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Section 5: Assessment

Initial assessment and diagnostic assessment 


Assessment Starter Kit

It is useful to look at the Assessment Starter Kit for the generic policy on assessment for adult learners. This starter kit asserts that:

Assessment that encourages learning fosters motivation by emphasising progress and achievement rather than failure.

Assessment Reform Group (2002) Assessment for learning

This is a critical factor in identification of and support for learners with dyslexia. Too often failure has been the benchmark of learning for them.

In the Assessment Starter Kit, the learning journey diagram offers a graphical way of understanding the seven stages of assessment that comprise the learning journey. You can consider at what stage dyslexia can be recognised and assessed, and what staff and systems have to be in place for this to happen.

Learning journey diagram

Further text description about the Learner Journey diagram is provided in the Recognising, identifying and assessing dyslexia at any of the stages of the learning journey section on this page.

Also look at general guidance on initial and diagnostic assessment, including a range of guidance booklets.

Look at Section 6 for resources to support the assessment of learners with dyslexia. These resources are designed specifically for dyslexia and assessments should be conducted by specialist teachers.

The Ofsted report A mixed picture for learners needing extra support after 16 (2011), which is referred to in detail in Section 4, shows that many learners with dyslexia have not previously been identified. This will have a negative impact on achievement and outcomes for all concerned. 

Recognising, identifying and assessing dyslexia describes opportunities for identifying dyslexia at any of the stages of the learner’s journey.

Recognising, identifying and assessing dyslexia at any of the stages of the learning journey

Health Warning: It is advised that care is taken when considering the use of screening tools to identify dyslexia. By definition, a screening tool does not diagnose dyslexia. Most screeners, whether online or paper-based, are self-assessment checklists that merely give an overall indicator of the possibility of dyslexia. They are not a reliable diagnosis; this can only be obtained from a full diagnostic assessment carried out by an appropriately trained or qualified specialist.  

Signposting / referral

Dyslexia could be self-identified at this point if the learner has already had an assessment and diagnosis, or a statement, perhaps from school. Otherwise it is unlikely that dyslexia will be picked up at this early stage.

Skills check

Again dyslexia might be self-identified at this stage if there is an opportunity for discussion. Results of skills checks might indicate difficulties with reading, writing, spelling and / or number work. However, there would be little opportunity to explore whether or not this was because of dyslexia and the results would not provide enough information to make any diagnosis of dyslexia. Sometimes the learner’s history would also begin to paint a picture of under-achievement and disillusion with education but great care has to be taken at this stage as there could be many reasons for these characteristics. 

Initial assessment

The initial assessment process is designed to give an indication of the learner’s current operating level of English and maths. It is not diagnostic in any way. In other words the process of initial assessment does not give you sufficient information on which to base a programme of learning. It is however the case that, during initial assessment and the gathering of information about the learner, you may find yourself wondering whether a particular learner might be dyslexic. This might arise for a number of reasons:

  • The learner may disclose that he / she feels there is a possibility of dyslexia or that someone has said this to them at some stage.
  • You may feel that the learner’s achievement to date is not consistent with what you feel is their ability; their reading or spelling may be far behind their vocabulary and grasp of topics.
  • You may observe what you feel from your experience are unusual or unexpected errors in spelling, reading or number work.
  • If you, as a professional teacher, feel that there is some possibility a learner may be dyslexic, then you should recommend further, diagnostic assessment. During this more focused level of assessment, specific areas of difficulty can be explored and appropriate support suggested. This in turn may result in a recommendation for the learner to have a full diagnostic assessment for dyslexia, by an appropriately qualified person, such as an educational psychologist.

Diagnostic assessment

The dyslexia diagnostic assessment materials that are part of the Skills for Life assessment materials are designed to be used by specialist English teachers for the purpose of analysing performance in the sub-skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening in order to create an individual learning plan (ILP) for a dyslexic learner. Use of these materials does not constitute a formal diagnosis of dyslexia.

Further formal diagnostic assessment

If a learner is identified as potentially dyslexic, then a full, independent diagnostic assessment should be recommended with an appropriately trained and qualified person.  This person could be an educational psychologist, or a specialist teacher recognised by one of the professional bodies, such as PATOSS. This formal diagnosis can then be used to inform the development of an appropriate and specific learning plan and also to gain reasonable adjustments, which may include extra time in examinations, an amanuensis, or the use of assistive technologies. (See here for more information about reasonable adjustments in Section 2).

The individual learning plan

This should reflect both the curriculum demands and the dyslexia needs of the learner. The diagnostic assessment should provide specific information about areas and levels of difficulty together with recommendations about teaching and reasonable adjustments. These should take into account any equipment or other support needed, such as a mentor / buddy / learning support assistant.

Learning materials

Materials and methods should reflect the needs of the learner and any reasonable adjustments that have been agreed. This could include early distribution of required reading, extra time allocated for reading, writing and for tests, and handouts and information supplied on coloured paper where Meares-Irlen syndrome is involved. (See the Dyslexia Framework for more information). Assistive technologies should be made available as required.

Formative and summative assessment

The methods used for formative assessment need to take account of the needs of dyslexic learners. For example, ways in which assessment is carried out:

  • should ensure that dyslexic learners have the reasonable adjustments they require for formal assessment; and
  • should be conducted in dyslexia-friendly ways, making use of materials and methods to reflect the needs of the learner.

It is equally important to use appropriate ways of feeding back results and outcomes by limiting written reports as much as possible and using visual, graphical means and one-to-one discussion as appropriate for the learner. Mind maps, diagrams or recorded feedback are all examples of good practice.

If there is a formal diagnosis of dyslexia and the learner has a set of agreed reasonable adjustments, these may include particular requirements for summative assessment, such as supervised assignments or tests / examinations set by an external awarding organisation. Your role may be to coordinate this with the awarding organisation and ensure that this support is properly in place at the appropriate time. However, you will also have a role in ensuring that learners understand and are familiar with using any assistive technologies or support, such as working with an amanuensis.

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) works with all awarding organisations and publishes a Regulations and Guidance document relating to Access Arrangements, Reasonable Adjustments and Special Consideration for General and Vocational qualifications, updated annually.