Referral Process for Dyslexia and Related Disorders (SSC)

The determination to refer a student for an evaluation must always be made on a case-by-case basis and must be driven by data-based decisions. The referral process itself can be distilled into a basic framework as outlined below. 

Data-Driven meeting of knowledgeable persons 

A team of persons with knowledge of the student, instructional practices, and possible service options meets to discuss data collected and the implications of that data. These individuals include, but are not limited to, the classroom teacher, administrator, dyslexia specialist, and/or interventionist. This team may also include the parents and/or a diagnostician familiar with testing and interpreting evaluation results. This team may have different names in different districts and/or campuses. For example, the team may be called a student success team, student support team, student intervention team, or even something else.  In SBISD, this team is called the Student Support Committee (SSC). 

This team of knowledgeable persons is not an Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) committee or a Section 504 committee, although many of these individuals may be on a future committee if the student is referred for an evaluation and qualifies for services and/or accommodations. 

When the data does not lead to a suspicion of dyslexia or a related disorder

If the team determines that the data does not give the members reason to suspect that a student has dyslexia, a related disorder, or other disability, the team may decide to provide the student with additional support in the classroom or through the RTI process. However, the student is not referred for an evaluation at this time. 

When the data lead to a suspicion of dyslexia or a related disorder AND the need for Special Education Services

f the team determines that the data lead to the suspicion of a disability and that special education services are necessary to provide specially designed instruction, the team must refer the student for an evaluation under IDEA. It is important to note that a student with dyslexia who is served through special education should also receive dyslexia instruction (as described in Chapter IV, Critical, Evidence-Based Components of Dyslexia Instruction) that is individualized to meet the student’s unique needs. 

When the data lead ONLY to suspicion of dyslexia or a related disorder

If—based on the data—the team suspects that a student has dyslexia or a related disorder but does not believe that special education is necessary to meet the student’s needs, the team must refer the student for an evaluation under Section 504. If the student qualifies as a student with dyslexia, the student may receive standard protocol dyslexia instruction and accommodations under Section 504.

It is important to note that progression through RTI is not required in order to begin the identification of dyslexia. The use of tiered intervention may be part of the identification and data collection process, but it is not required and must not delay or deny an evaluation for dyslexia, especially when parent or teacher observations reveal the common characteristics of dyslexia. A district or charter school must move straight to evaluation under either Section 504 if they suspect a student has a disability or under IDEA if they suspect a disability and a corresponding need for special education services. Tiered interventions and initiation or continuation of evaluation can occur simultaneously. The needs of the students must be the foremost priority.

Parents/guardians always have the right to request a referral for a dyslexia evaluation at any time. Once a parent request for dyslexia evaluation has been made, the school district is obligated to review the student’s data history (both formal and informal data) to determine whether there is reason to suspect the student has a disability. If a disability is suspected, the student needs to be evaluated following the guidelines outlined in this handbook. 

IDEA and Section 504 have different requirements that must be followed if the school does not suspect a disability and determines that evaluation would not be warranted. Under IDEA, schools must give parents prior written notice of a refusal to evaluate, including an explanation of why the school refuses to conduct an initial evaluation, the information that was used as the basis for the decision, and a copy of the Notice of Procedural Safeguards. 

Section 504 does not require prior written notice; however, best practice is to provide a parent with an explanation of the reasons an evaluation is denied. OCR recommends that districts be able to provide documentation that the denial was based on data to support there is no disability.

Dyslexia referral timelines

When a referral for a dyslexia evaluation is made under IDEA, Texas law establishes that a full individual and initial evaluation (FIE) must be completed within 45-school days from the time a district or charter school receives consent. Section 504, however, does not require specific timelines. Therefore, it is beneficial for districts to consider the timelines Texas has established for special education evaluations through TEC §29.004(a). The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) looks to state timelines as a guideline when defining a “reasonable amount of time” should a complaint be filed regarding evaluation procedures.

