If a child is struggling with reading, it is critical to have a specialist conduct a reading evaluation to determine what the specific difficulties are and what can be done to correct them. Such an evaluation should always be conducted by a qualified professional, someone who has an expertise in reading in addition to any degrees or experience they may have in psychology, learning disabilities, and/or education.
Specifically, you want someone who 1) understands the connection between language and reading, and 2) is able to make specific recommendations to correct any deficiencies. For example, they should be able to identify what type of reading program is best suited for your child, how frequently he needs to be seen, and whether he should be seen individually or in a small group setting.
A reading evaluation begins with the same steps as an evaluation for any learning disability. The assessment should include the following areas:
- A personal history
- General intellectual functioning
- Cognitive processing
- Social/emotional functioning
- Academic ability
The remainder of the evaluation should include eight specific areas.
- Phonological awareness
Phonemes are the sounds assigned to each written letter or letter combination, and a student needs to be able to manipulate individual sounds in words to read well. Strength in this area is strongly linked to the ability to acquire decoding skills, breaking down new words by their sounds to determine meaning. Many phonological tasks can be measured, including the ability to create rhymes, integrating sounds to produce words, and breaking words down into their individual sounds.
As indicated above, decoding refers to a child’s ability to read individual words and to sound out unfamiliar words accurately and automatically. Most reading problems are related to difficulties in this area.
Decoding should be evaluated in three ways:
- Decoding of word lists to eliminate context clues for the reader,
- Reading of nonsense words to eliminate memorization of words,
- Reading in context.
The results from these three tests provide important insight into the source of the reading difficulty. Some children do better when they’re reading stories because they use the context to guess at the meaning of the unfamiliar words. Other children have more difficulty reading in context because they struggle either with long passages of print or understanding language as it becomes longer and more complex. As a result, an expert evaluator closely monitor a child’s ability to reads words in isolation as compared to his ability to read words in context. This comparison is key to a reliable diagnosis.
- Rapid Naming
Rapid naming is the ability to quickly and accurately name groups of objects, colors, and numbers. This is an important step because a relationship exists between a child’s ability to quickly name these things and his decoding fluency.
When we read, we quickly scan letters on the page and interpret those printed marks as something that makes sense. The rapid naming test reveals how quickly a child’s brain can absorb information about a symbol, state that information, and then move to the next sequence or symbol.
- Verbal Memory
Reading requires the ability to recall language both in context and outside of a context. Verbal memory within context might be reading a story and asking the child to retell it. Verbal memory without context might be reading a list of unrelated words and having the child recall the words. Different students may have difficulties with one or the other task. Since verbal memory relates to both decoding skills and reading comprehension, a comparison of the results of the two tasks provides insight into the nature of the reading problem.
Fluency means that the student can read accurately and automatically with appropriate speed for the given text and without too much hesitation over unfamiliar text. It is measured by timing students as they read. Unless the student has a physical disability, most fluency problems are related to difficulty decoding.
The three remaining areas, reading comprehension, written expression, and spelling, will require more detailed explanations, and we will discuss them in Part 2 of this blog post next week.