Dyslexia Testing and Evaluation in Special Education

School children practice reading troubled with Dyslexia
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How is dyslexia diagnosed? What tests are needed and what should you know in order to have your child qualify for special education services?


Dyslexia is one of several types of reading problems. The broad term, specific learning disorder, includes Dyslexia and other specific reading problems.

It is possible for a student to have symptoms of dyslexia that are problematic but not disabling—or to have symptoms that make reading and writing virtually impossible.


Signs of dyslexia are varied and may include:

  • Seeing letters backward
  • Being unable to distinguish similar letters from one another (d from b, for example)
  • Being unable to connect written letters or letter combinations with their associated sounds
  • Being able to read words but unable to make sense of the words as they are read


A related disorder, dysgraphia, involves the inability to write words, the inability to understand the relationship between spoken words and written letters, or the tendency to write letters incorrectly. People with dysgraphia may or may not also be dyslexic. There are three types of dysgraphia: Dyslexic dysgraphia, motor dysgraphia, and spatial dysgraphia. With Dyslexic dysgraphia, spontaneously written text is illegible but copying text is relatively normal.


Dyslexia is diagnosed using a complete evaluation that is multifaceted. This includes:

Intelligence testing: Intelligence testing is an important test which provides an overall background of learning which can help distinguish Dyslexia from other conditions.

Educational assessment: Standardized achievement tests are another important avenue to further characterize your child's learning.

Speech and language assessments: There are several aspects of speech and language that are evaluated in the diagnosis of dyslexia. These may include:

Important adjunct information in making the diagnosis includes:

  • Observations of the child working with language
  • Input from teachers
  • Input from parents
  • Analysis of student work
  • Developmental history, especially evaluation of any developmental delays
  • Social history including living situation, parents, siblings, and other factors.

During the assessment process, examiners look for evidence of the disorder and also rule out other factors that could be causing the student's reading and language problems. Factors to rule out include:

  • Lack of instruction
  • Lack of attendance for any reason such as for illness or due to school phobia
  • Social and economic factors
  • Physical problems such as hearing difficulty or vision difficulty.

How Do Children With Dyslexia Qualify for Special Needs Services?

To meet federal guidelines to qualify for special education services, a student with dyslexia must meet eligibility requirements based on guidelines set by his state's department of education. Eligibility may be determined based on one of the following methods:

The Aptitude/Achievement Discrepancy Method

This aptitude/achievement discrepancy method requires a student to meet all of the following criteria to determine eligibility:

  • An intelligence test score in the average range or higher 
  • Scores on reading and/or written language tests that are significantly below their intelligence test scores
  • No other possible causes of school failure are a factor

The Response to Intervention Method

Response to Intervention is a method of determining levels of disability and was introduced in the 2004 Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). To determine if this method is being used by your state, contact your state's department of education office for special education programs. Specific steps required by the method may vary from state to state, but essentially, it involves three levels of intervention and identification:

Level I: The student is exposed to appropriate instruction in reading and writing. If she continues to experience difficulty, she goes to the next level of intervention.

Level II: The student receives more individualized intervention. If she continues to have difficulty, she progresses to the next level of intervention.

Level III: This level would typically begin placement in a special education program.

The response to intervention method was designed essentially to help kids who are falling through the cracks—those who have undiagnosed learning difficulties but not severe enough to qualify for special education.

Referring Your Child for Testing

If you believe your child may be living with dyslexia, the next step is getting a referral for testing

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. International Dyslexia Association. Symptoms of dyslexia.

  2. Chung PJ, Patel DR, Nizami I. Disorder of written expression and dysgraphia: Definition, diagnosis, and management. Transl Pediatr. 2020;9(1):S46-S54. doi:10.21037/tp.2019.11.01

  3. Merck Manual Professional Verson. Dyslexia.

  4. International Dyslexia Association. Testing and Evaluation.

  5. Heinemann KA, Bolanos H, Griffin JS. Specific learning disabilities: Response to intervention. In: Ryan CS, ed. Learning Disabilities: An International Perspective. London: IntechOpen Limited; 2017. doi:10.5772/intechopen.70862

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.