Reader/writer assistance for dyslexic students for examinations and assessments at secondary schools

Trevor Crosby, Dyslexia Parent Support Group, Mt Albert, Auckland

August 2002


The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) can allow special assessment conditions for certain students so they have a better chance of achieving equality of educational opportunity in assessments and examinations. Dyslexic students can qualify for reader/writer support and extra time if they meet NZQA criteria. This article outlines the NZQA requirements, and provides parents with suggestions they can use in discussions with their secondary schools when seeking special assessment conditions for their child.


The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) sets the rules and procedures for assessment for external examinations it administers in secondary schools. These rules can be obtained from their website.

Special assessment conditions, such as the use of a reader/writer and provision of extra time, are granted only if NZQA criteria are met. Applications for special assessment conditions to NZQA for a student must be made by schools before 1 June in any year and cannot be done by parents.

Schools will follow NZQA rules for special assessment conditions for internal assessments and tests/examinations once they have agreed with parents their child fits NZQA criteria. Usually schools identify the students they consider should be granted special assessment conditions, but more often than not dyslexic students, especially those apparently coping as “average” students, will not be identified. Therefore if your child is dyslexic, it will be up to you as parents to advocate for special assessment conditions for internal assessments and tests/examinations at the school for your child, so then your child can qualify for support in NZQA external examinations.

Three steps parents should take

Parents need to be aware of the following 3 steps they should take to ensure their dyslexic child is able to obtain special assessment assistance at secondary school under the NZQA rules.

  1. Ensure your school knows your child is dyslexic as soon as possible -- preferably from the time of enrolment. If you leave telling the school until the first assessments/examinations have taken place in year 11 (=5th form) and the school has not been providing any form of special assistance, it is probably too late for a number of reasons:

    a. the NZQA deadline for receiving applications is 1 June in any year;

    b. you will have lost the opportunity to list on the application form the previous history of assistance provided by the school; and

    c. your child will have lost valuable practice in gaining the skills required for effective use of a reader/writer in internal assessments or examinations.

  2. Have your child assessed or reassessed for dyslexia by an educational psychologist well before the start of their year 11 NCEA year, as any assessment/reassessment submitted in support of an application needs to have been done within 2 years of the application. At the time of assessment and before receiving the written report, ask the educational psychologist if they consider your child needs extra time and/or should be provided with reader/writer assistance in tests and examinations. If special assessment conditions are recommended, ask the educational psychologist to put these in writing under the recommendations so it is clear to everyone. If you have a recent report without this information on it, ask the educational psychologist to provide a letter listing the recommendations.

  3. Provide the school with a copy of the educational psychologist’s assessment or reassessment as soon as you can. Be prepared to discuss the recommendations not only with the Special Needs Coordinator but also each year with your child’s teachers so they are aware of your child’s needs. The teachers need to be aware that reader/writer support and/or extra time is recommended for your child, so arrangements for assistance can be made before each assessment/test or examination. These arrangements will need to be made either by the school, or by you using an independent reader/writer you have arranged through SPELD. You will need to agree with the school who is responsible for doing what, and the lines of communication for being informed of the times a reader/writer is required (consider using email for these communications). Don’t rely on your child alone for these communications.

NZQA requirements on the application form

The 3 following paragraphs quote NZQA requirements for application form information as posted on their website, and emphasis the need for your early action to ensure your child qualifies for special assessment conditions.

If special assessment conditions are provided for external examinations, NZQA may note these on certificates it issues.


Reader/writer support provided by a school

If your school is able to provide reader/writer support, make sure that your child has opportunities to meet and practice with them before assessments or examinations begin. Ask the school beforehand if the reader/writer is sufficiently familiar with the terminology, pronunciation, or notation used for particular subjects, such as mathematics and music, or whether they should have a refresher period and go over previous assessment and examination material with appropriate subject teachers. Ensure that they will be housed appropriately for the assessment/examination and will not be disturbed during the extra time allowance.


Questions to ask if a school is reluctant to provide assistance

If your school is reluctant to provide appropriate assistance for internal assessments and examinations recommended by the educational psychologist ask them why. Use the National Education Goals (NEGs), which form part of the charter for all schools, as a way of querying their reluctance and demonstrating you are aware of these requirements.

Ask them why they appear to be denying equality of educational opportunity for your child (NEG 2 “Equality of educational opportunity for all New Zealanders, by identifying and removing barriers to achievement”), or why they appear to be denying success in learning for your child (NEG 7 “Success in their learning for those with special needs by ensuring that they are identified and receive appropriate support”).

Also remind them that these recommendations for special assessment conditions come from a specialist and should not be ignored (“would they ignore likewise the recommendations for treatment given to them by a medical specialist which would result in adverse long-term impacts on health?”). Some educational psychologists are willing to come to the school to discuss their recommendations: if they are, arrange a meeting with the school.

Ask the same questions if your school withdraws support for your child. For example, if support is provided in year 11 for external examinations and assessments, but withdrawn in year 12 because there is no external assessment, remind them in this instance that they may put NZQA acceptance of assistance in year 13 in jeopardy by withdrawing support now.

If they indicate the validity of an assessment may be compromised by providing assistance for a particular assessment, ask them for details and be prepared to contact NZQA yourself to check if this is a correct interpretation.

Often the reluctance of schools to provide assistance is simply a reflection of inadequate government funding to meet such needs, and the school may already have an overstretched budget. You may wish to ask how the SEG (Special Education Grant) is currently used in the school, and whether there are possibilities of funding your child’s special moderate needs from this source in the future.

Similarly, if the costs of obtaining an educational psychologist’s report and reader/writer assistance are beyond your financial resources, ask the school if the funding for these could be considered under TFEA (Targeted Funding for Educational Achievement), received by all schools except those ranked as decile 10. Another option may be that your school could arrange an assessment through the Group Special Education (GSE) service, Ministry of Education, although dyslexia is not one of their specialties.



A successful reader/writer relationship can allow a dyslexic student perform closer to their potential. Parents need to work with their school to put special assessment support in place, and both parties must recognise that it is the educational rights of the child that are paramount. Furthermore, parents need to recognise that they may have to pay for a reader/writer service the school may be unable to provide so their child has an improved chance for gaining equality of educational opportunity.

Trevor is an entomologist with Landcare Research and is on the Board of Trustees for Gladstone Primary School and Western Springs College. He thanks the people who commented on drafts of this article, especially Bev Crosby and Ruth Roberts (Western Springs College).  The article is based on a talk given in August 2002 to the Dyslexia Parent Support Group.