How to adapt the assessment for College access for students with dyslexia


Among the different Spanish autonomous communities there are no clear and agreed criteria to determine what are the necessary adaptations for a student with dyslexia in high school for the University Access Assessment (EvAU) exams. We find from concise instructions with minimal adaptations in the Community of Madrid to the detailed recommendations offered by the Dyslexia and Family Association ( DISFAM ) in its PRODISLEX protocols .

Making adaptations for the EvAU exams dependent on those carried out by high school counseling teams does not make much sense. The right to equal access to higher education requires homogeneous accommodations for all students with dyslexia.

It is possible that in some cases these adaptations are perceived as a privilege that favors people with a diagnosis and even, sometimes, people with dyslexia themselves feel uncomfortable, for what they understand as unequal treatment with respect to their peers.

However, these adaptations, far from privileging these people, ensure their access with equal opportunities.

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability (AED). These difficulties present neuropsychological conditions that make some learning more difficult than normal. These conditions do not imply pathology or disease: they suppose a different and atypical functioning.

AEDs are those related to learning written language, oral language and mathematics: dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and specific oral language learning difficulty.

In the case of dyslexia, the origin of the difficulties is manifested in poor abilities to establish the grapheme-phoneme correspondence (to link the letter with its corresponding sound) and to recognize words fluently and without errors.

The problem of reading comprehension

These phonological and spelling difficulties result in slow reading that usually leads to reading comprehension problems. In addition, children with dyslexia also have some mathematical difficulties, such as difficulty remembering multiplication tables and other number facts .

However, we must bear in mind that people with dyslexia do not have any difficulty understanding spoken language and their intelligence ranges between the same values ​​as those of the population without reading difficulties. They have trouble reading, not learning.

Why are accommodations necessary?

Our educational system is highly mediated by reading and writing skills. All knowledge is acquired and evaluated through the written language. Textbooks, notebooks, tests, dictations, practically all learning tools are based on the use of reading and writing. This decisively harms people whose difficulty lies precisely in the use of this tool.

Craig Collison coined the term “lexism” in 2012 . By including it, Collison, who at the time was a graduate student with dyslexia, made a twist in his interpretation of this difficulty.

While the label of dyslexia places the problem of school failure on the individual who suffers from it, lexism speaks of a process of discrimination towards people who process written language in ways that deviate from the normative.

In this way, the weight of the problem is transferred from the person who suffers from the difficulty to the educational system that does not take into account the difficulties of a minority group, people with dyslexia, for whom access to knowledge through the written language it is especially complicated.

Accommodations for people with dyslexia lower the barriers that lexism imposes to academic success mediated by the alphabetical notational system. Written tests are for people with dyslexia, like stairs and curbs for a person with mobility disabilities in a wheelchair: an insurmountable barrier that prevents them from roaming freely.

It has been more than 10 years since the University of the Balearic Islands (UIB) pioneered the adaptation of university entrance exams for students with specific learning difficulties. It reached an agreement with DISFAM (Dyslexia and Family Association) and, since then, there are already many universities that have established protocols for the adaptation of these exams so that people with AED can access university studies on equal terms – between others, the universities of Andalusia, Aragón, Castilla y León, Catalonia, the Community of Madrid, the Foral Community of Navarra and the Canary Islands–.

How to help students

In other communities there are no specific protocols. The orientation teams inform the University of the adaptations that these students have had during their studies and the university adopts the same adaptations.

The most common adaptations to facilitate the performance of people with dyslexia on an exam, and which are found in most of the protocols developed by universities for the EvAU exams, are these:

  • Extra time is offered to take a written exam. This allows them to read more carefully and to use tools to support reading comprehension and written composition.
  • A typographical adaptation of the exams is made. Fonts like Arial or Comic Sans are recommended.
  • It is also important that the size of the type is between 12 and 14 points and that the spacing between them, words and lines is also increased.
  • It is recommended that the statements go on only one side of the sheet. The British Dyslexia Association has a style guide to adapt the texts and make them more readable for people with dyslexia.
  • Spelling mistakes are not penalized. Dyslexia is characterized by a difficulty forming spelling representations of words. Therefore, writing errors are common in people with dyslexia.
  • The use of mediating tools that will facilitate the completion of the exam is allowed: calculator, multiplication tables, additional blank sheets, electronic writing devices, etc.
  • Personal reading-aloud support of the test statements can be offered so that the person can check if they have understood them correctly.

If we are to evaluate the knowledge and skills of people with dyslexia to access university on equal terms, we have to lower the sidewalks and put elevators where they need it.

Author Bio: Beatriz Martin del Campo is University Professor. Evolutionary and Educational Psychology at the University of Castilla-La Mancha