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    Document Summary
    - Report Published -

    Senate Document No. 4

    Document Title
    Study of Dyslexia Screening for Kindergartners (SJR 87, 2010)

    Department of Education

    Enabling Authority
    SJR 87 (Regular Session, 2010)

    Executive Summary

    Virginia has a well‐documented history of requiring kindergarten students to participate in a screening process upon entering school. The Virginia School Health Guidelines outline specific screenings, mandated by the Code of Virginia 22.1‐214 and Board of Education Regulations Governing Special Education Programs for Children with Disabilities in Virginia (8 VAC 20‐81), which identify when any student shows signs of a significant impairment that requires follow up by a professional. These mandated screenings provide information to teachers and parents regarding irregularities in vision or hearing and delays in development of speech, language, and motor skills. The screenings are administered according to procedures developed locally.

    In addition to the screenings required by the Virginia School Health Guidelines, in 1997 the Virginia General Assembly established the Early Intervention Reading Initiative (EIRI). The EIRI was instituted to reduce the number of children with reading problems through early screening and diagnosis and through acceleration of their acquisition of research‐identified early reading skills by the end of each grade level, kindergarten through third‐grade. The Phonological Awareness and Literacy Screening‐Kindergarten (PALS‐K) was developed as part of this effort. Ninety‐eight percent of all school divisions in Virginia use PALS‐K to screen kindergarten students with nearly a quarter‐of‐a‐million children screened annually.

    School divisions using the PALS‐K as the literacy screening instrument are required to conduct a fall and spring screening during the kindergarten year and spring screenings during the first- and second‐grade years. All necessary forms for fall and spring are currently provided to schools at no charge. An optional mid‐year screening, using existing materials, is also available to all school divisions.

    2010 Legislative Responsibility

    In 2010, the General Assembly passed Senate Joint Resolution 87. This resolution required that the Virginia Department of Education study dyslexia screening for kindergartners. Dyslexia is a language‐based learning disability that impacts a student in the area of reading. In conducting this study, the department is required to:

    1. Examine available scientific data on the success of early screening for dyslexia,

    2. Consider the cost effectiveness of such a strategy, and

    3. Recommend whether such screening is advisable and, if so, the particular method that is most effective.

    In response to this resolution, the department formed a committee that undertook a literature review of screening processes and screening tools for dyslexia/reading disabilities. The results of the literature review are:

    1. There is no scientific data on the success of early screening for dyslexia. Only one tool, “Dyslexia Early Screening Test” was identified in the literature as a “dyslexia screener.” Established test evaluation professionals do not consider it to be a reliable or valid instrument

    2. Due to lack of available research and the availability of an early dyslexia screening tool, it would not be cost effective nor advisable to implement a screening process for dyslexia in Virginia’s public schools.

    The committee acknowledges that there is scientific data to support the universal screening for identifying at‐risk readers and Virginia’s current PALS‐K screening tool is a successful, valid, and reliable instrument. However, as documented in the literature review, screening tools are not designed to diagnose a specific disability (Badian, 2000). If the severity of the reading weakness is such that a disability is suspected, a referral for a comprehensive evaluation to determine if the child has a disability should be made and the procedures outlined in the Virginia Board of Education’s Regulations Governing Special Education Programs for Children with Disabilities in Virginia (8 VAC 20‐81) should be followed.


    The committee recommends the following:

    1. Through Virginia’s Early Intervention Reading Initiative, public schools should continue screening kindergarten students using the PALS‐K or an alternate screening instrument. After extensive literature review, interviews with experts in the field of dyslexia/early screening for reading disabilities, and technical review of reports by testing evaluation committees consisting of national experts and professionals in the field, it has been determined that the PALS‐K has been shown to be a reliable and valid instrument for the identification of students with reading problems. According to experts in the field, a screening tool that includes the research‐based predictors of reading difficulty (phonological awareness and alphabet knowledge) will identify students who are at risk for learning to read and in need of intervention (Jenkins et al., 2002).

    2. Virginia public school divisions should continue use of PALS‐K data to strengthen instruction and intervention.

    3. Virginia public school divisions should not add an additional screening for dyslexia since those students at risk for dyslexia are included among those identified with reading weaknesses using the PALS‐K. No reliable and valid screening instrument for dyslexia has been identified. The International Dyslexia Association’s (IDA) fact sheet supports and encourages schools to begin screening children in kindergarten to identify any child who exhibits the early signs of reading difficulties, but they also acknowledge that Page 7 of 31 individualized, in‐depth, formal testing of reading, language, and writing skills is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of suspected dyslexia. If there is a need for additional screening for dyslexia, a mid‐year PALS screening could be considered to ensure students with borderline scores continue to develop early literacy skills at an appropriate pace, assuming that a school division has sufficient resources for this screening. (Compton et al., 2006; Jenkins et al., 2007)