refer a student for an evaluation and parents do not want their child evaluated, the school district may ask parents to participate in mediation to further discuss the decision. If parents still refuse to sign consent, a school district can begin a legal procedure called Due Process to have the case considered by an administrative law judge. Through this process, a district may be allowed to screen a child for special education without parent consent.

If a student doesn’t qualify for IEP services, a Section 504 Plan might help

A student who is evaluated and determined ineligible for special education might qualify for a Section 504 Plan. Section 504 defines disability much more broadly than the IDEA, and a student can qualify for support if an identified disability significantly impacts a major life activity, such as learning or socializing with peers.

Educational evaluations identify barriers to education, so schools can figure out how to help children make meaningful progress. Sometimes special education is provided to help with access to academic learning, and sometimes it is needed for a child to build functional skills or to develop more skill in the area of Social Emotional Learning. When requesting a full and complete evaluation, parents can ask questions and provide feedback to make sure the school evaluates in all areas of suspected disability and that the tools for evaluation are comprehensive and varied. 

Sometimes a child comes to the attention of the school because of unexpected behaviors that might lead to disciplinary actions. PAVE’s article, What Parents Need to Know when Behavior Impacts Discipline at School, has additional information for families who might be requesting an educational evaluation because of behavior incidents.