Our 5th-grade child transitions to middle school this year and is also due for his 1st triennial assessment. He’s coded as Specific Learning Disability in the area basic reading; expressive writing, and had ADHD (combined, moderate), which has largely resolved save for the occasional blurting out in the conversational speech. High IQ; no math difficulties save for occasional misreading a problem.

His initial evaluation was done using the WISC-V, the WJ-IV (not the cognitive section), and the Feifer. In 3rd and 4th grades he did the Wilson program 5 times a week, then 3 times a week. In 5th grade, his support has been more push in and 2 x 30 min pull out for SPED support.

His team has been preparing us that he won’t qualify for an IEP since November parent-teacher conference--they say they don’t see struggles at school except for spelling. He’s a bright, capable kid, involved in sports and theater; a funny, charming kid. He’s made many gains, and we feel overall he’s doing well in school. At home and in the schoolwork that comes home, we continue to see reading aloud and expressive writing avoidance, and reversals/spelling/punctuation errors. Our aim is that he have supports in place for middle school that allows him to access his education and be successful, moving toward independence.

The school team planned to do the WJ (w/ the cognitive section) and the Feifer again to compare from his baseline assessment. I didn’t see the Feifer mentioned in your recommended tests, so I wondered if there is a better choice. Our district doesn’t have the WJ Reading Mastery test; the GORT is maybe the 3rd version; they said the TOWL overinflated scores. They’re willing to use the tests of our choice if they have them. Is there some reason the Feifer is not a good assessment choice?

Thank you for your thoughts.

Dr. Pierson's Response: 

This is not an uncommon problem, unfortunately, for our students with dyslexia. I am actually dealing with a similar situation here for a student transitioning to high school next year. Fortunately, I evaluated her 3 years ago, so have my data to use for comparison purposes as I re-evaluate her.

The Feifer (FAR) test is not listed on DyslexiaHelp because this is the first time that it has been brought to my attention. I am not familiar with it at all. I can't speak to whether it is a good assessment choice. In looking at the FAR website, which does not have much specifics, I like some aspects of it -- that some of the subtests are timed. The literature is very clear about the persistent nature of slow processing of linguistic information in the population with dyslexia (Kilpatrick, 2015). I'm not at all sure about the subtest that has the student reading letters backwards. I’d like to see the research behind that particular task.

In regard to re-assessment of a student, it is extremely important to remember that intervention works (this is a good thing), and therefore, the examiner must be all the more cognizant of how to assess and interpret the data BEYOND the test scores. People seem to forget (dare I say ignore) the fact that learning disabilities/dyslexia are lifelong disorders. And, indeed, individuals with dyslexia learn to compensate, but at any point along the road, they can be tripped up by new demands/challenges. Certainly, we know that as one moves through the grades, the demands of reading/writing increase.

As far as tests go, the Test of Word Reading Efficiency-2 (TOWRE-2) takes minutes to administer and has the student read real and nonsense words under a time constraint (45 seconds). While many times, the student with dyslexia who has had intervention can read the real words accurately, he may be slow; this is informative. It takes a good diagnostician to look at the errors and go beyond the test score.

I do think the GORT-5 (no other version) can be informative. Again, there are problems with every measure -- just reporting the scores is insufficient.

I agree with the school team that the TOWL-4 overestimates a student's writing abilities. At my private clinical practice, my colleague, Dr. Lauren Katz and I have not found a measure of writing that works well. We tend to use the OWLS-II Written Expression scale, but it does not encompass all that a student must be able to do for writing. Moreover, writing challenges can begin with verbal expression challenges, so we always get a measure of expressive language -- sentence formulation at a minimum, and expressive vocabulary (and evaluate latencies in naming) if we see problems with word retrieval. Naming speed has been associated with a variety of reading skills, and in particular, it has been found to be closely related to sight word recognition, reading rate, and orthographic skill (i.e. understanding and facility with letter patterns and spelling rules) -- and therefore, affects both reading and writing.

In regard to your specific question about the FAR, I'd like to see it. I've not seen it at the International Dyslexia Association conference (although that doesn't mean it wasn't there). I'm also going to ask a couple of other practitioners if they know of it.