School Testing for Dyslexia


Are public schools required to test children for dyslexia?


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:

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.


  • Shannon

    My son is in 9th grade and has had an IEP since 3rd grade for Dyslexia and Dysgraphia. All of his accommodations are for his English Language Arts classes (ELA). In those classes he gets to take tests by himself in a quiet room, more time allotted, mark in test booklet and he can read aloud the questions. Up to this point, I felt like those were appropriate until I started to realize that those tests for ELA are not measuring can he read the words, they are measuring does he understand the information. When he was younger they were measuring his words per minute, fluency, etc.

    I’m now wanting my son to have text to speech for tests or read aloud and have been told that for ELA classes, that it is not allowed.

    The other issue that has come up this year is what North Carolina has called the North Carolina Final Exam (NCFE). This is a test that is 20% of my son’s grade. When I called the North Carolina Department of Instruction about getting read aloud or text to speech accommodation they said the test is not standardized to give it in that manner and it is not allowed. My son’s disability is that he cannot read like his peers. He doesn’t process visual information correctly yet he is mandated to take this test, which will affect his grade and his college prospects and there is no accommodation for his disability. The test is not measuring can he read; it’s measuring does he understand the information. You can get literary information through more means that just eye reading. If I “read” a book on tape does that not count?

    I have been writing letters to those in charge and have gotten nothing back. My son’s school is in agreement with me about how this is wrong and discriminatory, but I’m at a loss for what to do. Any suggestions?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Have you tried contacting the disabilities rights organizationf for your state? (Disability Rights North Carolina)?

      Please also consider talking to a Davis Facilitator about your son’s needs- you’ll find lisetilngs for your state here:

      I know that you are asking for suitable accommodations for his existing limitations, and you are absolutely right to advocate for him– but Davis is a success-oriented program that has enabled many dyslexics to become capable and even enthusiastic readers when other programs haven’t worked. The Davis tools will directly address visual processing problems and providing a meaning-based approach to reading, geared to improving comprehension. While I agree with you that your son should be entitled to the accommodations you want, a Davis program could provide a way that your son will no longer need those accommodations. Progress with Davis is often very rapid and dramatic, especially with teenagers.

  • Jessica

    Hi. I have a thirteen year old son who is in 8th grade. He has had difficulties with reading comprehension, fluency, spelling, writing since elementary school. He has an IEP and is labeled as a speech impairment. He was seen by early intervention at a very young age because he wasn’t speaking much. When I moved to another state, since he was starting school I went to the special education department and gave them the early intervention plans the other state had done. The department put him in a classroom where I noticed there many kids with special needs that were severe. He was at that school for only half the year. Then was transferred to another school and was put a similar classroom.. all along I felt he didn’t belong there either.. I was thinking to myself if he only needs speech why is he in a classroom kids that have specific learning needs? I told the teacher my concern and told her that the next year I wanted him a regular classroom, I felt like he was falling behind.. like he was in a classroom that wasn’t being taught in grade level.. by the time he was in second grade he placed in an inclusion class.. there were regular education kids along with students with special needs.. I knew he was behind and his reading levels were very low but teachers assured me he would catch up.. he was a young 7 year old in second grade.. well he never did.. he hasn’t special accommodation.. he is taken out for services but I feel it is not enough. Now next year he will enter high school and I feel he is not equipped with the right skills. Just yesterday I was talking a relative who is a teacher and she told me he might have dyslexiaI. I had heard about it but did not really know what it was in depth. After reading the symptoms i definelty think my son has dyslexia. Is it too late to get a diagnosis? Can treatment still be received? After reading some articles it says to talk with my doctor about my concerns.. where should I start?! Thank you and I apologize in advance for such a long comment!

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      A person can be tested for dyslexia at any age, and in the U.S. the law requires the schools to identify school-age children with learning disabilities and provide appropriate services, including teenagers in middle school and high school. But if your son is already being taken out for services, it sounds like he might already have been identified and given an IEP. It doesn’t matter whether they call it dyslexia or something else — if the school has identified him as needing services to address reading difficulties, it is the same thing.

      If your son is not progressing with the services he is receiving, it’s most likely simply because the teaching methods commonly used in schools are not effective. Further testing and diagnosis might qualify your son for accomodations; but it won’t change the methods the school would offer him.

      The Davis Dyslexia program is effective at all ages– in fact, older children and teenagers tend to do even better than young children. Please consider arranging a consultation with a Davis Facilitator to discuss your son’s needs.

  • Tabitha C

    My son has had an IEP in place for reading & writing since 2nd grade.
    He is now in the 9th grade. He still has an IEP, but they are going to “cut him lose” soon. He still struggles with decoding and test taking. I asked about testing for Dyslexia. I was asked if we were moving him to another school? I was told that they treat the symptoms but don’t diagnose. It’s very frustrating because no one has ever said the word to me- I just asked. So all this time he has been floundering in school and I could have gotten him help earlier. Where to go from here? Is testing necessary? Will it help him to get help? Are there possible grants and or scholarships for children diagnosed with dyslexia? I am assuming there are different levels and I’ve seen different terms associated with Dyslexia.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Tabitha, if your son has an IPE for reading and writing, it doesn’t matter what the school calls his learning differences — the main reason to seek a diagnosis is to qualify for an IEP or 504 accommodations. As your son already has an IEP, a different label attached to his needs isn’t going to change what the school provides.

      A diagnosis is not needed to get outside help. The methods the schools use do not work for many students — research has shown that at least 20-40% of dyslexic kids fail to get any benefit at all from the phonics-based tutoring that most schools use and advocate. That’s because it is very difficult for most dyslexics to learn to read relying solely on phonics.Also, de-coding strategies (phonetic sounding out of words) are geared to beginning level readers; older students need help with gaining reading fluency and improved comprehension. Your son probably needs strategies geared to his stengths and his age level.

      That is why we take a different approach, geared to learning strengths.

    • Rose

      Hi, Tabitha.

      My daughter is 8 years old, and she will be tested this year for dyslexia. I’m shocked the school won’t diagnose. We are in Texas, and the school can test and diagnose for dyslexia. Anyway, I have attended two dyslexia conferences, and I’ve learned so much. I recommend you do the same or research as much as you can about it, and the resources available from public schools and colleges. Testing benefits your son because if he decides to go beyond a high school education, he will get help at the college/university level. There are so many resources for him out there that will help him to struggle less, and you will see less frustration as well. He himself will have to go to the disability services at the university, but if he has paperwork from his elementary, middle, and high school career along with a diagnosis, it will allow him to be served with resources right away. I don’t have my notes in front of me, but there is audio software available along with audio books, echo pen, transcriber accommodations, and so much more. Get the test done and get the diagnosis for peace of mind, and your son’s benefit.

  • 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.

        • Rose

          Hi, Lisa

          Not sure if you have gotten help with your son, but let me tell you even if the school removes his IEP, he can still be placed under section 504 which will provide accommodations for him. He can receive help with transcribers, audio programs/books, and extra time for tests and or assignments. The schools may not want to spend on resources for kids that aren’t far behind, but by law they still have to provide accommodations if he has a disability. You can go further which will require expenses on your part and taking them to court. Most parents don’t have the resources to go that route, and that’s where schools take advantage. Inform yourself and read all the laws because if you are not informed, the school will not inform you. They will give you the wrong information to get you off their backs. Keep insisting for help with your son; you are his voice and advocate. Prayers and hugs to you.

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