My daughter is in 1st grade and is dyslexic. She cannot read very many words at all. We are getting her an IEP and her teacher is excellent. Her teacher is having a hard time getting her to read sentences so she can test for reading comprehension. Do you have any advice on testing for Dyslexia?
Dr. Pierson's Response: 
If a child does not have the decoding skills to read text, she cannot begin to comprehend it. I have a lot on the website relative to what comprises a good, comprehensive assessment for dyslexia, which might be what’s in order for your daughter.. You can read about these tests here. In addition, we’ve a rather comprehensive list of many of the standardized assessments here. You can read those here.

Specifically for reading, in addition to getting data in the other areas mentioned on the website (i.e., phonological processing, spelling skills, letter-word identification), I recently tested a 1st grader using the Gray Oral Reading Test - 5 (GORT-5). Also, a good criterion-referenced measure is the Qualitative Reading Inventory - 5 (QRI-5), which has passages & word lists at the pre-primer level and can be very informative relative to knowing where to begin intervention. Both of these instruments yield scores for accuracy/rate and comprehension; although if a child struggles to decode text, it follows that understanding the text will be challenging. I will also administer the Letter-Word Identification subtest of the Woodcock-Johnson III Diagnostic Reading Battery, as well as the nonsense word reading task, to get an idea of a young child’s decoding skills (although this does not address reading comprehension).

As you note -- your daughter cannot read very many words and this is impacting her teacher’s ability to assess her comprehension. This question came up in a session at the IDA national conference last fall -- how to assess reading comprehension in a kindergartner. If the child is not yet reading enough to get a reading comprehension measure, then spoken language comprehension should be assessed. (I argue that we should get measures of a child's spoken language comprehension and use regardless.) A child cannot understand what she reads if she cannot understand it in spoken language. I also suggest assessing receptive vocabulary as we know vocabulary is at risk (read more here) to degrade over time in a dyslexic student as she move through the grades. This is why it is important that the dyslexic student have access to the same content (i.e., texts) that her peers do and why I recommend my clients have access to audio textbooks. You can read about audio textbooks here here.

Here's some information on reading comprehension (here). The bottom line is that it will be difficult to get an accurate representation of your daughter’s comprehension of grade-level text if she is not able to read at that level. As mentioned above, I would recommend a receptive vocabulary and oral language comprehension assessment just to get a benchmark of her comprehension abilities. If these look suspect, then she will need intervention from someone with expertise in oral language, such as a speech-language pathologist, who can incorporate the use of written text in the therapeutic context while targeting listening comprehension.