When an English Learner struggles to read, how can an educator tell whether they may have dyslexia, or whether they’re simply adjusting to learning a new language?

It can be difficult to determine whether a student’s reading difficulty is the result of less exposure to English or due to a learning disability or reading disability. As a result, English Learners are often diagnosed with learning disabilities including dyslexia much later than their native English-speaking peers. This is one of the many reasons schools and districts invest in universal screening.

Dyslexia risk identification is becoming more common in the early grades, with most states in the U.S. mandating some form of universal dyslexia screening. Universal screening requirements are great news for early literacy advocates, who understand that early identification is the key to successful intervention.

However, screening English Learners for dyslexia brings up valid concerns.

Do dyslexia screeners overidentify English Learners (ELs) as being at risk for dyslexia? Are there inherent biases toward fluent English speakers? Do  false positives result in overcrowding of Special Education programs? Do the risks and complications of screening with English Learners outweigh the benefits?


Studying dyslexia risk flagging among English Learners

A recent small pilot study by Dr. Laura Rhinehart and Dr. Rebecca Gotlieb explored these questions. The researchers used EarlyBird’s literacy assessment to detect dyslexia risk among a group of first graders in California, which included 40% English Learners. 

The assessment examined student performance in these skills:

  • Letter Names
  • Letter Sounds
  • Vocabulary
  • Blending
  • Nonword Repetition
  • Rhyming
  • Oral Sentence Comprehension
  • Follow Directions
  • RAN
  • Word Reading
  • Nonsense Word Reading

The EarlyBird assessment assigns a risk flag to students based on their performance on subtests that are most predictive of dyslexia: Deletion, Word Reading, and Nonsense Word Reading in first grade. For kindergarten students, the dyslexia risk flag is based on the Rhyming, Nonword Repetition, and Follow Directions subtests.


The results

The authors of the study concluded that English Learners performed similarly to their non-EL peers on multiple measures, and that dyslexia risk did not differ by EL status. In the study, the non-EL students performed better than ELs in the categories of Vocabulary, Rhyming, and Oral Sentence Comprehension, but these skills do not contribute to the dyslexia risk flag.

This study’s results are consistent with evidence from EarlyBird’s research findings that the dyslexia screener does not overidentify English Learners as being at risk for dyslexia. Instead, it identifies literacy challenges across all populations and helps educators intervene early to prevent future reading problems.


What this means for high EL population schools

For schools and districts in areas with high EL populations, universal dyslexia screening in the early grades is necessary for early intervention. Avoiding or delaying universal screening can only result in missing the critical window for early effective intervention. 

What’s most important is to choose an evidence-based dyslexia screener like EarlyBird that evaluates a wide range of literacy skills and flags students for dyslexia risk based on the skills that are most predictive of severe reading challenges.

As with all programs, educators should be trained in interpreting the data to understand each child’s literacy profile and determine the appropriate interventions.

EarlyBird is proud to offer a comprehensive literacy assessment and dyslexia screener for schools and districts. Educators can view individual student and classroom results in a robust data dashboard, and they can access evidence-based resources for intervention in the EarlyBird platform. EarlyBird also offers eduactor workshops so teachers and administrators can feel confident interpreting their assessment data and delivering effective intervention.


Want to learn more about EarlyBird’s universal screener?

See how schools and districts are using EarlyBird to identify reading challenges before they before reading problems. 

Get in touch for more information about EarlyBird today!