On March 30, 2017, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in an unpublished decision that a school district properly assessed a student with autism for dyslexia and dysgraphia through the use of reading and writing assessments. The court found that an assessment’s label is less significant than the skill levels the assessment is designed to evaluate.
Parents of a Washington student with autism sued their local school district for failing to evaluate their son for dyslexia and dysgraphia. Instead, the district assessed the student using reading and writing assessments which covered a number of disabilities, including specific learning disabilities.
The court found that the district’s broad assessments adequately covered the areas of suspected disability sought for assessment by the parents. The court noted that the district administered a “battery of tests,” many of which were also administered by the parents’ private evaluator. The parents were also unable to identify any additional tests which the district should have used.
Parents frequently ask school administrators if a school-given assessment evaluated their student for very specific disabilities. Describing how these assessments evaluate for potential learning disabilities to parents unfamiliar with these tests can be challenging. In this case, it appears that the parents may not have completely understood that the assessments given by the district did in fact evaluate their son for the disabilities suspected by the parents.
Faced with this issue, it is recommended that school administrators take special care to fully describe how each assessment is designed to test for certain disabilities. For example, explain to parents how certain “reading and writing assessments” are important tools in assessing for dyslexia and dysgraphia and the skills associated with those disabilities. School administrators and staff will also want to familiarize themselves with the Dyslexia Guidelines to be issued by the California Department of Education in August 2017 which are intended to assist schools and parents in identifying and assessing pupils with dyslexia (as required by Education Code section 56355).