You Asked! Question 4

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Q4:  Can a below average score in an area of phonological processing (i.e. phonological awareness, phonological memory or rapid naming) be a possible indication of dyslexia?

A:  Yes.

Students who demonstrate weaknesses in the phonemic awareness component of phonological awareness often have difficulties with decoding and spelling. When students have attained rudimentary skills in phoneme blending, phoneme segmentation, and phoneme manipulation (a few of the aspects of phoneme awareness), they are able to learn to associate phonemes (speech sounds) with the letters (graphemes) that represent them in print. Together, phoneme-grapheme association—the foundation of spelling, and grapheme-phoneme association—the foundation of decoding, are called phonics.

Students with slow naming speed, another component of phonological processing, often have problems with reading fluency. Retrieval fluency difficulties are often demonstrated as students struggle to retrieve words during both speaking and written expression (e.g., content specific vocabulary, labels, math or scientific terms, or a formula).

Students with phonological memory deficits may have difficulty with the working memory requirements for keeping track of the steps when decoding an unfamiliar word or in recalling and being able to correctly pronounce an unfamiliar multi-syllable word.

If screening reveals performance below expectations in any of the three components of phonological processing, additional assessment is needed to determine eligibility for special education services under the category of specific learning disability. This comprehensive assessment must include measures of the academic skills (e.g., decoding, spelling, oral reading fluency [rate-accuracy-prosody]) that are often affected by deficits in phonological memory, phonological awareness, and naming speed—and are characteristics of students with dyslexia.

(Source:  Nancy Cushen White, Ed.D. Clinical Professor—Pediatrics-Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine-UCSF /UCSF Dyslexia Research Center)

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You Asked! Question 11

Q11:  I am a teacher and suspect one of my students may be displaying signs of dyslexia. What should I do?  Is it okay to alert the parents as to my concerns?

A:  Teachers see student performance in the educational environment directly. You are a critical source of information to parents and the special education team, who depend on your expertise and experience. It is important to understand that early identification and appropriate intervention with students who show the warning signs of dyslexia are essential for better outcomes later on.  If you have any reason at all to suspect that a student may have a disability that may be interfering with learning (not simply “academics”), you are legally obligated to refer the student for evaluation under the “Child Find” obligation of the special education law ((20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(3)(A); 34 C.F.R. § 300.111(a); Ed. Code, §§ 56171, 56300 et seq.). Child Find does not prevent you from discussing your concerns with a parent—in general, such discussions are a regular part of a teacher’s job. The parent also has the right to make a referral for special education assessment. However, Child Find is not based on action or inaction of a parent- once an educator has a reason to suspect that a child may have a disability, your legal obligation is triggered to refer the student for assessment, at which point the special education team should provide the parents with an assessment plan for consent to assess. Getting a decision in writing allows parents to use their rights under the law—including the right to refuse evaluation, or the right to challenge the district’s refusal.

Be aware that the threshold for suspecting that a child has a disability and referring for evaluation is relatively low. The question is whether the child should be referred for an evaluation, not whether the child actually qualifies for services.  After all, we can’t know the answer to that question until we have assessment data. The student should not have to fail a course or be retained in a grade in order to be considered for assessment.  The fact that a student is making adequate educational progress is not a valid reason not to assess.

“Child find” duty requires children to be identified and evaluated “within a reasonable time after school officials are on notice of behavior that is likely to indicate a disability”. A state or LEA “shall be deemed to have knowledge that a child is a child with a disability if [among other things] … the behavior or performance of the child demonstrates the need for such services”.

(Source:  Department of Education State of Hawaii v. Cari Rae S., 2001, 158 F. Supp. 2d 1190; 71 Fed. Reg. 46580 (Aug. 14, 2006))

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