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Excerpts From Dr. Richard Wagner, Assoc. Director, Florida Dyslexia Research Center

Categories: Assistive Technology, Education & Teaching, Learning Disabilities, Student Centric Learning

By Valerie Chernek, Education Writer for Learning Ally


Cutting-Edge Research to Empower & Schools to Support Students with Reading Disabilities. Dr. Richard Wagner, Associate Director for the Florida Center for Dyslexia Research

Is dyslexia hiding in your classroom? 

Richard WagnerRecently, Dr. Richard Wagner, the Associate Director of the Florida Center for Dyslexia Research, presented a Learning Ally educational webinar about his latest research to improve early identification and screening of children with dyslexia. This blog features excerpts from Dr. Wagner’s discussion. You may also find these white papers helpful.

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What do we know about dyslexia?

The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin.

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability, specifically the phonological system used for processing speech sounds. Phonological processing refers to using speech sounds for coding information when reading, listening, and speaking. Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in students having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading.

Characteristics of dyslexia are 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 a reduced reading experience that can impede the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Dyslexia affects individuals throughout their lives; however, its impact can change at different stages in a person’s life. There are severities to the learning disability. Students with dyslexia often display high intellectual potential, but lack the ability to read and comprehend grade-level text. This learning disability may make it extremely difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment. In its more severe forms, dyslexia will qualify a student for special education, special accommodations, and extra support services.

Why is diagnoses so difficult?

A fundamental problem in identifying students with dyslexia is that existing operational definitions of reading disability produce unstable phenotypes—meaning you could identify a child as having a reading disability during one test, but not during a second test.

Although it is important to assess for phonological abilities like phonological awareness, phonological memory, and rapid naming, these tests alone should not determine whether one has dyslexia.

Dr. Wagner advises the use of multiple indicators based on the Bayes’ Theorem model as a dimensional approach to performing a comprehensive assessment that extends well beyond phonological processing.

Recommended early identification and screening processes

Female student ear readingTypically, students with dyslexia are not identified until the second or third grade.

To improve screening of phonological processing, particularly in preschool children, Dr. Wagner suggests that we assess memory, as well as awareness, and reverse screening to identify students who are not at risk.

To improve identification Dr. Wagner suggests combining information surrounding the basic factors of someone with dyslexia:

  • poor non-word decoding.
  • impoverished sight-word vocabulary, and
  • phonological impairment

Other strategies to look for in students with dyslexia are:

  • History of early speech and language problems
  • History of family members with dyslexia
  • Confusion in the reader’s eye movements
  • Slowness or reading fatigue due to trying to figure out the words on a page

Where to find quality interventions and resources

Students with severe dyslexia may fail to respond to a multi-tiered system of support. These learners must receive appropriate interventions before they develop negative self-concepts about their ability to do well academically.

Dr. Wagner says, “It’s never too late to address dyslexia.

Providing an intervention, such as a reading accommodation designed for a school environment, may make a significant difference for students with dyslexia to increase their reading stamina and fluency, and to strengthen comprehension, critical thinking and vocabulary skills.

Students with dyslexia may benefit from a multisensory reading experience. Learning Ally’s audiobooks are human-read so students can see the text highlighted and hear the audio on a digital device, such as a smartphone, tablet or computer.

About Dr. Richard Wagner

Dr. Wagner is associate director of the Florida Center for Reading Research and a Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology. He co-authored these tests -- the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP-2), the Test of Word Reading Efficiency (TOWRE-2), and the Test of Preschool Early Literacy (TOPEL).  

Dr. Wagner is the principal investigator of a Multidisciplinary Learning Disability Center funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and served on the California advisory group charged with developing dyslexia guidelines for the state. 

*Research: ASCD - Engagement that is critical, because the level of engagement over time is the vehicle through which classroom instruction influences student outcomes. For example, engagement with reading directly related to reading achievement (Guthrie, 2001; Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000).