Monday, August 07, 2006

How the WASL Fails Students with Dyslexia

It's August 7th, and 30% of students who failed the WASL last spring, are beginning their WASL retakes. OSPI, or the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, was kind enough to post samples of scored WASL tests here, but one look at their scoring reveals problems for unrecognized or unaccommodated dyslexics.

Here's an example of an essay scored as zero (0-5, 5 being best): "This letter exhibits a high density of spelling errors: reson, beause, inosent, bomeing. Plurals also are formed incorrectly: familys..." and here is a snippet of their example -

But now take a look at this writing sample from gifted dyslexic 16 year old (IQ > 150, now an honor student in Community College):

"Kids stealing cookies, acedants adout to haten. The mother is not
aware. Dads out. The mom is clearly some wer els. shye gona ned a
mop. I think this can be clarafide as adi..." Yikes. It's hard to read, too.

But with dictation:

"We've got kids stealing cookies and water overflowing from the sink.
It appears that Dad is not home and the Mom is clearly distracted,
and it looks like the kid is about to fall off the stool. This family is
clearly very dysfunctional. It looks like they own a fairly big house.
That driveway stretches on a long way."

Welcome to the maddening and embarrassing world of dyslexia.

The writing aspect of dyslexia merits far too little discussion in education circles, but the key components of what we refer to as "stealth dyslexia" were noted by Samuel Orton in 1931: "Reading...requires a much less accurate degree of visual representation in the associative process than does spelling, and it is therefore not surprising to find individuals whose visual engrams are adequate for the recognitive associations required in reading, but quite inadequate for recall and hence are not serviceable for spelling. In such cases the special disability in spelling may stand out as an isolated defect although not infrequently the history of the child's progress in school gives evidence of an earlier reading disability."

There's something about having to write by hand that makes it far more difficult than typing or using a word processor. It seems that sensory-motor memory involving fingers is impaired in many dyslexics, making it harder to remember how letters are formed. And if it's not "automatic", it's a lot harder for anything involving a pencil.

What's the practical problem in school? School assessments rarely determine whether a child has dyslexia or not - and teachers aren't trained to recognize dyslexia either. Because some studies have suggested that 5-15% of people have dyslexia, every classroom is likely to have at least one student (and probably more) with it.

If you know a student who is struggling to pass the "Conventions" section of the WASL, request to see the scored test. If spelling errors were due predominantly to sight words (i.e. words not easily predicted by their sound or pronunciation), look further into the possibility that he or she has dyslexia.

For most standardized tests, accommodations for dyslexia should include keyboarding or dictation - but writing disabilities are commonly underdiagnosed, and accommodations are applied in a spotty fashion. Recently, we heard a consulting firm recommended that the College Board move its SAT online - this would be a boon for college-bound dyslexics...a way to ensure they can express their ideas with proper accommodations.

Failing the WASL - Scoring Zero on Conventions
eSchool News online - Report recommends moving SAT online
30% who flunked WASL sign up for August retakes
WASL Released Items
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Stealth Dyslexia: When Writing is the Problem
The Mislabeled Child: Library: Dyslexia and Reading

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