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Should I have my child assessed? or Why isn't my child learning to read?
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If your child is struggling with reading, it is important to act fast. There is no biologically critical period for the learning of literacy as writing systems are inventions of human cultures, but there is a window of opportunity between the ages of about 4-7 when children pick up decoding skills and alphabet code knowledge most easily and quickly. The window never closes, but the older the child the more difficult it will be to remedy any deficiency, eliminate the guessing habit, replace unhelpful strategies and prevent ''disaffection and disengagement from education'' (Rose 2009. p38). The key to success with reading difficulties is early and appropriate intervention.

Most children start school enthusiastically, bright, keen and eager to learn but, typically, those who are failing to learn to read will become deeply unhappy after only a year or so and may suffer from frequent 'tummy aches' or other stress symptoms. Some children become rebellious and disruptive as an outward show of distress, maybe even receiving the 'ADHD' label, whilst others become unnaturally quiet and subdued and do their best to avoid all attention; the dreamers at the back of the class.

''The signs are there for mums and dads who care to look out for them. If you have a child who brings books home but doesn’t want to read them; a child who is suddenly either too quiet or too aggressive at school; a child who has clearly memorised her early books or who is being described as “possibly dyslexic” or “plateauing” by her teachers — be alert to the possibility that, no matter how old, she may never have learnt to read properly.'' (Miskin.Sunday Times 26/03/06)

Do NOT accept any of the following excuses for your child's reading and spelling difficulties:
- Your child is lazy / isn't trying / doesn't pay attention / needs to concentrate / lacks motivation
- Your child spends too much time watching television / playing computer games
- Your child has emotional barriers to reading created as a result of your anxieties (Rose 2009 p21)
- S/he hasn't memorised the list of essential sight words yet
- Boys are often slow catching on to reading, so we'll wait and see..
- It's part of his/her whole personality; you can't cure it (FE College staff 'dyslexia' support leaflet)
- His/her brain is wired differently from other children
- S/he has 'a different brain organisation' from other children (Wolf)
- Your child has a neurodevelopmental disability
- S/he's got a phonological / auditory processing defect
- His/her particular learning style doesn't suit phonics teaching.
- His/her 'brain isn't well matched to a literacy-based society' (BDA. Pollak p131)
- You have unrealistic expectations; s/he's just not academic.
- It's because s/he's in a one-parent family
- It's because s/he has too many siblings at home
- It's because s/he's left handed / 'right-brained'
- It's due to 'visual stress'; s/he needs tinted lenses/overlays.
- It's because his/her diet is/was deficient in essential fatty acids
- It's because his/her second teeth haven't appeared yet
- You haven't /don't read to him/her enough at home
- S/he's inherited your family's dyslexia genes
- It's because English is his/her second/additional language...
- It's because of his/her ''medical difficulties - constipation, anaemia, poor diet etc'' (UK Gov. LI16.Hewes)

Note that all these excuses place the source of the problem with the child or their parent, never with the teaching or the teaching materials, yet we know that, 'If a child can speak in whole sentences and participate in everyday conversation, the child has adequate prerequisites to be taught how to read' (Prof.Schutz)

Galen Alessi, a Professor of Psychology, conducted a fascinating study on school psychologists. He asked 50 school psychologists to list the causes of the learning difficulties of about 5,000 students. ''Based on the results of these 5,000 reports prepared by school psychologists, "the results indicate clearly no need to improve curricula, teaching practices, nor school administrative practices and management. The only needs somehow involve improving the stock of children enrolled in the system, and some of their parents.". ''After examining several "mainstream" school psychology texts, Alessi found that when assessing children’s reading problems, school factors were mentioned as a factor between 7% and 0% (zero) of the time. "Child factors" were held responsible for reading problems between 90% to 100% of the time'' (Wrightslaw.The Blame Game)

''Wade and Moore (1993) asked teachers the question, “Who is to blame for students’ failure to learn?” That 65% of teachers blamed child characteristics, and 32% of teachers blamed the home situation would probably be a surprise to those parents who view schools as the major influence on learning. Only 3% of teachers blamed teachers or the school system for learning problems'' (Hempenstall. Failure to learn)

http://nifdi.org/news-latest-2/blog-hempenstall/397-failure-to-learn-causes-and-consequences-dr-kerry-hempenstall
Failure to learn: causes and consequences.

