Specific Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia Evaluation

Specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. Specific learning disability does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of intellectual disability, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

New Mexico defines dyslexia as a condition of neurological origin that is characterized by difficulty with accurate or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities, which characteristics typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction and may result in problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that may impede the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

A specific learning disability (SLD) is a disability rooted in a neurological processing deficit (e.g., auditory processing, memory, processing speed, phonological processing, visual/perceptual processing, etc.) and results in significant academic underachievement following sustained, high-quality, scientific, research-based instruction and intervention. SLD may be manifested in the following areas:

  • Basic reading skills,
  • Reading fluency skills,
  • Reading comprehension skills,
  • Written expression,
  • Mathematics calculation,
  • Mathematics problem solving,
  • Oral expression, and/or
  • Listening comprehension.

SLD is unique to the individual and is not the result of exclusionary factors. In order to identify SLD, the following three elements must be documented:

  1. The child demonstrates significant academic underachievement that is documented and supported by a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in performance and/or achievement. This underachievement persists despite sustained, high-quality, scientific, research-based instruction and intervention.
  2. There is evidence of basic neurological processing deficit(s).
  3. The child’s challenges are not caused by following exclusionary factors: 186
    • Lack of appropriate instruction in reading,
    • Lack of appropriate instruction in math,
    • Limited English proficiency,
    • Visual, hearing, or motor disability,
    • Intellectual disability,
    • Emotional disturbance,
    • Cultural factors, or
    • Environmental or economic factors.

Components of the Learning Disability Evaluation

  1. assessment of cognitive abilities, including both verbal and nonverbal skills
  2. academic achievement assessment
    • Basic reading skills
    • Reading fluency skills
    • Reading comprehension skills
    • Written expression
    • Mathematics calculation
    • Mathematics problem solving
    • Oral expression
    • Listening comprehension
  3. assessment of processing skills in the areas related to the suspected area(s) of disability
    1. auditory processing
    2. visual processing
    3. working memory
    4. processing speed
    5. executive functions

Dyslexia Evaluation

When a child is having difficulty with reading, spelling or writing, parents or teachers may refer a child for testing to determine whether there is a learning disability. Dyslexia is one of the most common types of language processing learning disability. There is no single test to determine if a child has dyslexia. Instead, testing includes an evaluation in a number of different areas including background information, intelligence testing, oral language, word recognition, decoding, spelling, phonological skills, reading fluency, reading comprehension.

The evaluation includes compiling background information on the child. This includes information on early development, family history and educational history and is provided by both parents and teachers.

Intelligence testing is completed to determine that the student is average or above in their intellectual functioning.

Oral language skills include listening, understanding speech and being able to express thoughts orally. Children with dyslexia normally have adequate higher-level oral language skills. They may have difficulty with lower-level skills such as recognizing or creating the sounds of letters in speech.

Word recognition is evaluated by asking a student to read single words without the ability to use context clues. Accuracy in reading the word and the amount of time it takes to read the word (fluency) are important in this test.

Children are also evaluated on their ability to read words they are not familiar with. This is called “decoding” and the test includes nonsense words (strings of letters that may look like real words but are not).

Students are evaluated based on spelling skills. Children with dyslexia often have a very difficult time with spelling and often spell words exactly as they sound, leave out letters, or include additional letters in words.

Phonological skills include breaking words down into syllables and individual sounds. Students with dyslexia have trouble identifying and pronouncing the individual sounds. An evaluation for dyslexia would include testing on phonological processing.

Reading fluency is also tested. This includes how quickly a person can process information and read words.

Reading comprehension is evaluated. Comprehension of oral stories is often higher than written stories. For some students with dyslexia, reading comprehension scores are average or above. This can be contributed to the short passages and the ability to find the answer in the passage. Reading comprehension when reading books or longer passages may not be as high.

Testing will meet the criteria established by the New Mexico Administrative Code; however, the Local Educational Agency Multidisciplinary Team has the authority to make the final decision regarding eligibility and need for specialized instruction.

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