Dynamic assessment = Crystal ball for reading skills?

Helping kids become proficient readers is a big deal. Schools often screen children’s decoding skills (the ability to sound out words) to figure out who needs help. But what do screening results mean for children’s future reading ability? Petersen et al. followed a diverse group of children from kindergarten to fifth grade to find out.

The authors administered a quick dynamic assessment task at the beginning of kindergarten. Children were asked to decode four nonsense words, taught how to decode them, and asked to decode them again. Examiners scored children’s accuracy and how easily they responded to teaching. The task took only three minutes to administer on average. (The task is described more in this article, and it’s similar to the decoding tasks on the PEARL.) The children’s schools also screened their ability to name letters and sounds at the beginning of kindergarten and their oral reading fluency at the end of each year.


Performance on the dynamic task in kindergarten classified children into average vs. struggling reader categories in fifth grade with 75–80% accuracy. The 3-minute dynamic task was better at predicting reading skill than the traditional static (one-time) screening, especially for the Hispanic students in the sample, many of whom were English language learners.

The task wasn’t perfect at predicting fifth grade reading skill, but it was pretty good, especially considering how fast it was to administer. These findings suggest that, compared to the static measures, dynamic assessment of decoding could save a ton of intervention time. Dynamic tasks are less likely to pick up children who just lack reading exposure, saving us time for working with the kids who will continue to need help with reading (AKA, making RTI less of a massive undertaking).


Petersen, D. B., Gragg, S. L., & Spencer, T. D. (2018). Predicting reading problems 6 years into the future: Dynamic assessment reduces bias and increases classification accuracy. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in the Schools, 49(4), 875–888.

Throwback (2016): Speech sound disorder, language disorder, and family risk of dyslexia: A triple-whammy impact on literacy

The authors of this study found that speech sound disorder, language disorder, and family risk of dyslexia all have an impact on reading outcomes. When these risk factors are combined, however, literacy outcomes get worse.

The study tracked a large group of 3-year-olds up through age 8, some identified with speech sound disorder (SSD) and some with typical language development. Some of the children in the SSD group also had an identified language disorder (LD) and/or a family risk of dyslexia (FR).

The authors found that children who had speech difficulties at school entry tended to have poorer word reading and phoneme awareness at age 5, but caught up by age 8. The authors concluded that most children with SSD “recover from this early setback.” This wasn’t the case for the children with additional risk factors, however. Poorer reading outcomes were seen in the SSD + LD group, with the most significant impairments in the SSD + LD + FR group. The more risk factors, the more they accumulate, and the larger the impact on literacy outcomes.

So—if your little clients have SSD only, it appears that the impact on literacy is likely to be short-lived (another interesting point—the initial severity of the SSD did not impact literacy outcomes). However, if other risk factors are present (and how will we know if they are? By screening when we do the artic/phono assessment!), this is when we need to have our eyes and ears open. A language disorder or family history of dyslexia should alert SLPs to monitor the child’s early literacy development and to ensure that appropriate interventions are in place.

Hayiou-Thomas, M. E., Carroll, J. M., Leavett, R., Hulme, C., & Snowling, M. J. (2016). When does speech sound disorder matter for literacy? The role of disordered speech errors, co-occurring language impairment and family risk of dyslexia. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58, 197–205.

Using group screening to find students at risk of DLD and dyslexia

If you work in a school that uses a response to intervention (RtI) framework, you can probably relate to the balancing act associated with screening: you want to use tools that accurately identify students needing additional assessment, but that also make good use of your time and are relatively easy to administer. 

What if you could screen a whole class at the same time?

The authors of this study administered two screeners to groups of second graders:

  • The Test of Silent Word Reading Fluency (TOSWRF), to screen for word reading difficulties
  • The Listening Comprehension subtest of the Group Reading Assessment and Diagnostic Evaluation (GRADE LC), to screen for developmental language disorder (DLD)**

The researchers analyzed 381 students’ performance on the screeners as well as additional, individual standardized testing (CELF-4, the Word Identification and Word Attack subtests of the WRMT-III, and the TONI-4). The screeners, in combination, could reliably classify children as being at risk for (a) language disorder, (b) dyslexia, or (c) both, as determined by their scores on the individual assessments. Accuracy was somewhat higher for predicting risk for dyslexia vs. language disorder, which makes some intuitive sense, because the screeners chosen were both geared toward reading. Interestingly, only about a third of the parents of the identified children had reported concerns about their child’s language or reading abilities. We can’t rely on individual referrals to catch everyone!