You are your child's best, sometimes only advocate. If your child is still at the primary stage, approach your child's school and find out what they are using to teach your child to read. Most schools nowadays are using 'Letters & Sounds' (L&S); a very basic synthetic phonics programme hastily produced by the government in 2007 as a non-compulsory, stop-gap/fall-back programme for schools. Unfortunately, even if your child's school is using L&S or another DfE recognised synthetic phonics programme, there is no guarantee that their teachers know how to teach it properly.

Parents will find the following document useful for evaluating their school's 'phonics' programme:
http://www.syntheticphonics.com/pdf%20files/Criteria%20for%20evaluating%20a%20phonics%20programme.pdf

The **majority of teachers, due to poor training, a disinclination to change their ways or, possibly, an ideologically-based aversion to the direct and discrete teaching of phonics, are still teaching synthetic phonics incorrectly; they will send home lists of high frequency words (HFWs) for your child to memorise as whole shapes and provide them with non-decodable books**for independent reading practice. Moreover, many KS1 teachers dutifully teach all-through-the-word phonics decoding in a daily dedicated phonics lesson but then expect children to use multi-cueing (guessing) strategies to decode words when literacy activities take place at other times during the school day. For a significant minority of children, this is a recipe for confusion and failure.

**Only 27% of the schools which took part in the phonics reading check pilot in 2011 said that they taught phonics systematically, as opposed to teaching children mixed methods such as picture clues and sight memory to read words (DfE. Dec 2011) That the majority of schools continue to teach children to use multiple decoding strategies, rather than synthetic phonics, was confirmed in independent reports produced by the NFER in 2013 and 2014.

In 2012, a primary school's website included the following description of how it taught reading: ''Reading is taught most effectively through a variety of different methods, including phonics, use of pictures and contextual clues and development of sight vocabulary. At ** Primary, the core reading scheme is the 'Oxford Reading Tree'. This is extended and supported by a variety of real books (i.e. books by recognised authors), selected books and group readers from other reading schemes''.

In the same year, a head teacher wrote a letter to the TES saying, 'If it is true that the new curriculum will put into statute that children must be taught to read through phonics, I can see no option but to leave the profession I have lived and loved for 30 years because it goes against my principles and flies in the face of all my experience'' (TES 11/08/12)

According to Caroline Cox, there are four principal grounds on which teachers justify their practices. They are: 'tradition (how it has always been done); prejudice (how I like it done); dogma (this is the 'right' way to do it) and ideology (as required by the current orthodoxy) (Hargreaves 1996 TTA lecture p7)

The synthetic phonics teaching approach positively excludes the use of multi-cueing strategies for word decoding.

If your child is just a beginning reader yet brings home the early levels of colour-banded books (pink, red, yellow, blue..) with predictable/repetitive text to practise reading, plus lists of HFWs to memorise, then s/he is still being taught with a 'mixture of methods'; beginning readers have little choice but to use whole word memorising along with multi-cueing (guessing) strategies in order to read this type of book with any independence.

** In Oct 2010 the DfE issued a revised set of criteria for synthetic phonics programmes. It included advice on early texts to practise reading: ''(E)nsure that as pupils move through the early stages of acquiring phonics, they are invited to practise by reading texts which are entirely decodable for them, so that they experience success and learn to rely on phonemic strategies. It is important that texts are of the appropriate level for children to apply and practise the phonic knowledge and skills that they have learnt. Children should not be expected to use strategies such as whole-word recognition and/or cues from context, grammar, or pictures.''

For a multitude of reasons, a child can have difficulties learning to read even though the school is using a high quality synthetic programme taught expertly -and with passion! It is absolutely essential that the school implements some one-to-one tutoring immediately it is noticed that the child is failing to keep up with his/her classroom companions and that the tutor uses more of the same synthetic phonics programme, or an intervention programme based on the synthetic phonics principles, not something different; prevention rather than intervention, keep-up rather than catch-up.

