Dyslexia Screening: What You Need to Know

Roland Good

Dr. Roland Good
author and president of Acadience Learning

Release date: December 10, 2019



Roland H. Good, III, Ph.D., is president of Acadience® Learning and co-author of Acadience® Reading (also published under the name DIBELS® Next), as well as earlier versions of the DIBELS® assessment. He earned his doctorate from Pennsylvania State University in School Psychology and served two years as a school psychologist. For the past 25 years, Dr. Good has led the program of Research and Development culminating in the Acadience Reading measures. Dr. Good has provided professional development about the use of these measures to educators and administrators throughout the United States. He has served on editorial boards for School Psychology Review, School Psychology Quarterly, and the journal of Special Education, and has presented more than 100 papers at national conferences. In 2005, Penn State awarded Dr. Good its Excellence in Education award, in recognition of his contributions to the field of education.


Dyslexia screening is crucial to verifying the presence of dyslexia and providing the diagnostic documentation required for eligibility in specially designed programs throughout a student’s educational career. Dyslexia screening results also provide educators with the intervention strategies they need to help students reach their full academic potential. Join this podcast to learn more about how to use data to pinpoint the signs of dyslexia and create a roadmap to student success.

In this informative podcast, you will learn:

  • Why dyslexia screening is important
  • The definitive indicators of risk for dyslexia
  • The benefits of early screening
  • Key steps to prevention


    Narrator: Welcome to EDVIEW360.

    Roland Good: One of the key things is that we have very many children who are at risk for dyslexia and this is a life-altering occurrence for them. The entire purpose of screening is to do something to change outcomes for students. We have the knowledge. We have the tools. It's not enough to solve the problem once. We have to keep solving the problem until this student is a successful adult and is launched in their career.

    Narrator: You just heard Roland Good, president and director of research analysis for Acadience® Learning. Dr. Good leads the research and development of the Acadience® Reading measures previously known as DIBELS Next®. He delivers professional development regarding the use of these measures to educators throughout the United States. Dr. Good is our guest today on EDVIEW 360. Here's your host, Pam Austin.

    Pam Austin: This is Pam Austin. Welcome back to the EDVIEW 360 podcast series. We are so excited to have you back with us once again. I'm conducting today's podcast from my native New Orleans, channeling the heart of Voyager Sopris Learning®, located in Dallas, TX. Today, we are honored to have with us Dr. Roland Good, who is president, director of Research Analysis and associate director of Research and Development for Acadience Learning, and co-author of Acadience Reading, previously known as DIBELS Next. Dr. Good and his colleague, Dr. Ruth Kaminski, are also the authors of earlier versions of the DIBELS® assessment.

    Dr. Good is here to talk to us about dyslexia screening and what you need to know in order to make informed decisions for students struggling with reading challenges. Welcome, Dr. Good. We are truly honored to have you here with us today. Along with your vast knowledge of assessments and their value for positive student outcomes, can you tell us a little bit about your background? How did you become involved in education?

    RG: Thank you, Pam. It's a pleasure to be here. I really got interested in education very long ago as a young man. My father was actually a physicist and I wanted to have an impact on the world that would more directly impact some of the social justice issues that I was concerned about. So, I very early went into education as a way to change the future and, particularly, reading and teaching reading and helping students to be successful in reading as what I thought would be the biggest change in the future that I could make for children and I've been thrilled with that ever since.

    PA: Hope to create future physicists? Or, anything else kids would want to be when they grew up, correct? How did your focus become centered on assessment?

    RG: Well, I actually got really excited about assessment with the early work in curriculum-based measurement and that provided a road map to tell educators where they are, where they need to get to, and what route to follow to get to there. That seemed to me to be the missing piece in early literacy and in changing reading outcomes.

    PA: Oh, yes. Assessments. You're thinking of that as one aspect of education. That certainly is the missing piece. You've brought to light their importance for sure, for ensuring students reach their potential. Today, we are talking about dyslexia screening. Dr. Good, for those of us who may not know the exact definition, please share the definition of dyslexia.

