Student with dyslexia wins court action for Leaving Cert ‘reader’

A Leaving Certificate student with dyslexia has won a High Court order overturning the State Examinations Commission’s refusal to give him an adult “reader” to help him understand the exam papers.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said the decision of the Commission’s Independent Appeals Committee refusing the student’s application left him “none the wiser” about the reason for refusal.

The failure to give any understandable rationale for refusing was “all the more difficult to comprehend” when an earlier refusal of a reader was quashed for “precisely the same reason” (failure to give reasons), he said.

While the Committee appeared to assert in legal documents its second refusal was due to the student’s failure to explain a disparity in results obtained by him in three reading tests, he could have given an explanation had he been told one was required, the judge added.

The committee’s assertion he was expected to provide an explanation was “all the more startling” as the application form “explicity prohibits it”, the judge added.

He was giving his reserved decision on a second legal action by the student brought in an effort to get a reader assistant.

The boy, when aged nine, attended a special school for children with dyslexia of higher or average intelligence but lesser literacy skills than 98 per cent of their peers. He later returned to mainstream school and his efforts to keep up involved attending after school study five days weekly.

Under the commission’s “reasonable accommodation” policy, students who believe certain permanent or long-term conditions may affect their examinations performance can apply for special arrangements. Of some 116,000 students who sit State exams annually, about 18,000 seek such accommodation.

Through his school, the boy, when sitting his Junior Certificate, successfully applied for a reader, an adult exam supervisor to read exam questions to him in a way he could understand. He was also not penalised for spelling and grammar mistakes.

Again through his school, he sought a reader for the Leaving Cert and also exhibited a letter from a clinical psychologist stating his fluctuations in attention and listening are exacerbated by anxiety in exam situations.

The guidelines for a reader include scoring 85 or less in word reading on the Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT).

He was refused a reader after scoring 90 on that test but got a waiver for spelling, grammar and punctuation for language subjects.

When his appeal against that refusal was rejected last January, he took judicial review proceedings which settled on terms including orders quashing the Committee’s refusal and directing it reconsider the matter.

After he scored 85 on another word reading test in February, the committee refused a reader on foot of material including his having scored more than 85 on two tests, and 85 on a third.

Mr Justice Noonan said the reasonable accommodation scheme appears to expressly contemplate only one reading test result would be submitted and is silent on what procedure should be followed when more than one is provided.

If the third and latest test was to be disregarded in favour of the two earlier tests, the student was entitled to know why. the judge said. The fact the committee’s decision drew attention to the three different scores was “in itself entirely opaque”.

The refusal was made in excess of the Committee’s powers and outside its jurisdiction, the judge found.