Ruth Miskin, an early reading expert, explains, ''I think there will always be a small group of children who will need one-to-one tutoring - even with the best synthetic programmes, best training and best implementation; there are some children who have particular needs that cannot be met in a group - and not just SEN children. We tutored some children with SEN at my old school forever until they could read well. We also tutored children with behaviour problems, long term absentees, new arrivals just to mention a few. These children were always given more of the same and not something different. No amount of group teaching helps a child once they fall behind their peers - though you can sometimes teach in pairs if they are at the same level. If we want to be truly inclusive schools must plan for these children as a matter of course and not just hope for the best. Synthetic phonics is not a simple panacea - it takes determination to get every child reading. As soon as a child fails to learn the first letter on the first day - quick tutoring should take place''. Ruth Miskin recommends that those children who need quick tutoring, 'receive ten minutes of one-to-one practice before the lesson so they are confident from the start' (Miskin.SEN magazine 47)

'Be relentless – never give up until every child can read'. Ruth Miskin's advice to head teachers

At a late stage, often as a result of parental pressure, when the school's remedial provision is proving ineffective and the child is continuing to have serious difficulties learning to read, a school may bring in an LEA educational psychologist (EP) to assess the child. Note that LEA psychologists ''work within a public service ethos in which fairness to all potential clients is actively pursued, but in which it is widely believed that it is also unethical to publicly ''raise expectations'' above what the LA or school can deliver'' (Bunn.SEN magazine.54 p69) To avoid delay, parents can arrange for their child to see an independent EP. They will charge a hefty (£400+) professional fee for their services. Education consultant and trainer, John Bald, says that educational psychologists are able to, ''charge large fees for reports based on simplistic tests that are kept secret in order to protect them from legitimate public and academic scrutiny'' (John Bald.blog 06/06/10)

In all cases caution is strongly advised; many EPs, including some of those employed by LEAs, are steeped in whole language philosophy. As a result, their assessment reports will conform to the 'multiple decoding strategies' line of thinking. They will recommend, for example, that the student is encouraged to use all the cueing systems in reading and that the student should memorise the high frequency / key topic words globally. They are also likely to recommend that the student is given 'bypass / coping strategies' (Rose 2009 p22), curriculum modifications and, when older, various accommodations in exams.

The problem with assessment for dyslexia is that research has cast serious doubt on the validity of all the past and present diagnostic procedures. For a start, a professional assessment will usually include an intelligence test despite the fact that using IQ tests as an integral part of diagnosing dyslexia is known to be scientifically flawed. Presently, the BPS advise that, ''Assessments referring to cognitive test scores within batteries of tests, such as the BAS and WISC, can be informative when pointing to strengths and weaknesses in the individual case. No particular pattern of sub-test scores, however, can be regarded as necessary or sufficient in deciding whether and to what extent learning difficulties can be described as dyslexic'' (BPS 2005 p68) Furthermore, the BPS' definition of dyslexia, which it simplifies to, ''(M)arked and persistent problems at the word level of the NLS curricular framework'' (BPS 2005 p20), is, it acknowledges, only a 'working' definition, not an operational (scientific) one.

Nowadays, the way most educational psychologists and researchers get around the irksome 'diagnosis problem' is by saying that dyslexia is not a discrete, "all or nothing" phenomenon, something one either has or doesn't have; diagnosis, they will tell you, is based on the level of reading difficulty a person has, measured along a continuum from mild through to severe (Rose 2009 p34) This is the 'Bell Curve' diagnosis, where struggling readers found at some arbitrary point, (say, in the lowest 10%) on the normal distribution curve for reading ability may, if the professional doing the assessing deems it to be useful, be given the dyslexia label. ''Literacy difficulties exist on a continuum. There is no clear or absolute cut off point where a child can be said to have dyslexia... (W)hether or not to describe a child’s literacy difficulties as dyslexia will be a matter for professional judgement'' (italics added. Devon LEA Dyslexia Guidance) or 'an intuitive clinical impression' (italics added.Prof. Frith quoted in Miles. p171), In other words, all dyslexia diagnoses are presently based on opinion or guesswork. Kerr rightly describes this as 'throwing in the sponge' (Kerr p98) and goes on to say, ''(I)t is not legitimate to claim that simply because they all find themselves in this bottom 10% they must all share any particular characteristic, let alone all suffer from the same syndrome, without further evidence that this is so. We have no evidence as to why these poor readers are in this group...All we can properly say from contemplation of the bell curve is that they all seem to be poor readers. It is improper to claim more than this on this evidence – especially to claim that membership of the poor readers group per se indicates possession of a neurological deficit – indicates that all these people suffer from dyslexia'' (Kerr p99)