    RG: Well, there are probably a number of different definitions, but the one that I like is from the International Dyslexia Association, and they state that dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

    PA: All right, so we're looking at specific difficulties and even layers of those difficulties. Thank you for sharing that with us, Dr. Good. And got another question for you. Tell us, why do you think dyslexia has come to the forefront recently and why has it become such a popular topic of discussion?

    RG: Well, I think one of the key things is that we have very many children with dyslexia or young children who are at risk for dyslexia and this is a life-altering occurrence for them. And that is combined with the recent research that we have been engaged in that really helps us to understand dyslexia better than we ever have before and helps us to know what things we can do to change outcomes for children with dyslexia or who are at risk for dyslexia.

    PA: So, we're understanding better. And, as they say, when we know better, we do better. Wonderful.

    RG: Exactly.

    PA: In our recent podcast, American Schools Are Failing Students With Dyslexia, our guest, Emily Hanford, said that schools are not identifying students and giving them the help they need. She says that there is a lot of research, as you alluded to on how reading works, but that is not well known by educators and that schools don't know how to work with struggling readers. What are your thoughts on Emily's statement and how it ties with dyslexia?

    RG: Well, I would say that Emily Hanford is a courageous warrior for children reading and improved outcomes and she is my latest hero. The podcasts, the reporting that she has done, in my opinion, is just spot on and and really names the issues and calls it like it is. I think that there is very often a gap between the research and practice and nowhere is that gap more pronounced than around children's early reading skills and the reading outcomes that they need to be successful in school and in life.

    PA: Oh, definitely. I love the idea of heroes. Heroes for educators and students.

    RG: Yes.

    PA: Thank you for your response. Back to dyslexia screening. Why is early screening so important? You just mentioned that, early screening and intervention.

    RG: Yes, and the earlier that we can screen, the earlier that we can start doing something about it. I think the entire purpose of screening is to do something to change outcomes for students. We have the knowledge. We have the tools. We have the technology to make an immense difference in children's reading outcomes if we identify the issues early and if we do something in a targeted intensive way to change those outcomes.

    PA: Changing those outcomes is so important. Earlier, you talked about it being life altering, and I believe you are 100 percent correct on that. We change the lives of students. What are some indicators that a student might be a good candidate for dyslexia screening? What's out there that's highlighted when we're looking at students and their struggling and what should an educator look for in the classroom?

    RG: Well, some of these are really sort of laid out in the dyslexia definition that we talked about. One of the keys to early screening, early identification, or early alert that a parent might be concerned is around a phonological component. And when we talk about the phonological component, we're talking about a child's ability to understand and work with the sounds that are in our language. To understand rhyme. To understand games, where you're playing games with the sounds in words. That's a really key early signal.

    Then, as soon as children are learning letters, and especially the sounds of letters, that's putting together the understanding of the sound structure of our language, the phonological component with the letter sound part of our language. And that linkage appears to be really the core deficit where reading skills get off track for kids. So, if you're seeing difficulty with sounds, playing games with sounds, with letter sounds, that's a very early signal that there may be an issue we can do something about.

    PA: You mentioned phonological processing being a part of an issue students with dyslexia may have. Most often, educators have thought of students with dyslexia as those who have trouble with print. Are you saying that it's a phonological issue?

    RG: Well, yes, and this is not just me. This is what the science is showing us right now. This is what we know. And when I say “know,” that's bigger than Roland, bigger than our team. That's sort of the research community drawing this conclusion. It used to be thought that dyslexia was about print. That reversals would be a sign that you would attend to, or filters, or colored overlays, or changing the font would impact children with dyslexia. What we know now is that although there may be some children, I mean nothing is ever universal, but really for most children, the big amount of the variance is really around this phonological component. It's the sound structure in how those sounds map to letters and become words. That is the core feature for dyslexia.

    PA: So, what is the success rate of having students with dyslexia develop their phonological processor to become that independent reader that we're expecting them to be? To change the outcomes for these students?

