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Evaluation & Special Education Eligibility

Updated: May 10

An evaluation alone will not ensure that your dyslexic child receives special education services.

Even a private evaluation that includes a diagnosis of dyslexia does not guarantee that your child will have specialized instruction or accommodations in school.

The school team must consider multiple factors to determine if your child is eligible for special education.

Multiple Data Points

The evaluation is incredibly valuable in providing data or information about your child’s ability to learn and their performance on academic tasks. While this data alone cannot ensure that a child receives special education services, it does provide the backbone for understanding a child’s needs.

When parents receive an evaluation from a school district or private evaluator, we recommend they read it carefully and pull out the most important information.

  • Highlight each area of need

  • Note your child’s average or above-average intelligence.

    • Children with dyslexia must have average or above-average intelligence to qualify for special education services under the Specific Learning Disability classification. This means that they have the ability to learn and perform well in school, but their learning disability gets in the way of their ability to process language, thus affecting their reading and spelling.

  • Make note of your child’s strengths

School teams also look to other sources of information to establish multiple data points to show a student’s needs or areas of underachievement. For instance, in addition to looking at a Broad Reading score on the evaluation, a school team should also look at a child’s performance on reading assessments such as the MAP (Measures of Academic Performance), iReady, Fastbridge, or other norm-referenced assessments. They should also take into consideration the child’s work samples, report cards, and the teacher’s comments. Teams should also consider parent input and parent-provided data such as a recording of the child reading aloud. It is important to look at multiple pieces of information to truly establish a child’s needs and strengths.

While many parents rely on the school to compile data from multiple sources to show their child’s needs, we recommend that parents come prepared with their own compiled data and a full understanding of their child's evaluation. This is an important part of the work we do as advocates for our private clients. We’ve also created The Dyslexia Advocacy Advantage, an online parent training that provides parents with step-by-step guidance to gather and interpret multiple sources of information for their own child. Whether we do it for you or teach you how we can help!

Adverse Impact

It is often said that “eligibility is a two-prong decision”. This refers to the fact that not only must a child show areas of academic underachievement, but the team must also determine that the learning disability has an adverse impact on the child.

There are 3 types of adverse impact to consider:

1. Academic Impact

Dyslexia typically impacts a child academically and that impact will be more and more evident as the child gets older. The academic impact is shown by a lack of progress with specific academic skills, falling behind their peers, and an inability to access or keep up with the grade-level curriculum.

2. Emotional Impact

Up to 60% of dyslexics struggle with their mental health. While every child is different, children with dyslexia often show declining self-esteem, anxiety, and even self-harming ideation. If your child is showing an emotional manifestation of their learning disability it is important to share that with the school team and put the necessary supports and services in place to help alleviate this emotional impact.

3. Behavioral Impact

Sometimes students deal with their learning disability by acting out. We often see children whose identified needs are behavioral when the root of the problem is really unidentified and unremediated dyslexia. A child may avoid reading and writing activities by leaving their seat or seeming inattentive. They may get frustrated with their inability to complete work and show that by expressing anger. Encourage the team to look at your child’s behaviors as an impact of the learning disability as opposed to a separate problem of its own.

Need for Specialized Instruction

There are two types of special education support that a dyslexic child can receive in public schools, a 504 plan or an Individualized Educational Program (IEP). Please read our blog linked here for more information on those two plans.

In order for a child to receive an IEP the team must also determine that a child requires specialized instruction in order to make progress and close the achievement gap between their performance and the performance of other students their age.

Some students with mild to moderate dyslexia can use assistive technology tools and their intelligence to compensate for their learning difference. With the use of accommodations, they can keep up with their peers and continue to access grade-level curriculum. In their case, they may be served well with a 504 Plan and do not need the goals and specialized instruction included in an IEP.

Most students with moderate to severe dyslexia require the specialized instruction included in an IEP.

Although we are heartened by the movement in public schools to embrace the need for structured explicit instruction in reading, the fact is that most schools are still teaching students with a balanced literacy or whole language approach. These approaches to teaching reading are proven not to be effective in teaching students with dyslexia to read. The addition of a “phonics patch” (or additional mini-lessons on phonics) to ineffective reading instruction in the general education classroom, will not benefit students with dyslexia.

Instead, students with dyslexia must receive the specialized instruction described below.

As you can see an evaluation is only the beginning of what is to be considered when determining eligibility for special education.

Remember that parents are full members of the special education team and have rights outlined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. If you have any questions about evaluations, eligibility, or your rights as a parent, let’s talk. My team and I are here to help!


As an educational advocate with over a decade of experience, Lorraine and her team are here to answer your tough questions and share the possibilities that exist when you hire the right professional to advocate for your child.

Are you worried that your dyslexic child is falling behind in school? Are you ready to see your child learn and thrive? If so, we can help! Our advocacy practice has helped countless families transform the lives of their children, and create more peace and harmony at home.

While it isn’t always easy, it CAN happen, and we will support you every step of the way. Let’s Talk about how we can help your family!


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