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)**
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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.