Author/s: Anna Barnett, Sheila E Henderson, Beverly Scheib and Joerg Schulz
Publication year: 2007
Age Range: 9 years to 16 years 11 months
Administration: Group or individual – complete battery: maximum 30 minutes
Assess handwriting speed – ideal for providing evidence for Access Arrangements for Key Stage 2 National Curriculum Tests and for General Qualifications.
The Detailed Assessment of Speed of Handwriting (DASH) can be used to help identify children with handwriting difficulties and also provides relevant information for intervention planning.
The DASH includes five subtests, each testing a different aspect of handwriting speed. The subtests examine fine motor and precision skills, the speed of producing well known symbolic material, the ability to alter speed of performance on two tasks with identical content and free writing competency.
Standardized subtest and composite scores are provided, based on a nationally stratified normative sample of over 500 children collected across the UK in 2006.
Manual Scoring – Allows you to administer and score assessments by hand.
Introducing the DASH
How should I introduce the DASH?
This depends on the purpose of the assessment and the pupil(s) being tested. For example, you would introduce the DASH quite differently to an individual child who is aware that he/she struggles with writing, as compared to a whole class of children who have just joined the school.
In the former situation, you might say that you want to assess how the child is getting on so that you can decide how best to support them. In the latter case, you might say that handwriting is an important skill and that the staff want to see how everyone is doing.
It is helpful to explain to participants that there are just five exercises, that there are no right or wrong answers, and that they will probably find most of the tasks quite easy or straightforward. You could mention that the first four tasks are very short and that the last one is a little longer.
All they need to do is listen carefully and do their best. Most children enjoy completing the DASH. However, some children are reluctant writers and may need a little extra encouragement. As with any test, the DASH should be presented in a positive way inorder to get the best out of the children.
The range of DASH tasks
Do I need to administer all five tasks in the DASH?
Handwriting speed may vary across different writing tasks. The DASH includes a range of tasks in order to assess handwriting speed accurately. You will obtain the most accurate and reliable measure from the Total Standard Score, which is computed from the sum of the two copying tasks, Copy Best and Copy Fast, and the Alphabet Writing and Free Writing tasks.
The profile obtained across these scores will also provide useful information. There is one task which is optional, the Graphic Speed task. As it has no language component, the score on this task does not contribute to the overall estimate of speed of handwriting. However, it is useful to include this task as it is designed as a basic measure of the speed at which the child can perform hand movements similar to those required for handwriting.
Can I take more than one session to complete the DASH?
If you are assessing a child for whom muscle weakness is an issue, you may wish to take two sessions to compute the tasks.
Can I change the order of tasks in the DASH?
The test was standardised using the order specified in the manual, it is best to follow this sequence unless there is a very good reason to deviate from it.
Starting the tasks using the stop watch/timer
What do I do if there is a pause between the verbal command ‘start’ and when the child starts writing?
Usually, the instruction to start and the child’s pen marking the paper will be almost simultaneous. When working with a group of children, however, there will always be slight variations from child to child. The discrepancy rarely amounts to more than a couple of seconds, which is acceptable.
To minimise the chance of there being a delay between the start command and the children beginning to write, try to ensure that all children are attending to the task and are absolutely ready to begin before you say “start”. Particular care should be taken with the free writing task where some ‘thinking’ time is given before the command to start occurs.
If you do observe a child whose delay in responding seems excessive or of particular significance, make a note of this and try to work out the reasons once the formal assessment is complete (e.g. poor attention, the physical environment).
Making the ‘time mark’
What should I do if the child stops writing when I call ‘time mark’?
For most children, calling of the time mark does not unduly interrupt the flow of writing. However, occasionally a child’s writing is noticeably interrupted by this request. If the tester does notice hesitation after the time mark is called, it is permissible to say “and carry on writing” just after the call.
This should be sufficient to encourage the child back on task. If the child seems particularly distracted by this interruption, record this on the record form and take it into consideration when interpreting the overall scores.
The Alphabet Writing task
What should I do if the child does not know the alphabet?
If the child you are testing says that they do not know their alphabet, or if you know that they struggle with this, then they should be encouraged to “just try your best, write down what you can”. On no account should a printed alphabet be supplied from which they can copy.
This would change the task completely and it would not be appropriate to use this data to obtain a standard score. Most children are able to independently produce at least some letters of the alphabet, even if some are missing or in an incorrect order, so that a standard score can be obtained.
If a child has significant problems with alphabet sequencing, then it should be noted and taken into account when forming a comprehensive picture of handwriting skill and other aspects of literacy.
Should the letters of the alphabet be joined?
Children used to writing in a joined hand may ask if the letters of the alphabet should be joined. Although it is not prohibited, children should be discouraged from joining. It is not common practice and more importantly, the sequence of letters is unique and the type of joins used would be unfamiliar to most children. However, when scoring the scripts, children who have joined the letters should not be penalised for doing so.
Scores from the DASH and their interpretation
What cut off points should I use when deciding whether to recommend additional time or a scribe in examinations to support children with slow handwriting?
The DASH provides a measure of handwriting speed which can be useful when attempting to determine eligibility for extra support for a child (e.g. Access Arrangements). In educational and clinical settings, scores of 1 or 2 standard deviations below the mean are commonly used as critical points for decision making. These points are easily determined from the DASH standard scores.
A detailed examination of the profile of DASH scores and the percentage of illegible words on the Free Writing task might be helpful when making a decision about what type of support to recommend for a child with slow handwriting.
However, the DASH scores alone should not be used to make specific recommendations to recommend extra time versus a scribe. To make such decisions, additional information will first need to be sought to inform what type of support would be of most benefit to the child.
How do I interpret percentiles on the DASH?
Some people find percentiles easier to understand than standard scores, so in the DASH we discuss the significance of two cut off points, the 5th and 15th percentile (see page 50 DASH Manual). We suggest that a child whose Total Standard Score falls at or below the 5th percentile would be regarded as having ‘slow’ handwriting that is likely to have a significant effect on attainment.
A child whose total score falls between the 6th and 15th percentile is regarded as having ‘moderately slow’ handwriting that should be further investigated or carefully monitored.
Why do the average writing speeds on the DASH differ from those of other handwriting speed tests?
Writing speed may vary quite considerably depending, amongst other things on the nature of the task (e.g. copying or free writing), the overall length of the task (e.g. 30 seconds or 20 minutes) and the instructions provided (e.g. the relative emphasis on neatness or speed).
Some children perform quite differently on different writing tasks and these differences are of educational significance. This is why we include more than one task, specify clearly in the manual the instructions to be given to students, and provide norms for each task separately.
Other handwriting tests may include tasks that appear quite similar to those in the DASH but even slight differences in the length or instructions will make direct comparison difficult. Also, the DASH tasks have been standardised on a sample of children specifically selected to represent the population of the UK. Other tests use different samples, which can also introduce variation in results.
COMPLETE KIT ISBN: 9780749136406
Includes examiner’s manual, laminated reproducible test cards, a timer and 25 record forms in a bag