Screening for Dyslexia: The DEST-2 & DST-J

It is my very great pleasure to join the staff of DAS as director of the DAS Academy. For those of you who do not know my work, I am a leading international researcher into dyslexia, and as part of this research I have developed a series of eight screening tests for dyslexia. On my last visit to DAS in June 2012, I presented two public workshops on the DEST-2 and the DST-J which seemed to be well received. For those of you who could not attend these workshops, I would like to take this opportunity to explain the research and the purpose behind their development. I am particularly excited that the DST-J has just been launched in an Indian version and I was able to attend the World Summit on Education in Delhi at the end of July for the ceremonial launch of this tool in India.

Why do we need screening tests for dyslexia?

Dyslexia is one of the most commonly occurring developmental differences, and it runs in families, so that if a parent is dyslexic, there is a 50% chance that the child too will be dyslexic.

The good news is that with appropriate support, such as DAS provides, dyslexic children can be helped to overcome their problems with reading, writing, spelling and phonology. The bad news is that without this help, they will fall further and further behind, and this will impact not just on their achievement but on their whole persona.

Traditionally, dyslexia cannot be diagnosed until a child is at least 8, and depends on a full diagnosis from a qualified psychologist.

But these screening tests have been designed to empower teachers, who may have a gut feeling that a child has problems, but need evidence to show that their difficulties are greater than others in the same age range.

In all the screening tests, which are available from Pearson Education, we have drawn on all the main theories underlying dyslexia to provide a complete profile of the child’s skills, which can be compared with the norms for their age group. These are all designed to be delivered by teachers or Allied Educators in 30 minutes or so, and allow the teacher to identify which areas the child needs further support with.

They are delivered in paper and pencil format (rather than computer) so that the teacher can capture how the child approaches each task. I am particularly proud of the validity of these tests, which can identify more than 90% of children with difficulties – this is unusually high! Children will then need further assessment for full diagnosis of their differences.

The tests provided in the DEST-2 include those of basic pre-reading knowledge, memory, speed of processing, vocabulary knowledge, rhyming and phonological discrimination, and motor skill and postural stability, including copying and bead threading.

This test is designed for children aged 4.5-6.5, before they have learned to read, and it allows a profile of the child’s performance, and an evaluation of whether or not they exhibit mild or strong risk for difficulties.

For children in the age range 6.5-11.5 in the DST-J, we need to measure not just the accuracy of their performance but the fluency, because this is one of the aspects that is most crucial for success, and which research has shown is particularly difficult to remediate. So in this test we include measures of literacy including reading, nonsense word reading, spelling, copying, as well as memory, vocabulary knowledge, phonological segmentation and language fluency (both semantic and alphabetical) and motor skill. Nonsense word reading is fun, because you have to break the word down into its constituent parts, and then blend them to read, and there are no clues from the meaning, which bright dyslexic children will use to help them succeed.

Software is provided as part of each test, and this allows the teacher to input data easily in order to create a full report and a profile which outlines strengths as well as weaknesses.

The tests were specifically developed to be quick, effective and understandable for teachers, but also to be fun for the children taking part, so that we can get the best measures of their performance.

I am very proud to introduce these tests to you, if you are not familiar with them. They are the result of many years research and as a parent of a child with dyslexia who was diagnosed at age 5.5, I know how important it is that our dyslexic children are identified early and given the support they need in order to overcome their difficulties and express their strengths.

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This article was first published in FACETS