Although the efficiency of screening groups of students is certainly appealing, it is important to remember we don’t yet know what results the TOSWRF and GRADE LC screeners would yield with children in other age groups or populations. SLPs should be cautious and consider their individual contexts when applying these findings.

**Note: Most of the children in this study were those with Specific Language Impairment (SLI), which is a child with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) and normal nonverbal intelligence. We use DLD throughout our website for consistency purposes (read more here).

Adlof, S. M., Scoggins, J., Brazendale, A., Babb, S., & Petscher, Y. (2017). Identifying children at risk for language impairment or dyslexia with group-administered measures. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 60(12): 3507-3522. doi: 10.1044/2017_JSLHR-L-16-0473.

Help and hinderances to word learning in dyslexia

This study explored the word learning abilities of children with dyslexia compared to matched typically-developing peers. Now, many of us know that children with dyslexia present with phonological deficits. However, it’s easy to forget that their phonological difficulties aren’t limited to the written modality, but children with dyslexia have difficulties with phonological processing of spoken language as well.
The results of this study show that children with dyslexia had difficulty with tasks that challenged their phonological skills, including detecting others’ verbal mispronunciations, and naming (seeing something, recalling its name, saying it).  And, perhaps most interesting to practicing clinicians, the authors compared not only phonological manipulations, but visuospatial manipulations as well. They found that, “… visuospatial information both helped and hindered learning…” and thus, “…educators should not assume that all visual supports will be helpful or will override the phonological deficits found in many children with dyslexia.” At this time, further research is needed to identify how to manipulate visual stimuli best for children with dyslexia.

So, what to do with the visual supports you’ve been using? Keep at it, for now. But just pay close attention to your clinical data, and don’t assume that the extra visual information is extra helpful.

Alt, M., Hogan, T., Green, S., Gray, S., Cabbage, K., & Cowan, N. (2017). Word learning deficits in children with dyslexia. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 60, 1012–1028.

Does multisensory instruction support reading?

Reading programs generally feature many components, any of which could contribute to teaching literacy skills.

The Orton-Gillingham approach (upon which several popular reading programs are based) is highly structured, and emphasizes the crucial role of language in literacy instruction. It also often includes a multisensory component, which is the purposeful addition of various auditory, visual, and tactile cues to aid learning.
The purpose of this study was to examine whether that “multisensory” component supports literacy instruction. Over a six- to seven-week period, eleven 2nd grade students (half with dyslexia, half without) were taught, “letter name, sound production, word reading, and word spelling,” using a small set of non-English letters and sounds. Participants served as their own controls, participating in each a “structured language” condition, and a similar condition with additional “multisensory” components. The two intervention conditions were, “…adapted from Orton-Gillingham-based programs and followed a systematic sequential structured language approach.” They differed only in inclusion of multisensory features. These multisensory features included students:

  • watching themselves produce sounds in the mirror
  • skywriting letters with full-body gross motor movement
  • manipulating 3D plastic letters
  • using sequential finger tapping to mark phonemes while blending
  • finger-writing letters on various surfaces (e.g. carpet square, tray of sand)

The authors found that, “…both structured language and multisensory instruction had a positive treatment effect for participants,” but, “…there did not appear to be an overall advantage for either intervention.” The authors state that, “Lack of overall multisensory advantage suggested overall positive effects for both interventions were likely not due to the simultaneous multisensory input but to the embedded Orton-Gillingham structured language components common to both reading interventions…”
Schlesinger, N.W., & Gray, S. (2017). The impact of multisensory instruction on learning letter names and sounds, word reading, and spelling. Annals of Dyslexia. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s11881-017-0140-z.