The importance of early screening

 If the persistent achievement gap between dyslexic and typical readers is to be narrowed, or even closed, reading interventions must be implemented early, when children are still developing the basic foundation for reading acquisition. The persistent achievement gap poses serious consequences for dyslexic readers, including lower rates of high school graduation, higher levels of unemployment, and lower earnings because of lowered college attainment. Implementing effective reading programs early, even in preschool and kindergarten, offers the potential to reduce and perhaps even close the achievement gap between dyslexic and typical readers and bring their trajectories closer over time. —Ferrer, et al., Achievement Gap in Reading Is Present as Early as First Grade and Persists through Adolescence, 2015

The early identification of students with dyslexia along with corresponding early intervention programs for these students will have significant implications for their future academic success. In the book Straight Talk about Reading, Hall and Moats (1999) state the following:

  • Early identification is critical because the earlier the intervention, the easier it is to remediate.
  • Inexpensive screening measures identify at-risk children in mid-kindergarten with 85 percent accuracy.
  • If intervention is not provided before the age of eight, the probability of reading difficulties continuing into high school is 75 percent (pp. 279–280).

Research continues to support the need for early identification and assessment (Birsh, 2018; Sousa, 2005; Nevills & Wolfe, 2009). The rapid growth of the brain and its responsiveness to instruction in the primary years make the time from birth to age eight a critical period for literacy development (Nevills & Wolfe, 2009). Characteristics associated with reading difficulties are connected to spoken language. Difficulties in young children can be assessed through screenings of phonemic awareness and other phonological skills (Sousa, 2005). Additionally, Eden (2015) points out that “when appropriate intervention is applied early, it is not only more effective in younger children, but also increases the chances of sparing a child from the negative secondary consequences associated with reading failure, such as decline in self-confidence and depression.” Keeping the above information in mind, it is essential to screen students for dyslexia and related disorders early in their academic careers.

State requirements

 Prior to 2017, Texas state law required the testing of students for dyslexia and related disorders “at appropriate times.” Appropriate times depended on multiple factors as determined by each school district or charter school, including the student’s reading performance, reading difficulties, poor response to evidence-based reading instruction, teachers’ input, and parent/guardian input. While screening for dyslexia and related disorders was encouraged by the State Board of Education (SBOE), there was no mandate to do so. In 2017, the 85th Texas Legislature passed House Bill (HB) 1886, amending Texas Education Code (TEC) §38.003, Screening and Treatment for Dyslexia,1 to require that all kindergarten and first-grade public school students be screened for dyslexia and related disorders. Additionally, the law requires that all students beyond first grade be screened or tested as appropriate.

In response to the screening requirements of HB 1886, the SBOE amended its rule in 19 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) §74.28, Students with Dyslexia and Related Disorders. While this rule speaks primarily to evaluation and identification of a student with dyslexia or related disorders, it also requires that evaluations only be conducted by appropriately trained and qualified individuals. Guidelines regarding the required screening for kindergarten and first-grade students are discussed in Part B of this chapter.

A related state law adds an additional layer to screening requirements for public school students. Texas Education Code §28.006, Reading Diagnosis, requires each school district to administer to students in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade a reading instrument to diagnose student reading development and comprehension. This law also requires school districts to administer a reading instrument at the beginning of seventh grade to students who did not demonstrate reading proficiency on the sixth-grade state reading assessment. The law also requires the commissioner of education to select appropriate reading instruments for inclusion on a commissioner’s list, and districts are permitted to use reading instruments other than those on the commissioner’s list only when a district-level committee adopts these additional instruments. Texas Education Code §28.006(e) requires each district to report the results of these reading instruments to the district’s board of trustees, TEA, and the parent or guardian of each student. Further, a school district is required to notify the parent or guardian of each student in kindergarten, first grade, or second grade who is determined to be at risk for dyslexia or other reading difficulties based on the  results of the reading instruments. In accordance with TEC §28.006(g), an accelerated reading instruction program must be provided to these students.

School districts must meet the requirements of TEC §28.006 and §38.003, both of which deal, at least in part, with early screening for dyslexia. The criteria developed for the kindergarten and grade 1 screening instruments are designed to meet the requirements of both laws. Should a district wish to use a single instrument to meet the requirements of both TEC §28.006 and §38.003, the district may, but is not required to do so.  SBISD uses NWEA MAP and MAP Fluency.

It is important to note that TEC §38.003 applies only to the screening of kindergarten and first-grade students for dyslexia and related disorders, whereas TEC §28.006 addresses general reading diagnoses for students in kindergarten and grades 1, 2, and 7. Districts that decide to use one instrument to meet the requirements of both the dyslexia screening and the early reading diagnosis for kindergarten and grade 1 must also continue to administer reading instruments to all second-grade students and to students in grade 7 who did not demonstrate proficiency on the state reading assessment for sixth grade.