Dyslexia Testing: How Does a Dyslexia Test Work?

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If your child has gone through a screening and there are signs of a learning difficulty, the next step is usually a full educational assessment. These are known as educational assessments, psychoeducational assessments or evaluations. Before you book one, it’s important to know what is likely to happen before, during and after the assessment.

Does my child need a dyslexia test?

These evaluations can be expensive and time-consuming, so you should consult with all the relevant stakeholders in your child’s education before you pursue one. This includes any educators or therapists who play a role in your child’s life. Most often, the recommendation to seek out an assessment comes from the child’s primary teacher. Most school districts have rules governing the procedure for dyslexia assessment. These cover the process from identification of problems, to the implementation of measures to accommodate and support students who receive diagnoses. These rules vary from state to state, so you should check with your local school district. Generally, though, the steps go in this order:

  • Teacher advises the school about a child’s learning difficulties (as yet undiagnosed) through results, observations and general impressions
  • School advises the parent of the need for screening and/or testing
  • Permission is granted to assess (if this is done internally)
  • Assessment

As a parent, you have certain rights and responsibilities when it comes to your child’s educational journey. In particular, you are entitled to an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) if assessment shows your child needs this kind of support.

How to prepare for a dyslexia assessment

As we have seen, a full assessment involves a large number of different tests. These tests address different skills and competencies. This is not only time-intensive, but it can also be very taxing for your child. Practitioners should make every possible effort to minimize this, by ordering and structuring the tasks in a coherent way. To add complexity, a child who is undergoing assessment may well be aware of what is happening. Anxiety can arise as a result. Once you have an appointment, here are some practical tips:

  • Put your child’s mind at ease

Many children have heard of dyslexia, dyslexia testing and learning difficulties. Approaching an assessment can evoke stress and feelings of inadequacy, or a sense that something is wrong. This may impede your child’s performance on the tasks, so it’s important that you help your child to feel comfortable. You should also inform the assessor of any significant anxiety, because this may be relevant information.

  • Provide all the information the assessor requests

Assessors often ask parents to complete questionnaires, or submit documents relating to a child’s medical, educational and psychological history. Ensure that you supply all of this timeously and in detail. You want the final report to be as thorough and informative as possible, in the event that you have to use it to get services for your child. You can help the process by being organized and efficient.

  • Ensure your child has had adequate food and rest

A tired or hungry child will not be able to complete tasks. This matters, because you want the assessment to give a truthful indication of your child’s abilities. Your child should be cooperative and relaxed throughout the session.

What to expect on the day of the assessment

Usually, the assessment proceeds between the assessor and child alone. However, depending on a child’s needs and history, the assessor may permit parents to be present. In all cases, the practitioner will use a comfortable room with few distractions. The assessor will take the child through a battery of tests and assessments over the course of a few hours. The tests chosen may be influenced by the nature of the referral. If the teacher or parent has specified the nature of the problems they have observed, then the practitioner can choose appropriate instruments.

After the assessment

Once the assessor has completed the tests, you will have a feedback session to discuss the results. This point in the assessment is crucial. You should ask for clarification of anything you do not understand. You should also not be intimidated by the use of jargon or dense vocabulary; most of the concepts can be expressed in a straightforward manner.

The structure of a report

Once the assessment is over, you will have the report. You should think of this document as a tool. You can use it as a way of opening opportunities for your child. The structure of a report will vary from one practitioner to the next, but it should contain the following elements:

  • The reason for referral

The clinician should outline the reasons for the assessment. This will draw on any reports that the teacher or parent submit. This section may also contain an overview of the child’s history, with relevant observations from any other professionals who have had a stake in his or her education.

  • Clinical observations

This section is usually written in full prose, not check lists or tables. A good assessor will describe the impression that a child makes over the course of an assessment. These observations are salient for you and for any other party who has a say in your child’s education. An assessor might note things that tests do not capture, but which will be important in decision-making, such as social and emotional responsiveness, or practical things like pencil grip. Information like this can help to make any subsequent treatment plan more effective.

  • List of tests used

There is a bewildering array of tests that measure different skills. For any given aspect of learning, a clinician will often have dozens of well established tests to choose from. This ideally, practitioners should be able to explain and justify their choices to clients. If you are uncertain about any of this, you should ask. The relevant information may feature in the body of the report, or as an appendix.

  • Results and interpretation

The report should provide the score that the child achieved on each test, along with an interpretation of that result. The interpretation usually unpacks what the result means, and compares the score to the standard score, or the one that is expected for a child of comparable age.

Interpreting the report

Testing for dyslexia involves assessing a wide range of skills. Measuring these requires a variety of educational, psychometric and psychological tests.  This is why it is important for an assessor to be conversant with technical terms and broader developments in the field. There are some common terms you may encounter in an assessment report.

Standard score

This is a score that rates a particular child against the peer group. Tests that are regarded as comprehensive and trustworthy by practitioners have standard scores based on a large number of samples. With many tests, the standard score is supplied next to your child’s. The difference between these two numbers (if any) is important; all the more so if it is large.


Many scales categorise scores in percentiles. Similar to a standard score, this gives us a way to understand how a child is doing relative to other children of similar age. If you are in the 50th percentile, this means that your score was equal to or higher than 50 percent of the people in the group. The higher the percentile, the better.


If necessary, the assessor may offer a diagnosis of a specific learning disability. Because most psychoeducational assessments involve such a broad range of data, more than one diagnosis can emerge. For example, the assessor might determine that a specific learning disability like dyslexia exists, alongside an emotional or psychological disorder. There also might be no diagnosis at all, but only recommendations.

Recommendations and resources

The practitioner should recommend a course of action to deal with any problems that come up. In addition, a report may include appendices with tools and strategies that a parent can begin to implement at home, prior to any official or institutional intervention.

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