As clinicians, we come across a variety of tests that we've used with our students at one point or another during evaluations or therapy sessions. And we all know there are some that we decide to incorporate into our regular assessment battery, and others we never use again. Here's a selection of tests, and their respective strengths, that we recommend using with dyslexics.
Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals -4 (CELF 4)
Given that reading disability and dyslexia have an underlying language component, language testing is essential when making a diagnosis. The CELF-4 provides a good overview of oral language in general and parses out receptive and expressive language skills. It is particularly helpful in identifying a receptive – expressive language gap.
We like that you can compare and contrast various subcategories (e.g., vocabulary, memory) to identify the student’s strengths and weaknesses.
The Sentence Structure subtest gives insight on how a student is using grammar; with further testing this can subsequently be compared with written use of grammar.
Using the Following Concepts and Direction subtest, you can pick up central auditory processing (CAPD) problems through anecdotal information such as how many times the student asks for repetitions. You can then make a referral if necessary.
We find the Word Classes subtest to be very revealing and we also like the supplemental subtests for phonemic awareness and word fluency.
The CELF-4 is good for students with low verbal skills as you can give the subtests that require a pointing or cloze response.
You can also get an idea of the student’s underlying articulation errors. The CELF-4 has questionnaires for parent, teacher, and student whereby you can compare and contrast various understandings about the student’s skills.
We find the CASL to be a good test to use for assessing higher level language skills, such as figurative language and abstract reasoning.We’ve used it in conjunction with the CELF-4 to assess a student’s understanding of non-literal language. In addition, it is a helpful tool for goal setting. Some subtests also tap into general pragmatic language skills, but more assessment will likely be necessary.
We find the CTOPP to be very valuable in identifying underlying phonological processing skills and, thus, dyslexia. It is a standard test in our battery. It is fun to give and kids like taking it because it is almost like a game. You can compare and contrast the subtests to determine whether the student has difficulty with phonological analysis versus synthesis (or both). You also get a fluency score. We find the supplemental tests very helpful, particularly Segmentation. Because we use it so much, we do wish there was a Form B.
The EOWPVT is a good quick test for expressive vocabulary and, like the CASL, we find it helpful for goal setting.
We find hearing a student read aloud to be informative. The GORT-5 Fluency scores seem accurate. There was been caution in the literature about the GORT-4 overinflating comprehension scores given that many times the reader can intuitively answer some of the questions without reading the text. The authors have attempted to account for this problem in the GORT-5 by making the questions open-ended and requiring the reader to rely on the text in order to answer them.
We like that there is a silent measure of reading to compare with an oral measure on the GSRT. The student is allowed to look back at a passage to answer a question, which may inflate her scores. On the other hand, it is good to know whether or not she is using this strategy. Given that so many individuals with reading disability and dyslexia are slow readers, we like to add on an informal measure of timed silent reading. The comprehension questions require more inferences than the GORT and they can give insight into higher level skills.
We like that the RAN/RAS is a quick measure of naming. Students like taking it and for some it is very insightful, particularly if they find it difficult.
Although it can be a time-consuming test to administer, we find the TAPS core scores to be helpful in identifying strengths and weaknesses. It is another helpful test for goal setting. The last two subtests, Auditory Comprehension and Auditory Reasoning have longer auditory passages which can be helpful in identifying whether the student may have difficulty understanding connected speech. You can also get a bit of an idea about phonological processing skills. It is a helpful tool for determining whether a referral for CAPD is warranted.
As this test can be long to administer, we tend to give some of the subtests that we find informative, such as the Contextual Writing Quotient, which has the child write a story about a picture. The Basic Writing Quotient is informative as well, but very lengthy to give so we don’t always administer it. We then supplement our assessment with informal measures of writing.
Pragmatic language by definition (i.e., language use for social purposes) is hard to test, but the TOPL has done a good job assessing social language skills in a non-natural setting. You can get a pretty good picture of a student’s skills, which can be verified through an observation in a natural social setting. The TOPL does a good job assessing Theory of Mind and is good for goal setting.
We have found the TOPL particularly helpful to share at IEPs and team meetings as many schools do not typically administer this test. It gives everyone some insight into the student’s pragmatic language skills.
We have found that the directions can be challenging for students with auditory comprehension problems; but this in and of itself is informative. If a student has difficulty with the directions, he probably has difficulty in conversation with his peers.
Although we sometimes find it too time-consuming to administer the entire TOWL-4, we like how it tries to quantify narrative writing and we find the scoring criteria helpful in determining goals. Given that the scoring can be subjective, we find we need to be careful so as to not overinflate a student’s score. We find the Spelling (writing to dictation) and the Vocabulary (asks the student to use the word in a sentence) subtests to be informative. We also like the Narrative Writing subtest for younger students, but find that we need to supplement this in order to assess expository writing for older students. We always ask the student (or parent) to bring in writing samples from school.
The TWS allows for a quick assessment of spelling. We have found that some students with spelling problems can perform well on it. We supplement this with contextual-based writing tasks.
The WRMT is quick to administer and we particularly like the Non-word Reading and Sight Words subtests, although further probing is necessary to determine where the breakdown is. In some cases, a student may score within the normal range, but the clinician still suspects difficulties. Some clinicians find the computer scoring to be cumbersome, whereas others find it less time-consuming than hand scoring other tests.
Like the CASL, the Word Test is good for assessing higher-level semantic skills. We particularly like the multiple meanings subtest. We also find this test helpful when setting goals.