The second method used by 'educated professionals' to identify dyslexia (used alongside, or as an alternative to the Bell Curve diagnosis) is based on whether the student's problem has proved ''resistant to a prolonged and systematic reading intervention'' (Elliott/Gibbs p483). This is the Response to Intervention (RTI) diagnosis. What precisely constitutes a ''well founded intervention'' (Rose 2009 p10) will not be stated and parents, yet again, will find themselves having to rely on the judgement (personal opinion) of the professional involved.

It is likely that the school will have used a non-systematic, multi-cueing intervention programme despite the 2006 Rose report's recommendation (accepted by the government) that additional support in waves 2 and 3 of intervention should be fully compatible with wave 1 (synthetic phonics) classroom teaching.

See Your options for details of the many ineffective reading interventions presently being used in schools and to be avoided.

Note also that specialist dyslexia teaching as described in Sir Jim Rose's Dyslexia Report 2009 cannot, at present, be considered to provide a 'well founded intervention' as, ''(M)any of the things that specialist dyslexia teachers do have not been the subject of much published research'' (Singleton p21) and those few ''results reported from studies in UK specialist [dyslexia] schools and teaching centres would be regarded as disappointing (or even disregarded altogether)'' (Singleton p74).

Because of their inability to give a legitimate diagnosis (there is no legal definition of dyslexia in the UK or an internationally accepted scientific one), a specialist dyslexia teacher or educational psychologist's written report is highly unlikely to include the concrete label of 'dyslexia'. Instead, it will substitute words such as, 'has a specific weakness in phonological development', 'has deficits in phonological awareness', or it will be hedged about with words that avoid commitment to a definitive diagnosis; 'literacy difficulties follow the pattern of a SpLD known as dyslexia', 'has dyslexic traits' or, 'is at risk for Dyslexia-SpLD', with the clear cut dyslexia label only given to parents verbally.

As teacher Patrick McEvoy says,'Terms like Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, etc, are not merely used casually, they are used in a quasi-medical way. Children are described as ‘suffering’ from Dyslexia, of being ‘diagnosed’ as ‘having’ Dyspraxia, etc. These labels are affixed as if the child had Measles, Tuberculosis, Asthma. People have forked out large sums to be told their child was ‘suffering’ from Dyslexia (or more likely, that the child was ‘somewhere’ on the Dyslexia spectrum). Such use of language can be very unhelpful, but it hasn’t caused the high priests of the diagnosis industry to question the morality of what they are doing. (“We must earn a crust somehow”, was what one psychologist said when questioned on the overlap one finds in children’s psychological reports)' (McEvoy. Label Babel)

After criticism of her comments on the TV documentary, 'The Dyslexia Myth', where she seemed to suggest otherwise, Professor Snowling declared that ''(D)yslexia can be readily identified by educated professionals''. Presumably, being aware that there is no way this can be done legitimately when there is no operational (infallible) definition, she added, ''It is no longer relevant to ask ‘who is dyslexic and who is not'' (www.myomancy.com/2005/09/response_to_the) Professors Stanovich and Elliott were more straightforward; ''The underlying difficulty appears to be the same, the way these children respond to treatment appears to be the same, there appears to be no justification whatsoever for going in and trying to carve out a special group of poor readers. This is what 15 years of research, all over the world has shown can’t be justified on a scientific or empirical basis'' (Stanovich in Mills. The Dyslexia Myth) ''After three decades as an educationalist, first as a teacher of children with learning difficulties, then as an educational psychologist and, latterly, as an academic who has reviewed the educational literature, I have little confidence in myself (or others') ability to offer a diagnosis of dyslexia.'' (Elliott. TES)

