Demystifying Dyslexia & Slow Progress Reading Assessments - Article by Reading Ropes

Demystifying Dyslexia Assessments

Making sense of The York Assessment, CTOPP and TOWRE.

Debbie Stange, Individual Needs & Dyslexia Specialist
Head of Course Development


Dyslexia Demystifying Assessments
“I can’t read like everyone else, I am not going to school!”

“Why is it so hard for me?”

“I must be stupid!”

These heartbreaking words are heard too often by parents whose child is struggling with dyslexia or slow progress reading. It’s utterly disheartening to learn that your child is measuring their intelligence and capabilities by their ability to read when we know as adults and educators that these things are largely uncorrelated.

Initially your child may have been unaware that they are not making the same literacy gains as their peers yet as time goes on and the gap widens they may become increasingly aware that they are different. They may be confronted by the knowledge that they are in the lower guided reading group or need more one to one teacher time to complete written tasks and often begin to dread reading aloud in class.

As this awareness of difference magnifies, their anxiety, fear and even hatred of reading often leads them to believe that they are not capable. Ultimately their struggles to ‘crack the reading code’ may severely erode their self-confidence, with school becoming utterly overwhelming.

“Ultimately their struggles to ‘crack the reading code’ may severly erode their self-confidence”

Equally overwhelming can be trying to explain to your child their reading difficulty, in order to counter negative messages they may be receiving about themselves elsewhere. It may be particularly challenging to unpack this when you yourself may not really understand exactly what they are finding so hard about the reading process. I believe that the first step in this process is empowering parents with the information they need to understand exactly how their child is struggling to crack the reading code.

After many decades of teaching students to read with varying abilities it has become clear that children who are struggling with reading will likely have difficulties and strengths in the same areas. Qualified learning support professionals now administer a variety of tests that are able to clearly highlight your child’s strengths and difficulties and these inform intervention options. These tests can often seem as difficult to decode as the reading process itself which is why I have compiled a handy guide for you below.

Assessment 1: The York Assessment

The York Assessment enables teachers and specialists to assess the reading accuracy and comprehension skills of children between 5 and 18 years old.

Common Results for Children with Dyslexia or Reading Difficulties

Slow progress readers or children with reading disabilities such as dyslexia will generally display a discrepancy between their reading accuracy and comprehension. While they tend to score low on the reading rate indicator they tend to intelligently piece the story together using pictorial or contextual cues. This lower reading rate score arises due to the additional time required to decode and identify common words.

Assessment 2: CTOPP

The CTOPP is made of fourt parts and assesses phonological awareness. Phonological awareness can be simply described as an awareness of the sound structure of words.

Part One. Phonological Awareness

1. Elision: The child is asked to say words such as cowboy without the boy or farm without the f.

2. Blending words: Such as pen- s-el is pencil and s-ur-k-e-s is circus.

3. Phoneme isolation: Includes questions such as what is the last sound in the word dog, the word train has 4 sounds what is the second sound.

Once this test is scored we get an indication of the child’s phonological awareness levels. Children with reading difficulties or reading disabilities such as dyslexia will often score in the below average to poor range. There is good news though! This is a skill that can be developed and therefore explicit teaching can make a substantial difference.

Part Two. Phonological Memory

The CTOPP also assesses Phonological Memory for digits. This involves the child repeating a sequence of numbers beginning with one or two and increasing to 6 or more. I.e. Repeating 123, 6758, 98745, 344789 and so on.

Part Three. Non-word Repetition

Assessing non-word repetition which involves hearing a non-word (or nonsense word)  and then repeating it. I.e. The words Zid, chasedoolid. Children with reading difficulties will often score in the below average to poor range.

Part Four. Rapid Symbolic Naming (RAN)

This part of the test involving rapid naming of what they see. This involves the child being timed while reading digits and naming letters. Children with reading difficulties will often score in the below average to poor range.

“The first step in this process is empowering parents with the information they need to understand exactly how their child is struggling”

Assessment 3: TOWRE

The TOWRE assesses a child’s ability to read both sight words and non-words in a given amount of time. A child who is experiencing reading difficulties will typically scorelow when reading sight words out of context with no meaning. They will also most often score poorly on phonemic decoding

It is important that you honestly explain your child what it is they are finding difficult & above all emphasise their strengths.

How to explain to my child what this means and how I can support them?

1. Be honest and explain to them the elements of reading they find hard. Think about any other family member that may have found the skills mentioned above difficult too.

2. Explain to them the kind of things you could be doing at home together to help them.

3. Tell them while many other children may read better and more quickly and easily, this does not mean they are smarter. It simply means this skill is easier for them. It can help to liken it to another activity that they are good at while others may not be, such as sport, music and dance.

4. The crucial piece to share with your child is that they comprehend things easily. They are great listeners and learn quickly when making sense of information. They are smart and capable. Is is vital for both their learning and self esteem that they start to say this and believe it. Hearing it from you is an incredibly powerful first step.

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