You Asked! Question 28

Download a PDF version of this You Asked question and answer here.

Q28:  My school district says that they can’t assess for dyslexia and won’t even say the word “dyslexia” in my child’s IEP.  What should I do?

A:  Yes, school districts can and should assess for dyslexia and use the term dyslexia in identifying the needs of a student. However, there is no law that says that they must use this term in the assessment process, and since dyslexia is a diagnosis under the DSM-5, if a school district says they cannot assess for “dyslexia” they may feel you are asking for a medical diagnosis.  However, a school assessment to identify a reading disability such as dyslexia is different than a “diagnosis,” and you can still get the assessments done that will inform you and your child’s IEP team if your child is indeed dyslexic.  Therefore, you should clarify that you want your child assessed for learning disabilities in the area of reading to see if they have characteristics of dyslexia. Under California law (5 CCR 56337.5(a)), it states:

A pupil who is assessed as being dyslexic [emphasis and meets eligibility criteria specified in Section 56337 and paragraph (10) of subdivision (b) of Section 3030 of Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations for the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. Sec. 1400 et seq.) category of specific learning disabilities is entitled to special education and related services.”

There were so many concerns were being raised by parents whose IEP teams refused to use the term dyslexia (and dysgraphia and dyscalculia) that the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services wrote a Dear Colleague letter to state and local educational agencies dated October 23, 2015 clarifying 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.” The letter goes on to state “OSERS further encourages States to review their policies, procedures, and practices to ensure that they do not prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in evaluations, eligibility, and IEP. Finally, in ensuring the provision of free appropriate public education, OSERS encourages SEAs to remind their LEAs of the importance of addressing the unique educational needs of children with specific learning disabilities resulting from dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia during IEP Team meetings and other meetings with parents under IDEA.”

California Department of Education’s CA Dyslexia Guidelines provided more specific guidance stating on Page 55:

An evaluation for dyslexia includes  assessment in written language areas (e.g., reading, spelling, handwriting, written expression) that are characteristic of dyslexia: letter identification; letter–sound (grapheme–phoneme) associations; word identification-decoding of real and pseudo-words; reading fluency (i.e., accuracy, automaticity, and prosody); reading comprehension (sentence and passage levels); spelling (real and pseudo- words); and written expression (sentence and passage levels). The evaluation should include reading comprehension and written expression because they require higher-level organization, memory, and integration of skills for functional use and application.

According to the California Association of School Psychologists’ Frequently Asked Questions- California Dyslexia Guidelines (Question #4):

Can school teams assess for dyslexia? School teams can (and should) assess for.  CDE Guidelines [CA Dyslexia Guidelines] discuss the critical characteristics that are indicative of dyslexia (see p. 53-58) noting that dyslexia can be identified in both general education and through a comprehensive evaluation that is part of a Special Education eligibility evaluation.

Since oral language is the foundation for building literacy skills, a comprehensive language-literacy evaluation should also include assessment of oral language skills (e.g., comprehension and production of spoken language in the areas of phonology, morphology, and syntax [form], semantics [content], and pragmatics/discourse [use]).

To make an accurate identification of dyslexia, the evaluator or evaluation team must also consider a student’s developmental and medical history (including vision and hearing screenings as well as medications), family and school history, teacher reports, self-reports, parent reports, social and emotional status, and current classroom performance.” 

The California Department of Education did a “roadshow” to educate local education agencies (LEAs) about the CA Dyslexia Guidelines and to assure them that it was okay to use the term “dyslexia”.  Slide #10 on the CDE presentation states this fact.

What does it look like in your student’s IEP?

When determining special education eligibility, most students with dyslexia will usually be found eligible under the umbrella term of “Specific Learning Disability” usually with identified deficits in “basic reading skills”, “reading fluency”, and/or “written expression”. Often, but not always, there is a deficit indicated in the basic psychological processing area of “phonological processing” (Refer to You Asked questions #4 and #14 for additional information on phonological processing).

