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Dyslexia Screening

Information About Screening for Dyslexia

The Importance of Early Intervention

The importance of early screening for signs of dyslexia cannot be overstated. When dyslexia goes undetected and unaddressed, students with this neurological learning disorder are at a much greater risk for failing courses, performing poorly on tests, being retained, and dropping out of school than peers without learning disabilities.

Conversely, when students with dyslexia are identified early and receive appropriate instruction from a skilled educator, they can make significant gains in literacy skills and become fluent, independent readers. Such accomplishments strengthen students’ beliefs in what they can achieve, and help minimize or prevent negative academic and psychological consequences.

As the National Center for Learning Disabilities notes in its 2017 report, The State of Learning Disabilities, “learning disabilities do not suddenly appear in third grade. Researchers have noted that the achievement gap between typical readers and those with dyslexia is evident as early as first grade. But many students struggle for years before they are identified with a specific learning disability (SLD) and receive needed support” (Horowitz, et al.).

Legislation and Federal Support

In response to greater awareness about dyslexia and effective instructional methods, states are adopting laws specifically requiring districts to screen children in early primary grades to determine which students are at risk for reading failure and potentially dyslexia.

The National Center on Improving Literacy (NCIL), a partnership comprised of literacy experts, university researchers, and technical assistance providers, and funded by the U.S. Department of Education, provides information about effective approaches to screen, identify, and teach students with reading difficulties including dyslexia.

Informed Advice about Screening

In this NCIL video, dyslexia researcher Nadine Gaab, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and a member of the faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, shares important factors to consider when selecting the right screener to identify children at risk. NCIL researchers, in partnership with experts from the organization’s Dyslexia Work Group, published the 2019 white paper, Screening for Dyslexia, to provide an overview and additional insight.

Other resources include Chapter 5 of the New Jersey Dyslexia Handbook and Chapter 9 of the California Dyslexia Guidelines. These provide thorough overviews of screening measures by grade level, information about selecting evidence-based screening tools, and options to consider if developmental reading disabilities are suspected. The guides, both published in 2017, also provide information on progress monitoring and next steps for a full evaluation if a screening indicates dyslexia.

Another resource, the International Dyslexia Association’s Fact Sheet on Universal Screening: K-2 Reading, explains the purpose and importance of universal screening, screening methods and measures, and how to use the data to make informed decisions about the type of evidence-based intervention best suited for students identified as being as risk for dyslexia or other learning disabilities.

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education recommends this What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Practice Guide to help educators identify struggling readers and implement evidence-based strategies within Response to Intervention (RTI) and Multitiered System of Supports (MTSS) frameworks that promote reading achievement. Another resource recommended by IES is the Doing What Works presentation, Universal Screening for All Students, which outlines a recommended approach in the primary grades.

Screening FAQ

Learn more about the screening process below.


California Department of Education, Special Education Division. (2017). California dyslexia
guidelines. Sacramento, CA: Author.

Horowitz, S. H., Rawe, J., & Whittaker, M. C. (2017). The state of learning disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5. New York: National Center for Learning Disabilities.

New Jersey Department of Education. (2017). The New Jersey dyslexia handbook: A guide to early literacy development and reading struggles. Trenton, NJ: Author.

Petscher, Y., Fien, H., Stanley, C., Gearin, B., Gaab, N., Fletcher, J.M., & Johnson, E. (2019). Screening for dyslexia. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Special Education Programs, National Center on Improving Literacy. Retrieved from improvingliteracy.org.Rosenberg, D., & Pankowski, A. (2017). Universal screening: K-2 reading [Fact Sheet]. Baltimore, MD: International Dyslexia Association.