Why do dyslexic students do worse at university?

The proportion of UK university students who are dyslexic has increased markedly in recent years, rising to around 5%. Yet there remains a significant dyslexia attainment gap: around 40% of dyslexic students achieve a 2.1 or above, compared to 52% of non-dyslexic students. Dyslexia is unrelated to intelligence, so why does this gap persist? The Guardian reports.

Most universities do little else than allow dyslexic students extra time (usually around 25%) to complete their assessments and ensure that their work is “marked for content”. This means that markers are instructed to not penalise dyslexic students for poor presentation of their written work, such as spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. While such accommodations are helpful, they fail to take into account that dyslexic students can struggle with a wide range of commonplace tasks, such as reading, spelling, note-taking, organising essays, timekeeping, expressing ideas verbally, concentrating and using short-term memory.

So how do we close the dyslexia attainment gap? We need a determined effort on the part of UK universities to make their institutions more dyslexia-friendly across the board. Lecturers can help by thinking more carefully about the effectiveness of their teaching and assessment methods for all of their students. For example, how many university teachers are familiar with research showing that the reading accuracy of dyslexic students can be significantly improved by using fonts such as Helvetica, Courier and Arial?

Equally, dyslexic students indicated in a survey I recently carried out at the University of Exeter that they highly value being given teaching materials in advance of sessions, and not being overloaded with information. They also wanted variety in both teaching and assessment methods, access to marking criteria written in plain English and, most importantly of all, easy access to recordings of teaching sessions, so that they can digest teaching materials at a suitable pace.

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Categories: Exams, Higher Education, SEN, and University.

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