''The power of the label is rooted in:
a) our natural desire to have a diagnostic term for our difficulties
b) its ability to foster a more positive conception of self
c) its leverage with teachers and the gatekeepers to resources''(Prof. Elliott ppt)

An LEA educational psychologist comments: ''Unfortunately people want a label as they think it offers an explanation and often the label is useful as it releases extra funding and special arrangements for exams. I avoid the term where I can, referring instead to the specific gaps in code knowledge and the need for extra teaching to learn the basic or advanced code, practice with blending, segmenting, the need for modelled writing where children compose sentences orally first, the need to develop accurate letter formation through handwriting teaching and practice. Now we have identified these gaps and weak areas, I say to schools and parents, we can focus extra teaching on them. Schools and parents would be much happier, I suspect, if I just were to say with a long face, "It's dyslexia!!!". It's not an easy position to defend - there is an LEA specialist advisory teacher for dyslexia and dyslexia friendly courses all about overlays, coloured paper, and special arrangements for accessing the curriculum, using scribes and readers and dictaphones and ICT''.

Parents need to ask themselves if it really is a good idea to spend a great deal of time, effort and often money, to get their child professionally labeled as 'dyslexic' when there is no genuine science behind its identification. More importantly, obtaining the label certainly does not guarantee that your child will, as a consequence, receive expert in-school tuition with a high quality, synthetic phonics intervention programme to remediate his/her reading difficulties.

Possession of the dyslexia label can make parents more vulnerable to the purveyors of snake oil cures: '(W)hen a child has problems, parents often feel guilty, and they can to some extent assuage that guilt by doing something. So alternative interventions are especially likely to be taken up in situations where the mainstream options are seen as ineffective and parents feel powerless to make a difference' (Prof. Bishop. BDA 2008 ppt) And, once they've gone to all the trouble and expense of obtaining the label, parents and students may be very reluctant to discard it, even if new information comes along which might make them question its legitimacy and usefulness: 'There’s a psychological phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance which is the tendency to filter out information that conflicts with what one already believes, in an effort to ignore that information and reinforce one's beliefs. In the context of intervention, it is uncomfortable to conclude that one put in a lot of time and money into a treatment that has not worked. There is likely, therefore, to be a cognitive bias to paint as bright a picture as possible. This seems supported by studies that find a mismatch between people’s perceptions of efficacy and objective evidence.'' (Prof Bishop.BDA 2008. ppt)

Kerr offers other important reasons to avoid the 'dyslexia' label: 'Firstly, much thinking about dyslexia is almost wilfully sloppy and sloppy science never did anyone any good, very particularly the subjects of it... Many diagnoses stand on small, highly controversial and rather subjectively assessed, evidence. And then, people given a diagnosis of a neurological deficit may find such a label at the least disconcerting, at worst devastating... And then, what about those who don't achieve the label? Are they simply (and publicly) to be designated as stupid? And then, we don't appear able to see over or around dyslexia; once the diagnosis has been invoked we seek no other explanations for presenting phenomena. Simpler alternative, much more everyday, scientifically duller, less sexy (and much less lucrative) explanations are very much less assiduously sought once a diagnosis of ‘dyslexia’ has been made' (Kerr.p93)

Don't expect a 'Dyslexia Friendly' school to provide anything more than various accommodations (adjustments to the learning environment), coping strategies (Rose 2009 p22), technological workarounds or curriculum modifications (Rose 2009. p187), with the aim of circumventing children's reading and spelling difficulties rather than fixing them. If the school says it will provide remedial reading tuition, parents should ask for details so they can carefully check the content (see What Not to do) of the intervention programme for themselves.

Children do some or all of the following as a result of flawed, insufficient or absent instruction, NOT because they have a specific brain weakness, 'dyslexia':
- Use alphabet letter names.
- Add or miss out sounds in words.
- Change unknown words to familiar words.
- Say the first sound/s and guess the rest
- Mix sounds around in words e.g. 'girl' as 'grill'.
- Use the pictures or context to help with guessing words.
- Continue to be confused by the shapes and sounds of letters e.g. b/d e/i
- Reverse words e.g. saw/was pit/tip.

