TThere is much talk these days about screening for dyslexia.  Businesses are scrambling to put forth the product that schools will purchase so that they are compliant with emerging screening legislation.

Perhaps less important than the actual test is understanding how a screening is different from other types of assessments. (see:  

Screening involves the first of three different levels that can be conducted in a dyslexia assessment. (The three levels are as follows:

  • Screening
  • Moderate
  • Comprehensive  

Screening focuses on a specific set of skills that help predict a child’s performance on a larger set of skills that ultimately make up adequate reading. For example, a screening tests phonemic awareness – a sub-skill of reading (which will be explained later) – because it is a good indicator of a child’s early reading ability. However, screening does not examine all the skills that make up the more complex process of reading, such as reading comprehension and other contributing cognitive processes.   A more in-depth testing would consider these other factors.

By its nature, screening is a shorter first step. Ultimately, more involved testing may be called for, but the screening allows for early decisions as to who may be at risk.

Following a screening, identified children are typically offered remediation using appropriate evidence-based instruction. If it does not appear that the child is making sufficient progress after a reasonable period (e.g., six months), a more in-depth assessment may be recommended.  

Moderate assessment takes significantly longer than screening. A moderate assessment involves a more thorough examination of reading skills in relationship to other skills, such as cognitive and academic functioning. Whereas a screening can be conducted in a half-hour to an hour, a moderate assessment typically requires a solid three hours.

Comprehensive assessment typically looks at other in-depth cognitive functions not covered in the moderate assessment, such as memory functions and other emotional/behavioral variables. A comprehensive assessment often requires at least two testing sessions and may take twice as long as a moderate assessment. Such an assessment often is considered if a child continues to struggle significantly despite receiving appropriate intervention over a sufficient period of time.

When an assessment is conducted outside school, many factors go into deciding which level of assessment a child should undergo. Cost is an important one of these factors. Other factors include the type of assessments previously performed and how recently they were conducted. It is important to keep in mind that, with young children, it is generally good practice to start with a screening. However, I have conducted dyslexia screenings with people of all ages depending upon what is needed at the time. 

Takeaway Point

By definition, a screening should be a brief and narrow band assessment that offer very good prediction as to who may be at risk

Adapted, “Dyslexia Screening:  Essential Concepts for Schools & Parents,” Richard Selznick, Ph.D., 2014 SDL Consulting/Publishing

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