As many LEAs use the Special Education Information System (SEIS), DDCA is including examples of Team Determination of Eligibility forms that may be helpful to engage the IEP Team in discussion regarding whether your child has characteristics of dyslexia.  (Please note that individual LEA SEIS forms may be different and forms are updated periodically so ask your LEA for a copy of their forms.)

If these boxes are indicated on your child’s SEIS forms, the IEP team should be discussing and documenting whether or not dyslexia may be a concern (and dysgraphia if written expression deficits are indicated, and dyscalculia if mathematical deficits are indicated).

What to do if my school district still insists that can’t assess for dyslexia and can’t even say the word “dyslexia” in my child’s IEP?

First, so that your child can be assessed without delay, clarify that you want a comprehensive psychoeducational assessment, and that you are concerned about your child’s deficits in reading. Then, ask your Special Education Director for your school district in writing (with proof of delivery) for Prior Written Notice (PWN) of the school district’s policy that states they are not allowed to assess for or use the term dyslexia.

This is an example of the PWN response you should be provided by your district.


While California is not part of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), SREB does a good job in summarizing (page 4) “Overcoming a Reluctance to Name Dyslexia”:

“Recognizing dyslexia’s impact on language processing in the brain makes it possible for educators to determine the best instructional strategies for children affected by it. However, public school officials are sometimes hesitant to label a student’s reading difficulties as “dyslexia.” They believe labeling a student with dyslexia would provide a medical or psychological diagnosis that they are not licensed to make. Some states and local education agencies have side-stepped this issue by creating policies for children with characteristics of dyslexia, avoiding the direct label.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) provided guidance on the use of the term dyslexia in public schools. The guidance clarified that the IDEA does not prevent schools from using the term. In fact, OSERS reminded state and local education agencies that acknowledging the exact nature of a child’s specific learning disability is important for addressing the child’s educational needs. It urged public schools to be willing to identify dyslexia by name and use proven methods for teaching children with dyslexia.”

You Asked! – Question 26

Download a PDF version of this You Asked question and answer HERE.

Q26:  How can students with dyslexia receive accommodations for the SAT or ACT?

A:  College is an option for students with dyslexia, but preparing for College, College Board (SAT) and ACT exams should start as early as possible in high school.

Freshman Year – Sophomore Year:

•  Meet with the 504 Coordinator or Special Education Staff to ensure appropriate accommodations are documented in your student’s IEP or 504 Plan.   Sometimes students are given accommodations, but the accommodations are not documented in their plan. For example, students are allowed to use a calculator for math tests, but the accommodation of a calculator is not documented on the plan.

 To receive college accommodations, colleges may require testing to be current and comprehensive and include testing scores. In most cases, this means within the past three to five years. Families should ensure all accommodations that a student may need in college are included in their current assessment report. Students in Special Education mustbe evaluated at least every three years (Triennial Assessments1) and student’s with 504 Plans may be re-evaluated in accordance with IDEA regulations2. Therefore, you can request the district to re-evaluate your student.

•  What if your struggling student does not have an IEP or 504 Plan? The first step in determining if your student has a disability and requires special education services would be to make a written request to the district for an evaluation. Review DREDF Sample Letters and Forms and ACT’s Policy for Documentation.

Sophomore Year:

•  Schedule a meeting with the school’s Testing Coordinator to understand the process for each test. Plan on requesting accommodations for the exam(s) your student will take: PSAT/ NMSQT, ACT, SAT, PSAT 10, or AP Exams.

•  Assist your school’s Testing Coordinator and ensure your student will receive appropriate accommodations by gathering the necessary documentation (IEP, 504 Plan, Psychoeducational/Neuropsychological Evaluations). Describe the specific accommodations requested, and explain why they are needed. Include information about your student’s history of receiving school accommodations and current use of accommodations.

>  As of January 1, 2017, the College Board (SAT) will use a new streamlined process for requesting testing accommodations for students.  The new review process means that the College Board is allowing automatic approval of accommodations in more situations. In most cases this includes students with an IEP, 504 Plan or a formal school-based plan at a private school. The school Testing Coordinator submitting requests for accommodations will only need to answer two questions: Is the requested accommodation(s) in the student’s plan? Has the student used the accommodation(s) for school testing?