    RG: Very much. Very, very high success rate. We can make a very big difference. And when I talk about phonological processing, I'm really talking about an understanding of the sound structure of our language mapping that sound structure onto letters. Being able to retrieve that sound structure and letters to form words and putting the words together to read. It's an inclusive process. This is larger than just phonemic awareness, which is just the sound structure, but it's sort of how all of those pieces go together.

    I think it becomes an interesting question: If they can read, are they still dyslexic? Because dyslexic is difficulty, essentially, reading. Dys-Lexia, is the idea behind it. But we can teach them to read. Have we changed the dyslexia? Maybe in the sense that the name no longer matches, but there's still going to be some learning differences that they do, but they can be readers.

    PA: What type of dyslexia screening do you recommend and what factors or features should educators look for in a dyslexia screener?

    RG: Well, I think that there are three definitive indicators of dyslexia or other reading difficulties. And then there are a couple of other indicators, but these three are the really big ones. The first indicator is difficulty with the essential reading skills. And when I talk about essential reading skills, I'm really going to target measures of accurate and fluent word reading. Can they read words individually, accurately? Can they read them at an adequate rate? Word reading and decoding. Do they make frequent errors as they read? Anything around that phonological processing that we talked about, especially phonemic awareness and phonics. So, a first definitive indicator is difficulty in any of those constellations of essential reading skills.

    A second definitive indicator is a serious, sustained lack of adequate progress in learning those skills when they're provided with generally effective instruction. Now, in order to look at this, we have to look at where a student is and we also have to measure their progress in learning those skills. If a student has very low skills but is learning them very rapidly when we teach them well then that's probably not dyslexia, but if they have very low skills and they're not making adequate progress, that's our second definitive indicator.

    Now, the third definitive indicator has to be evidence that they're being taught in a way that is generally effective. Now, this is a really important key, definitive indicator because, all too often in schools we are not bringing to bear the science of reading and we're not bringing to bear the most effective and explicit instruction. So, a key part of knowing that this is dyslexia or risk for dyslexia is evidence that really good, generally effective instruction is in place.

    PA: All right. So, understanding what to do. I'll let you continue, Dr. Good.

    RG: Well, I was just going to mention briefly other indicators of risk and I would include in those other indicators what we talk about as Rapid Automatized Naming, or RAM. This is being able to rapidly identify and name and produce a word that corresponds to letters or objects or numbers or colors. And this also seems to be associated with dyslexia and risk for dyslexia, but explains a smaller amount of the variance than the definitive indicators. I would also add difficulty with spelling would fall into that category as well.

    PA: OK, thank you. So, we have some very specific things that educators can look at, these features of students. I just want to go ahead and review those once more. So, those essential reading skills and we're looking at accurate fluid ability to read and decode and considering the phonological processor, adequate progress as students are going through that learning phase. I've had teachers who would throw their hands up and say, "I don't know what to do. They're not learning." And then also the third would be the evidence of instruction. Those are the three key points with some specifics with Rapid Automatic Naming and spelling as key features, as well. It's a lot of good information and I just felt the need to repeat that Dr. Good, if you didn't mind. We'll go ahead and continue with our interview right now, unless you've got any more to add to this particular portion.

    RG: Oh, just adding a smile. I think that really important things are worth being said more than once.

    PA: I agree 100 percent with you on that one. All right. To continue our interview: What are some of the definitive indicators of risk for dyslexia and other reading difficulties that you can locate in the screener? So, I'm using the screener. What am I looking for and and what do those indicator results look like?

    RG: Well, we're looking for data and evidence that supports. So, for example, when I'm looking at a difficulty with essential reading skills, I'm really looking for skills that are at least below the 40th percentile and stronger evidence is if it's below the 20th percentile. So, some difficulty or substantial difficulty. When I'm looking at lack of adequate progress, I need to be measuring progress in each of those essential early literacy skill areas. And what I'm looking for is progress that is below the 40th percentile of progress or below the 20th percentile of progress. And, especially, that lack of progress when we're making adjustments to instruction. We know that progress monitoring and adapting our instruction to the student's needs is a very effective way of improving outcomes. And so I need to show a lack of adequate progress when I am making adjustments to instruction to really make the case for that serious sustained lack of adequate progress.

