I recently had reason to be a little nostalgic about the method I learned for assessing adults with dyslexia back in the 1990s. I trained with Cynthia Klein and used a method broadly outlined in Klein, C. (2003) Diagnosing dyslexia: a guide to the assessment of adults, London, The Basic Skills Agency.
A number of colleagues have been preparing for resubmission of evidence to renew their Assessment Practice Certificate (APC), and I am staggered by the length of the diagnostic report now required, the proliferation of assessment tests needed and the depth of analysis expected. Feedback on the resubmission by expert assessors can run to several pages of intricate recommendations for improved practice and precise wording to be used in reports.
Of course, I am impressed with the rigour of improved analysis is diagnostic reports and the fact that specialist teacher assessments do seem finally to be accepted on a par with those of educational psychologists. However, two features of current ways of testing give me concern:
- if there is overreliance on findings from WRIT,
- if there is insufficient note of qualitative findings and observations during testing.
Let’s take the first point first:
The SpLD Test Evaluation Committee (STEC), the sub-committee of the SPLD Assessment Standards Committee (SASC) whose purpose is to provide guidance on assessment materials, issued some thoughts on WRIT in 2016:
“The purpose of an ability test is to eliminate general learning difficulties and to examine potential – the WRIT can do both. A comparison between the WRIT and the WAIS is not particularly helpful as Verbal Analogies and Similarities are not measuring the same thing. Most people using the WRIT are well aware that there is some cultural bias as the test was not developed in the UK.
‘Tests don’t diagnose, people do’. An assessment is a differential diagnosis which uses a battery of tests to come to a conclusion about strengths and weaknesses and does not rely on any individual test for a diagnosis. Specialist Dyslexia Assessors do not only rely on the WRIT scores or a working memory deficit to make a diagnosis of dyslexia. They use data from other tests and take into account the verbal abilities of the student throughout the whole assessment process, noting receptive and expressive language skills. The assessment will also look at difficulties with working memory, phonological weakness and speed of processing, literacy weaknesses and specific skills associated with reading and writing. Additional testing may be carried out if supplementary evidence is required.” http://www.sasc.org.uk/SASC_Default.aspx?id=2
This is all well and good, but my nostalgia is for the days when we didn’t use WRIT or any IQ test at all, partly for ideological reasons (is IQ a real and relevant construct when testing?) and partly because we felt we could make a well considered judgement about dyslexia without it.
This leads neatly to the second point about the importance of qualitative data and observations. Which would you believe, a direct observation of an adult learner struggling to put their thoughts down on paper, or an anomalous finding from WRIT? Which is more convincing, a sign that creative strategies are at play when an adult tells you how they use visualisation to manage lapses in memory, or a non-significant difference between digits forward and digits backwards in TOMAL? Does an overreliance on testing sometimes mean we neglect the clear strengths of dyslexic adults that can be on display?
I know I am showing my age and I am sure I would be embarrassed to read back one of my early reports which were so much shorter, but, weren’t things more simple then?
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