The following is a letter from nine year old Cassie transcribed from her hand-written letter to a relative:

Dear Uncl mic:
I had a grate time at the lunch/diner. Wer are you getting mered? Haw are you dowing? I love you . Plese rite back (ar you aksw tell ant emmy to rite back to.

In school, she wrote the following as part of a journal entry:

I got a pes of choclit art of moon codineen.
Today I hid cumPyoters. I was partners with Clowe. We plad a game wer you hat to capcher a crock. I hope tomara is a nutther grat day.

Writing samples, especially ones that are part of “open-ended” writing activities as the above from school are the x-ray that tell you something is going on with a child. They offer a window into how the child is processes information, her awareness of sound-symbol relationships, and her sense of internal organization.

Hands up – how many of you reading the samples above think this child may be dyslexic or at least have a writing disability?

Yep. I bet a lot of hands went up.

To me it is clear and self-evident. This nine year old child is in need of significant assistance and remediation. With her severe writing difficulty, coupled with her not so great reading skills, she is drowning, coming home every day upset that she is “so dumb.”

The problem is this is child was found to be ineligible for services after she was evaluated for special education. There was not a sufficient discrepancy between her Full Scale IQ (FSIQ = 91) and her overall achievement score (Global Reading = 87) to warrant giving her any assistance.

The IQ test (typically the WISC-V) is very helpful in yielding rich diagnostic information. Among other things, the test offers information as to what are the child’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses. To my understanding of the original intent of the developer of the test (then called the WISC), Dr. David Wechsler, many decades ago, the instrument was not designed for the purpose of keeping children from getting what they need.

Testing for a learning disability is tricky business. There really is no “gold standard” test that everyone agrees is the one instrument to use. Additionally, the FSIQ often does not fully represent the child’s potential, particularly when there is considerable scatter (as there was in Cassie’s case above). Compounding these challenges inherent in the testing, is the fact that there is a combination of quantitative and qualitative information that needs to be considered as part of an assessment. Just focusing on the quantitative is limiting.

For example, look at the writing samples above. (They would be even more dramatic if you saw the handwritten originals.) Really, I have no idea how to quantify the writing sample, but I do know by looking at them qualitatively and watching Cassie write, that they are suggestive of a pretty considerable learning disability (dyslexia).

The same is true with the IQ. The FSIQ is only one piece of information that needs to be considered within the context of other valuable diagnostic information.

Takeaway Points
Good assessments need to take quantitative and qualitative information into consideration when formulating whether or not a child has a learning disability. The IQ is just one piece of quantitative information and should not be overused.