    When I am looking at the effectiveness of instruction, I really need to be looking, I think, at multiple levels. And in this area there's going to be evidence and data and also judgment that are involved. And so I'm going to look for evidence that the school as a whole school is generally effective. I'm going to also want to look for evidence that students in a particular classroom are generally making adequate reading progress. If the classroom is not effective, I don't know if this is dyslexia or if this is a lack of opportunity to learn. I also need to be looking at the school's system of support for those students who need intensive intervention. A school should have a system in place for everybody. The core. They should have a system in place for students who need strategic, targeted support. They should also have a system in place for those students who need intensive support to improve outcomes, and so I want to look for evidence that their system of intensive support is effective.

    PA: Wow. This is truly, truly diving into the science of reading. There's so many layers. Yes. You talked about establishing that school system of support and not only that, taking a look at the underlying data and to consider so many aspects of that data. The evidence of explicit, systematic, effective instruction. I just love it when you said that Dr. Good because it makes a difference, right?

    RG: Yes. It makes all the difference in the world.

    PA: OK. So, what we want to do is to make sure that our educators are adapting in response to students. That they are truly prescriptive and diagnostic for each individual student. Oh, what power we would have if we were able to do this for our students.

    RG: Yes.

    PA: OK. I'm very, very excited to hear you detail this, Dr. Good. I've got another question for you. Once you have determined that a student has dyslexia, what should your next steps be? How can we use this data to create a road map, a map for success for individual students?

    RG: Well, boy. That's the first step that you would do is create a road map. And so in a particular skill area, we need an assessment that will quickly and efficiently identify where a student's skills are. We need a system of assessment that will identify a goal for where we want that student to get to. And that goal should be one, where if our instruction and if that student meets that goal, we're actually changing the future for that student. I then need to have a system that's going to monitor the progress on the way toward that goal so that we can make changes to instruction in time to make sure that we still get to that goal.

    So, that road map is the very first important step of what we do next. The next thing we need to do is really focus on a targeted skill area that that student needs. Is it phonological awareness? Is it the alphabetic principle? Is it basic phonics skills? Is it word reading and decoding accuracy? Is it fluent word reading? Is it being able to talk about what you have read? So, we need to really focus on where is that student getting off track so we can target instruction and assessment right where that student needs it.

    The next thing we need are powerful, effective interventions and we have many of those available. And I would just give a shout out to our partners at Voyager Sopris Learning. If you're looking for really powerful interventions, Voyager Sopris Learning is a really good place to look for that.

    PA: I couldn't agree with you more, Dr. Good. I couldn't agree with you more.

    RG: Then, we need to be delivering those with high fidelity and with explicit instruction. And I would just give a shout out to Anita Archer, one of my heroes, around how do we teach the essential skills in a way that is explicit and is effective for either all or almost all children.

    PA: I have to agree with you. Anita Archer is a supreme queen of explicit instruction. So, if I were to reiterate what you just shared with us, it's a lot of good information. It is having a system in place with a quick assessment. We have goals of targeted skills and then we take a look at the next steps and then we do this again and again and again as we build students' knowledge and skills so that they are in a position that they begin to gain those skill sets and we change their outcomes from a negative outcome to a positive. And we use those powerful effective interventions. Is that correct?

    RG: Yes. Right on.

    PA: Alrighty. Excellent. Thank you, Dr. Good. What are some of the key steps in prevention? We talk about intervention. What about prevention?

    RG: Boy, I would say that prevention and early intervention, they are our opportunity to make the biggest difference with the most children and for each child change their world and their outcomes and the key steps in prevention and early intervention. I would really focus on four. First, identify students who are going to need support early. And when I say that, I have in mind identifying those students who need support even before it is a reading problem or a learning problem, even before dyslexia is identified. So, we need that very early screening and identification. Second, focus our teaching on the essential reading skills. These are teachable skills. We can teach these skills. We need to focus all of our teaching and make sure that students get those skills.