If the answer to both of the above questions is yes, eligible students can be approved to receive most accommodations on College Board tests.

>  The accommodations your student may be eligible to receive will vary based on his/her needs and situation. Review examples of College Board Accommodations.

»  The four-function calculator accommodation must be approved and is appropriate for students who have a disability that impacts their ability to perform mathematic calculations.

>  Because the SAT/ACT accommodation approval process may include a thorough review of all information provided, it can take approximately 2-7 weeks. The process can take even longer if a request for testing accommodation(s) has not been fully approved or if it requires additional documentation.

>  The student’s history of receiving accommodations in school is important in the SAT/ACT review of requests for accommodations. Teacher Survey forms can help substantiate a student’s need for accommodations when it is not listed on their plan. ACT Teacher Survey Form and College Board Teacher Survey Form.

 If your student has an IEP, their Transition Planning Services must start by the time the student reaches 16 years of age and should be updated annually. The Transitional IEP3 should include appropriate measurable postsecondary goals relating to education and, if appropriate, college goals.

 The PSAT and PLAN/Pre-ACT can help students determine the test that best suits them. The summer before Junior year, students should take practice SAT/ACT. SAT Practice Test and ACT Test Prep Resources.

Junior Year-Fall Senior Year:

•  Schedule to take the SAT and/or ACT. Ensure that the correct accommodations are in place every time your student takes the exam. Don’t wait until test day to find out that a necessary accommodation has not been requested! To be safe, students should bring their Accommodation Eligibility Letters to the test site.

 By the Junior or Senior year, if your student has a diagnosed disability, but does not have an IEP or 504 Plan, it may be difficult to receive the necessary SAT/ACT accommodations. Meet with your Testing Coordinator and provide all relevant documentation. You can still make a request to the school district for a comprehensive assessment to determine eligibility for special education or under Section 504. It may be necessary to consult with an outside private evaluator.

>  To be eligible for accommodations on College Board exams, a student should have documentation showing evidence of the following:

»  The disability

»  The degree to which the student’s activities are affected (functional limitation)

»  The need for the specific accommodations requested

>  Documentation Tips:

»  Do provide detailed documentation supporting your student’s need for the specific accommodation requested, not only the student’s diagnosed disability.

»  Don’t rely on doctor’s notes or IEPs. These are not sufficient to substantiate a request for accommodations. Provide conclusive statements with supporting information documenting your accommodation.

»  Do provide test scores, including subtest scores, where applicable.

•  Fall of Senior year is the last chance to take ACT/SAT tests before regular college application deadlines.

*Important College Board (SAT) Updates:

 English language learners (ELL) will have access to testing supports and extended time (if approved). For more information contact: Western Regional Office.

*Important ACT Updates:

 Starting in 2018, ACT will begin offering students the opportunity to take the ACT test in the summer. The first ACT summer test date will take place July 2018, increasing the number of national ACT test dates from six to seven.

 Starting in the fall of 2017, ACT will begin providing supports on the ACT test to U.S. students who are English language learners (ELL). Refer to ACT Policy for Supporting ELL.

Links to Helpful Forms and Documentation:

ACT Teacher Survey Form and College Board Teacher Survey Form

ACT 3 Step Checklist for Student and Parents Requesting Accommodations 

ACT Quick Start Quick for Requesting Accommodations

ACT Accommodation Information

ACT Policy for Accommodations Documentation

ACT Test Accessibility and Accommodations

ACT Preparing for the ACT Test Special Testing

College Board Accommodation Information

College Board Western Regional Office

DREDF Sample Letters and Forms

28 CFR Section 36.309 – Examinations and courses

ADA Testing Accommodations


1 Triennial Assessments [CA Education Code Section 56381]

2 [Source: U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights: Protecting Students With Disabilities-  Frequently Asked Questions About Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities, Question #29.]

3 Transition Services [34 CFR Section 300.320(b)]

Author: Lori Chang, Parent Advocate

For more YOU ASKED questions and answers click HERE.