Educational assessment is an ongoing process of gathering and analyzing data to improve students’ learning and teachers’ instruction by identifying students’ strengths and targeted areas of need that require additional, differentiated, or specialized instruction. Assessment is also an integral part of the special education process of determining the presence of a disability. The appropriate identification of all disabilities, including a Specific Learning Disability (SLD)/ Dyslexia, requires a comprehensive evaluation process completed by the student’s planning and placement team (PPT), which includes qualified professionals and the parent of the child. This process determines the student’s Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance, which, as stated in Connecticut’s IEP Manual and Forms (2015), “should be used to provide a holistic view of the student through a variety of means, including current classroom-based assessments, district and/or state assessments, and classroom-based observations…” and “… which includes parent, student and general education teacher input in all relevant areas. The determination of the student’s present levels of performance should use a variety of technically sound assessment tools and strategies to gather academic and functional information” (p. 8).
Connecticut’s SLD/Dyslexia Assessment Resource Guide was developed to support PPT efforts to design and implement a comprehensive evaluation process for students suspected of having a reading disability. A description of the process of designing a comprehensive evaluation for students suspected of having an SLD is detailed in Connecticut’s 2010 Guidelines for Identifying Children with Learning Disabilities, which is a valuable resource for professionals interested in learning more about assessment and instruction that is beyond the scope of this Guide. More information about SLD/Dyslexia, including CSDE’s working definition of dyslexia as resulting “… from a significant deficit in phonological processing (i.e., a persistent difficulty in the awareness of and ability to manipulate the individual sounds of spoken language),” is available in the SLD/Dyslexia Frequently Asked Questions document prepared by CSDE. This resource also provides guidance to PPTs regarding who can identify a child with this disability and information regarding an individualized evaluation and appropriate instruction for a child suspected of having SLD/Dyslexia.
Elements of Connecticut’s SLD/ Dyslexia Assessment Resource Guide
Connecticut’s SLD/Dyslexia Assessment Resource Guide seeks to support a comprehensive analysis of a student’s strengths and areas of concern in relation to the various research-based components of reading, oral language, spelling, and written language. Component skills are identified and defined in a glossary of terms presented in Appendix A. The Guide provides examples of technically sound screening measures and tests and subtests that can support a comprehensive evaluation of these component skills for identification and/or instructional purposes. The results of a comprehensive evaluation can inform a PPT’s determination of a student’s present levels of academic and functional performance and, when indicated, appropriate identification of SLD/Dyslexia. A list of the screening measures, tests, and subtests included in this Guide is provided in Appendix B with links to online reference information. Neither SERC nor CSDE endorse any particular test or subtest listed in this Guide.
Format of Connecticut’s SLD/Dyslexia Assessment Resource Guide
Universal screening reading assessments are marked in the SLD/Dyslexia Assessment Resource Guide with an asterisk (*) and are included along with tests and subtests within each relevant component area of reading, oral language, spelling, and written language. Most of the universal screening reading assessments from CSDE’s approved menu are included, with the exception of i-Ready, the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) and STAR. These computer-adaptive assessments are not referenced in the Guide as they concurrently measure a number of component reading skills in comparison to an individual test or subtest that focuses on assessing a specific skill area. Since it is difficult to isolate the component areas of reading being measured in these assessments, they have been omitted from this Guide. However, PPTs may find i-Ready, NWEA and STAR data useful in determining a student’s present levels of academic performance and screening for students who are below proficiency in reading.
In addition to assessment tools appropriate for identifying the presence of the phonological processing aspects of reading, the Guide also includes assessment tools useful in determining present levels of academic performance in other component reading skills, as identified by the National Reading Panel (2000), such as fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Additional test and subtest options are also offered to assess spelling, written expression, and oral language comprehension and expression. These literacy domains should be assessed within a comprehensive evaluation for SLD/Dyslexia and can provide valuable information to the student’s PPT when differentiating between SLD/Dyslexia and other disability categories (e.g., Speech and Language Impairment).
Limitations of Connecticut’s SLD/Dyslexia Assessment Resource Guide
Connecticut’s SLD/Dyslexia Assessment Resource Guide has some limitations. It does not include the breadth of general education “diagnostic assessments” as described in Using Scientific Research-Based Interventions: Improving Education for All Students (CSDE, 2008) that could be “… used both by general educators and specialists to clarify and target the difficulties of individual students when the information provided by universal common assessments is not sufficient to do so” (p. 20). Also, it is not intended to provide an exhaustive list of all tests and subtests that could be used to screen, identify, or provide instructional data regarding a student with SLD/Dyslexia.