    Third, focus our assessment on indicators of essential outcomes. Now, there's two parts to that statement. I've stressed indicators because our assessment should be brief. It should take minutes. Every minute that I'm spending testing is a minute that I'm not teaching. So, I need the assessment to be efficient. That's why I focus on indicators and I need those indicators focused on essential outcomes that we can do something about. The fourth part of this is to use that assessment to inform our instruction so that we improve outcomes. Assessment here, in this vision, is not just something that we do and we put the results on the shelf, but it is a part of our teaching.

    In our intervention group, once a week, I'm giving a checkup on our progress and if the progress is not what it should be, I'm making a change based on what I've learned from that assessment. This is a vision of progress monitoring and formative evaluation that has been shown to have a very large impact on students' reading outcomes.

    PA: Wow. I love the way you focused on what this truly is. Assessment is a part of teaching. The progress monitoring and that formative assessment, so I know where to go next, what I need to do for this particular student. Thank you so much for sharing that, Dr. Good.

    RG: You're very welcome.

    PA: How do you make sure a student with dyslexia continues on a path to academic success? Because dyslexia, that's something that's with that child for the rest of their lives. Correct?

    RG: It can impact the learning throughout their life. Yes, but that doesn't mean that we can't teach them to read and that we can't help them to be successful in their endeavors. We can and we must. So, how do we keep track of their continued progress? And I love this question, Pam. To me, what you're saying is it's not enough to solve the problem once. We have to keep solving the problem until this student is a successful adult and is launched in their career. That means I can't just do early intervention in K and 1 and then forget about it. I have to be tracking them to make sure that they are continuing their progress throughout their schooling career.

    So, this applies to students throughout the grade levels, and we need a system that says where students need to be and by when in order to continue making adequate progress. And we've talked about that with Acadience Learning and our assessment, Acadience Reading. In terms of benchmark assessment that references where a student is to benchmark goals so we can continue to monitor their progress in an efficient way and make sure that they continue that adequate progress throughout their schooling.

    PA: In other words, to keep solving the problem. As you said, Dr. Good.

    RG: Keep solving the problem. Yes.

    PA: Because in the end, what's our goal? To help a student become independent and confident so that they are readers who could dive into any content that interests them. That's our goal.

    RG: Yes, yes.

    PA: Yes, thank you.

    RG: It's a tool for life success.

    PA: Yes, definitely. I have to agree with you 100 percent on that as well. Well, Dr. Good, thank you so much for joining us today. We are truly honored to have you speak with us. How can our listeners learn more about your work?

    RG: Well, thank you very much, Pam. It's really a pleasure to join you. And for those who are interested in our vision of assessment and also this description of dyslexia and dyslexia screening as a part of prevention and intervention, I'd encourage you to join us at our acadiencelearning.org website and if you go under publications and presentations, you can find a white paper on dyslexia screening with Acadience Reading that really talks through these issues in in more depth.

    PA: It's a very good read. I'd have to say. I've had the pleasure of being able to dive into that white paper myself, Dr. Good.

    RG: Oh, that's great.

    PA: And for our audience, that's acadiencelearning.org, spelled, A-C-A-D-I-E-N-C-E. Thank you for spending time with us today. Please join us next month for a special podcast with author John Hattie and a discussion of his book, Visible Learning for Literacy. Pam Austin. Oh, you're excited about that Dr. Good?

    RG: I'm excited about that. I'm going to tune in to that one. He is another of my heroes.

    PA: Oh, I have to agree with you. We agree on a lot today, Dr. Good. Well, Pam Austin from Voyager Sopris Learning, bringing the best thought leaders in education directly to you.

    Narrator: This has been an EDVIEW 360 podcast produced by Voyager Sopris Learning. For additional thought-provoking podcasts and articles, sign up for our blog, webinar, and podcast series. Thank you for joining us.