You may be able to remediate your child's literacy problems yourself if your child is in the early years of primary education and their reading difficulties aren't too serious. To fix-it-yourself: first use the free tests below to assess your child's reading, spelling, alphabet code knowledge and ability to decode pseudo words. Then, select a suitable programme and materials from those listed here. If the task seems overwhelming then an experienced synthetic/linguistic phonics trained tutor may be the answer, see- Choosing a remedial tutor

See 'Teenage Dyslexics' if your child is near or at the secondary stage.

Assessments:

http://www.rrf.org.uk/pdf/Burtreadingtestonweb.pdf
Burt Reading Test. Find your child's Reading Age. copyright © 1976 Scottish Council for Research in Education. All rights reserved. Permission for use has been granted for nonprofit purposes. N.B. this is a single word recognition test and high frequency words in the test may be read as whole units by students taught by mixed methods. It is not necessarily a good test of decoding ability or Alphabet Code knowledge.

http://www.rrf.org.uk/pdf/Schonell%20Spelling%20Test%20with%20instructions.pdf
Schonell Spelling Test. Find your child's Spelling Age.

http://www.societyforqualityeducation.org/newsletter/archives/Spelling.pdf
SQE's 1920s spelling test

http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/phonics-test-uk/id527720198?ls=1&mt=8
App
for iPhone and iPad. Phonics Test UK helps prepare your child for the new 'Year 1 Phonics Screening Check' with realistic practice tests. The app ''replicates the Official Check using ALL featured letters and sounds and every word structure, with over 4000 carefully selected words''.

http://www.hoddereducation.co.uk/Product?Product=9781444148978
PERA: The Phonics and Early Reading Assessment is matched to the Letters and Sounds framework and the requirements of the Year 1 phonics screening check...''PERA uses words and non-words to assess both phonic knowledge and use of phonics for reading, reading accuracy and comprehension. It also includes an informal pre-phonics assessment to help assess the earliest stages of reading''

http://jollylearning.co.uk/jolly-shop/jolly-phonics-reading-assessment/
This is the PERA assessment (see above) matched to the Jolly Phonics programme framework.

Tumner's Nonword Decoding Test for examining decoding abilities
http://www.dyslexia-international.org/content/Informal%20tests/Nonworddecodingtest.pdf

http://www.rrf.org.uk/pdf/Ruth%20Miskin%20Nonsense%20Word%20Test.pdf
Ruth Miskin's nonsense word test. This is a phonics decoding ability test.

http://ontrackreading.com/assets/pdf/CodeKnowledgeTest.pdf
IMPORTANT: Alphabet Code Knowledge Test. Does your child know the Alphabet Code? Do YOU?

http://www.phonicsinternational.com/assessment.html
Debbie Hepplewhite provides several free, assessments including an Alphabet Code (say the sounds) and Nonsense Word tests.

Book: Why Children Can't Read: and what we can do about it. Diane McGuinness. Pub. Penguin (out of print but copies available through Amazon) USA edition (in print) Why our children can't read and what we can do about it. Pub. Simon&Schuster. Both editions include a useful set of assessments: nonsense words, phoneme segementation/blending and a code knowledge test.

Assessment to avoid:

http://nifdi.org/news-latest-2/blog-hempenstall/394-miscue-mischief
Miscue Analysis critique

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http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmsctech/memo/evchlint/me2902.htm
''I have been an Educational Psychologist for 15 years working at the school/classroom level within a Local Authority and I still do not know what dyslexia is''

http://nifdi.org/news-latest-2/blog-hempenstall/397-failure-to-learn-causes-and-consequences-dr-kerry-hempenstall
X Dr Kerry Hempenstall: Failure to learn: Causes and consequences

http://www.wrightslaw.com/advoc/articles/ALESSI1.html
The Blame Game! Are School Problems the Kids' Fault?

The Alessi study
www.societyforqualityeducation.org/newsletter/archives/blame.pdf

Link to The Options/Choosing a tutor

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