Using Connecticut’s SLD/Dyslexia Assessment Resource Guide
A comprehensive evaluation of a student suspected of having a disability is an individualized process that cannot be prescriptive. Qualified professionals will find the Guide useful in isolating and evaluating those component reading skills (and other areas of oral language and literacy) that are presenting as areas of concern for a student suspected of having a reading disability, including SLD/Dyslexia.
PPTs are reminded that there is no single “best” or “approved” diagnostic battery. Many different assessment measures can tap into the same construct, such as that of phonological processing. Teams should consider which reliable and valid measures are available to them; which measures they have been properly trained to administer, score, and interpret; and which measures are most suitable for their student population. Also, teams should have a range of measures available to them to ensure that they are able to adequately develop a comprehensive evaluation for students referred for evaluation.
In selecting assessment tools, it is important to review the demographic information about the normative sample of the targeted test to determine if the student being assessed shares comparable characteristics, culture, and language background as the subjects in the sample. Comprehensive assessment of English learners (ELs) suspected of having a reading disability is a complex process and requires determining the student’s oral language proficiency as a first step. A guidance document prepared by the Connecticut Administrators of Programs for English Language Learners (CAPELL) entitled English Language Learners and Special Education: A Resource Handbook (2011) can support PPT teams in this process. Additional information on this topic is also included in Connecticut’s 2010 Guidelines for Identifying Children with Learning Disabilities and other state eligibility guidelines.
Many of the assessment tools in the Guide measure specific component skills. However, it is also important for the assessment process to include broad measures of reading comprehension, written expression, listening comprehension, and communication (e.g., collecting and analyzing a spontaneous language sample). When these two types of assessments are considered in conjunction with each other, the results can help teachers pinpoint why a particular student might be struggling in a broad area such as reading comprehension. This allows teachers to target instruction for that student more effectively. Information gleaned from a variety of assessment sources can provide valuable information for PPTs to consider in determining disability-related needs that require specialized instruction via special education.
When the information from all assessments is considered by a PPT, patterns of evidence reflecting data consistencies or inconsistencies will emerge. Qualified professionals will need to analyze a student’s evaluation results in relation to what each test or subtest is measuring and how the student is being assessed (Farrall, 2012). This involves examining the response requirements of the test (e.g., single words vs. sentences; oral vs. written), the testing format or structure provided (e.g., open-ended vs. cloze vs. multiple choice), and the types of supports or cues offered (e.g., pictures, allowing reference to the text as the student responds to a question). Synthesizing all of this information will yield a more comprehensive perspective of a student’s individual strengths and areas of need and will support appropriate identification and the process of determining a student’s need for specialized instruction.
For More Information
Connecticut’s SLD/Dyslexia Assessment Resource Guide will be updated periodically as new information becomes available. For questions or feedback regarding the Guide, please contact Dr. Donna Merritt, SERC Consultant, at email@example.com or Dr. Patricia Anderson, CSDE Education Consultant and CSDE Contact for SLD/Dyslexia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most of the assessments presented in the Guide are available at the SERC Library and can be borrowed for review. To find a specific assessment click on the Complete A-Z Listing.
SLD/Dyslexia resources, including professional learning opportunities on SLD/Dyslexia, ranging from introductory/awareness-level information to comprehensive/advanced-level content are available at: http://www.ctserc.org/index.php/dyslexia. Please call 860-632-1485 for additional information.
Connecticut Administrators of Programs for English Language Learners (CAPELL). (2011). English language learners and special education: A resource handbook.
Connecticut State Department of Education. (2008). Using scientific research-based interventions: Improving education for all students. Hartford, CT: Author.
Connecticut State Department of Education. (2010). Guidelines for identifying children with learning disabilities. Hartford, CT: Author.
Connecticut State Department of Education. (2014). Menu of research-based grades K-3 universal screening reading assessments. Hartford, CT: Author.
Connecticut State Department of Education. (2015). IEP manual and forms. Hartford, CT: Author.
Connecticut State Department of Education. (2015). SLD/Dyslexia frequently asked questions. Hartford, CT: Author.
Farrall, M. L. (2012). Reading assessment: Linking language, literacy, and cognition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Washington, DC: National Institutes of Health.
Spear-Swerling, L. (2015). The power of RTI and reading profiles: A blueprint for solving reading problems. Baltimore, MD: Paul Brookes Publishing.