You Asked! Question 14

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Q14:  My student was assessed and did not show signs of a phonological processing deficit but my student still struggles greatly with reading and spelling.  Do all dyslexic children display phonological processing deficits?

A:  A dyslexic student may not display phonological processing deficits in an assessment for a variety of reasons.  A few reasons why a dyslexic student may not show a phonological processing deficit are:

  • When assessing, a single indicator won’t be present in all students just because of measurement error.  This is more likely to occur when only a single phonological measure is assessed.
  • Dyslexic students with a higher vocabulary may score better on measures of phonological awareness.  It is easier to do a phonological awareness task when you are manipulating the sounds of a word that you already know. In a standardized assessment, a student’s performance can only be compared to the normative sample.  If the student knows more words than the average person in the normative sample, it gives them a helping hand on phonological awareness tasks even if phonological awareness is somewhat weak.
  • When a student has had previous intervention, he/she will have had a lot more practice on phonological awareness tasks than the comparative normative sample.

(Source: Richard Wagner, Ph.D., Principal Investigator, NICHD Florida Learning Disabilities Research Center / Associate Director, Florida Center for Reading Research)

It should be noted that no single score (or product of scores) test or procedure should be used as the sole criterion for the IEP teams decision as to the student’s eligibility for special education (Source: Special Education Rights & Responsibilities by Community Alliance for Special Education and Disability Rights of California, page 3-14, 34 C.F.R. Section 300.306, 5 CCR Section 3030(j)(4)).

Also remember that even if a student is not dyslexic, there are other categories of disability under IDEA such as Other Health Impaired or perhaps the student qualifies under specific learning disability due to an impairment such as a math disorder (dyscalculia) or a writing disorder (dysgraphia) that may create special education eligibility.  This is why comprehensive assessment in all areas of concern is so important.

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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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