General issues in interpretation

Taking all factors into account

Consistent with sound educational practice in general, and with the SEN Code of Practice (DfES, 2001) in particular, teachers should not regard assessment as a single event, but rather as a continuing process. LASS results should be considered together with other information about the student, including formal data from sources such as SATs, and informal observations made by the teacher. Strategies for intervention should not be regarded as set in stone, but should be flexible and responsive to a student’s progress (or lack of progress). When reviewing a student’s progress or Individual Education Plan it may be helpful to reassess them using appropriate tests from LASS. 

Must all students be labelled?

Labels for different special educational needs (especially the label “dyslexia”) have been unpopular for the best part of a generation. However, labels are not always undesirable, and there are signs of a change of opinion amongst educationalists. Although all SEN students are individuals, there are broad categories that are useful in teaching. The 1981 Education Act, which encouraged a non-labelling approach to special educational needs, was then superseded by the 1993 Education Act and the Code of Practice for the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs (DfE, 1994). It is interesting that the latter embodied a fairly broad labelling of special educational needs categories, including the category ‘Specific Learning Difficulties (Dyslexia)’ [Code of Practice, 3:60]. This development was an acknowledgement of the fact that SEN labels are often necessary to ensure that the student receives the right sort of support in learning. Application of LASS 11-15 in relation to the Code of Practice is discussed in detail in Section 4.6. More recently, the 1996 Education Act consolidated the provisions of previous Acts, in particular the 1993 Act, and the 1994 Code of Practice was superseded by the 2001 SEN Code of Practice, which again moves away from use of labels and focuses instead on areas of need and their impact on learning (DfES, 2001).

On the other hand, there is still a need for differentiation of teaching and learning activities within a single category. This is particularly true of the category ‘dyslexia’ (or Specific Learning Difficulty), in which some students may be affected more in the auditory/verbal domain, others in the visual/perceptual domain, and a few in both domains or who may have motor difficulties. Hence, dyslexic students may exhibit a variety of difficulties and dyslexia has been described as a variable syndrome (Singleton, 1987). Nevertheless, dyslexia is a condition that can usually be helped tremendously by the right type of teaching, even though dyslexic students cannot all be taught in exactly the same way (Thomson, 1993; Augur, 1990; Thomson and Watkins, 1990; Miles, 1992; Pollock and Waller, 1994; Reid, 2003).

Many teachers are justifiably worried that labelling a student — especially at an early age — is dangerous, and can become a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. Fortunately, the LASS approach does not demand that students be labelled — instead it promotes the awareness of students’ individual learning abilities and encourages taking these into account when teaching. Since the LASS graphical profile indicates a student’s cognitive strengths as well as limitations, it gives the teacher important insights into their learning styles (see Section 6.1.3). In turn, this provides essential pointers for curriculum development, for differentiation within the classroom, and for more appropriate teaching techniques. Hence it is not necessary to use labels such as ‘dyslexic’ when describing a student assessed with LASS 11-15, even though parents may press for such labels.

The term ‘dyslexia’ is often reserved for those students who show a significant discrepancy between ability and attainment that is known to be caused by particular cognitive limitations. Dyslexics also tend to show particular patterns of strengths and weaknesses. By identifying cognitive strengths and weaknesses it is easier for the teacher to differentiate and structure the student’s learning experience in order to maximise success and avoid failure. By appropriate early screening (e.g. with Lucid CoPS, or LASS 8-11) the hope is that students who are likely to fail and who might subsequently be labelled ‘dyslexic’, never reach that stage because their problems are identified and tackled sufficiently early. (This is not to suggest that dyslexia can be ‘cured’, only that early identification facilitates a much more effective educational response to the condition.)

If teachers prefer to avoid use of the term ‘dyslexia’ for whatever reason, it is usually satisfactory to explain to the parents that the screening or assessment using LASS reveals the cognitive (or learning) strengths and weaknesses of all students. If LASS has shown some weaknesses in certain areas for a given student the parents may be informed that the school will be addressing those weaknesses with appropriate teaching. Where LASS is being used as an assessment device for diagnosis of students who are already failing in literacy and parents are aware of this (as they should be if the student is already on the SEN register), explanations necessarily have to be more complex. Labels such as ‘dyslexic’ may become more appropriate and/or even be unavoidable. Nevertheless, the emphasis should still be on matching teaching to the student’s pattern of strengths and weaknesses. The British Dyslexia Association provides advice for teachers and parents on these matters.