School Testing for Dyslexia

Question:

Are public schools required to test children for dyslexia?

Answer:

The laws and practices concerning school testing for dyslexia vary in different jurisdictions.  This page has some information concerning the legal rights of school children in the US.

Federal Law Concerning Dyslexia Testing  (US)

In the United States, under federal law, public school districts are specifically required to identify children with dyslexia and provide appropriate services to them.

These are the specific places dyslexia is referenced in the laws and regulations governing services that schools must provide:

IDEA 2004 Statute & Regulations [emphasis on the word “dyslexia” added]:

Statute: TITLE I / A / 602(30) (Definitions):

(30) Specific learning disability.–
(A) In general.–The term `specific learning disability’ means a disorder in 1 or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.
(B) Disorders included.–Such term includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.
(C) Disorders not included.–Such term does not include a learning problem that is primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

Regulations: Sec. 300.8 (c)(10) :

(10) Specific learning disability. (i) General. Specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.

In October, 2015, the Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague Letter specifically addressing concerns raised by parents who had been told that their school could not test for dyslexia, writing:

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

You can review or search IDEA regulations on line here:

http://idea.ed.gov/explore/view/p/

State Laws Concerning Dyslexia (US)

In recent years, many US states have enacted additional laws specifically requiring dyslexia screening in schools.  These laws cannot reduce protections under federal law, but they can create additional rights for the child and obligations for the school or district.

4 comments

  • Kristin M

    I expressed concerns about my son having dyslexia with our school- I wanted to have him tested outside of school but then the School psychologist told me she could perform those tests. My concern is that she really never came back and said one way or another if this was a potential diagnosis. I received an email from her from her saying, ” in my role as the school psychologist, I don’t diagnose, so I would never say that a student has a specific disorder such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, or ADHD; however, the team does determine needs, develop intervention plans, and does determine eligibility for special education services.”

    Do you have any suggestions for me because unfortunately I assumed the tests did not suggest he had dyslexia but I remain concerned that he does. I am not sure this response is in line with what I am reading about the schools obligations.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Kristin, I understand your concern. Legally schools are obligated to identify children who need special education services. This includes children with dyslexia, but I don’t think the law mandates that the school assign a specific diagnosis, and it is very common for schools to use different language in an evaluation.

      Was your son determined to be eligible for special education services and an IEP? If so, is the school now offering services geared specifically to the areas of academic difficulty your son is experiencing (such as reading)? If so the school has probably met its legal obligations.

      If the school psychologist has reported that your son is not eligible for services, then you might consider other options. Keep in mind that a diagnosis of dyslexia alone does not qualify a child for school services; the child also must have academic difficulties that justify the services. Sometimes bright dyslexic children are struggling but do not test as being far enough behind to require school services.

      • Lisa

        That was a very helpful answer and I’ve seen this recently with my 8yr old, he is no longer far enough behind so he no longer has an IEP but he still struggles. The question I have now is what do I need to do next. My boy is struggling when it comes to writing and I’m not sure what to do if the school won’t help him where do we go next. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

        • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

          Lisa, Davis dyslexia program facilitators work with kids like your son all the time. You can learn more about the Davis program by reading The Gift of Dyslexia — and you can try working with your son on your own, or arrange a program for him if appropriate. There is help — the problem is that the schools aren’t obligated to help kids who are able to keep up without extra support, even when we parents can see that the child is struggling and has the potential to do far better.

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