Reading Failure versus Reading Disability

reading booksSeveral months ago, in a post called “On Teachers and Teaching,” I talked about some of the challenges faced by classroom teachers whose students might include children with undiagnosed dyslexia. Today’s post takes those ideas a little further by looking at roadblocks to more timely and effective identification of such children within the public schools.

While, through simple observation, teachers may readily identify children who are having difficulty reading, they rarely know with any certainty why the children are having these problems.

The routine psycho-educational battery of tests used to qualify public school students for special education services does not typically include assessments that allow the examiner to diagnose dyslexia. The purpose of those tests is to determine if the student can be classified in one of the 14 disability categories under federal special education law. This qualification process is very complex and states differ in the way they comply. (In a Lexercise Live Broadcast, Professor Ruth Colker talked about the complex challenges parents face in the special education eligibility process. You can view her presentation here.)

There are standardized language processing tests designed to look at underlying problems. They are used as part of the battery of tests to diagnose dyslexia, but they are used inconsistently in the school setting. Although counselors and special education teachers are typically trained to administer individual, standardized tests, the administration and interpretation of psycho-educational tests are rarely part of a general education teacher’s training.

Classroom teachers are trained to look at whether or not a child is learning to read. A teacher looking at a child’s low assessment score may refer the child to the school’s Exceptional Children’s Assessment Team, although the procedures for doing this vary from state to state and even district to district.

The biggest roadblock is the way the federal law is written and the way that law drives the qualification of children for intervention services. In her paper, The Learning Disability Mess (October 14, 2011), Professor Colker examines “the widespread inconsistency among the fifty states in defining ‘learning disability’ under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” You can download and read her paper here.

To close the gap for the thousands of families who lose precious time and money searching for a solution to their child’s reading, writing, or spelling problems, we need more streamlined, consistent laws. There is change afoot. For example, some states have passed laws that require screening and testing for dyslexia.

An online, self-administered screening test such as the Lexercise Screener can raise a red flag and signal the need for further assessment, but a professional evaluation is still the only way to get a confirmed diagnosis of dyslexia.

Lexercise’s online, research-based services help struggling readers, writers, and spellers — no matter where they live! If your child has difficulty with words, Lexercise can help. Take a look at our Online Dyslexia Testing and Treatment page or contact us directly at or 1-919-747-4557.

Thank you to clinical educator Tori Whaley, M.Ed., for her help with this post.

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Sandie Barrie Blackley, MA/CCC

MA/CCC - Cofounder and CKO

Sandie is a speech-language pathologist with more than 30 years of experience in the private practice sector. She is Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at University of North Carolina Greensboro, and founder/owner of the Language & Learning Clinic, PLLC, a private practice in Elkin, NC, and Greensboro, NC, specializing in communication disorders, including disorders of reading and written language.