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No Offense: But it is Alarming That So Many Children Are Not Learning to Read

by Pam Wright

It appears I’ve offended some teachers by the post and comments on “Fifth grader is reading at 2.7 grade level. Should he be tested for Special Ed?”

Before clarifying the purpose of that article, I have a question for you: If your child was in 5th grade and reading on the 2.7 grade level, wouldn’t you be alarmed? Wouldn’t you want a research based reading program that has a proven record of success before your child falls even further behind?

To clarify, the article is a critique of teacher education programs, not an attack on teachers. When writing articles, we use research by respected organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers and The National Council on Teacher Quality. We recommend publications from these organizations to those who are interested in reading instruction and teacher preparation. Here are some excellent publications and reports on teacher preparation and reading:

Teaching Reading IS Rocket Science, What Expert Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do by Louisa Moats, published by the American Federation of Teachers.

Teacher Education: Coming up Empty – Describes a study in which leading teacher educators admit that there’s little evidence to prove the effectiveness of teacher ed programs.

What Education Schools Aren’t Teaching about Reading and What Elementary Teachers Aren’t Learning

The National Council on Teacher Quality examined what aspiring teachers learn about reading instruction in college. NCTQ analyzed a representative sample of reading courses to assess the degree to which students are taught the five essential components of effective reading instruction ( phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Among their findings:

  • Most Education Schools Do Not Teach the Science of Reading.
  • Courses That Claim to Provide a “Balanced” Approach Ignore the Science of Reading.
  • Most Reading Instruction is Incompatible with the Science of Reading.
  • Teacher Educators Portray Science of Reading Instruction as One Approach that is No More Valid than Others (“Anything Goes”).
  • Reading Courses Reflect Low Expectations for Students, with Little Evidence of College-Level Work.
  • Quality of Most Reading Textbooks is Poor, Inaccurate and Misleading.

Given the strength of the scientific research in reading instruction, there is genuine cause for concern … we will not be surprised to find that it took several decades for the science of reading to be absorbed into thinking and practice … [that means ] yet another generation of children have been deprived of the benefits of the science.

State Teacher Policy Yearbook 2007 – Progress on Teacher Quality: How the States are Faring

This Yearbook describes teacher quality and preparation by state. Area 6 is Preparation of Special Education Teachers by state. Primary findings are here.
Scroll down to #7 for findings about the preparation of special education teachers.

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64 Comments on "No Offense: But it is Alarming That So Many Children Are Not Learning to Read"


I have been a special education teacher for over 20 years and not once have I ever had explicit instruction on how to teach children to read. Everything I know has been learned through trial and error.

Sharon L.

Joan – This is exactly what happened to my son. We were able to prove that the school was not providing FAPE by having an evaluation done at the beginning of the year & again at the end of the year. Year after year he had not been progressing in reading. The test results were clear & the school new they had to do something. Like you, for years they provided my son with less than adequate reading instruction. I went to the IDA webside (International Dyslexia Association) & found a tutor that was a certified reading specialist. She was “certified” in Wilson (not just taking courses) & in Alphabetical Phonics. My son went to this outside tutor at the school’s expense with transportation. At 15 he was reading 1st grade. At 20 he was reading 10th grade.


I had a similar situation last year when my child was younger. However, I received guidance from the Department of Education in my state..
I hired an advocate for about 7 months. We had an IEE which was implemented immediately. During that time, the school did work with us. I was angry as they did not monitor his progress and I was not aware of my child’s rights. However, the goal is to and always will be to remain collaborative. It has been year since that IEE and my child has made phenomenal progress–as the IEE found her dyslexic. My child compensated and is fully included but the IEE gave the school much needed guidance to implement a successful program for a dyslexic student. More, they provided summer tutoring (ESY) to ensure that regression would not occur. It can work–stay strong and get guidance


Oh, where do I start? My son is an 8th grader who is reading at an ending 1st grade level. I have had a private eval with a neuropsych who recommended 1:1 multi sensory intervention as he is the most profoundly dyslexic child he has ever tested. That was a year ago and the school finally gave him a teacher who went to a 2 day training for Wilson this year.He is not making adequate progress according to our last eval by the neuropsych in October. (obviously if he is reading at a 1-2 grade level)I have found through private tutoring that OrtonGillingham works. We have used a tutor the past two summers and he shows a spike from May to September and then levels off. I cannot get the school to provide it. I cannot afford it. My heart is broken for him.


In 2006 a man wrote a book criticizing the reading system in Fairfax County. I would like to find his name (sounded like Terkel)_


Some school districts are getting it right. I just attended a conference in Connecticut. Greenwich CT has a 3-5 year plan to get ALL of their teachers certified in the Orton-Gillingham approach. This is only one method along with the other methods that they use. Before anyone comments, well “Greenwich” has a lot of money. The fact that the inner city schools get millions of dollars and are not teaching kids to read. Many of such schools (as I have worked in some) are pushing students along the system with stressed out teachers, manipulated achievement scores, etc. School choice is very important for parents of inner city students.


M son is in the second grade. Last year at all the parent teacher conferences they informed me my child was doing great, he was passing with A and B’s. This just into the beginning of the year, I am told my son is on a low kindergartner reading level. How is this possible? For him to go from that to this, unless the teachers were just lying to me.


MICHELLE, You say your daughter is making some progress, but looking at the numbers, I don’t see how. Where is she as compared to her peers? What is her percentile rank? Every kid is likely to make a little progress from year to year, they are a year older, but is it MEANINGFUL progress? Is she making gains on her peers? Does the reading program being used with your daughter address her deficit areas in reading? Has the program been proven effective? You should be able to find her deficits in the eval, you can research reading programs and what deficits they address at the Florida Center for Reading Research website. Read anything by Lousia Moats and Sally Shaywitz, Wrightslaw has lots of great info about reading as well. Make yourself an expert on how kids learn to read, then an expert on what your daughter needs!


I have a 5th grader who was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD in the 1st month of 3rd grade by an outside evaluation. AT that time, she was essentially a non-reader and the school had her at a 1.4 grade level on her report card. My neuropshychologist, husband and myself shared this information with the school; and we stressed that she was not provided FAPE. We were able to get a private placement for 2 years (3rd and 4th) were she made little progress. Now it is mid Feburary and she is beginning to make progress with the help of outside tutoring 3 hours per week. Basically, she has a goal to read 83 words per minute at a 3rd grade level. It appears that she will not make her goal according to Aimsweb. She is projected to hit 64 WPM at a 2nd grade level. The school thinks I should just be happy that she is making any progress at all.


You were on target. Let those who complain–read to learn. Let those who want to help students–learn, learn, learn


I’m concerned that in a posting area that deals with law, facts and science, a previous poster “Karen” is gushing about the Ron Davis program as a cure for dyslexia. Davis is a snake-oil salesman: his background is not in education, research or learning disabilities. I attended an informational seminar last year, and his minions outrageously claim he “cured” himself of dyslexia, and for $3200 and a week of ‘training’, they’ll cure your kid, too. Parents need real programs, not empty promises.


Tracy: The Wrightslaw blog deals with legal issues in special education, especially the problems people encounter. We are not scientists.

I read the post you found offensive – a person recommended a book and reported good results in her very limited experience. This scenario – a person has a good experience with a specialist or treatment and recommends that specialist or treatment to others – happens all the time. It’s normal, helpful human behavior. It doesn’t mean others should take advice from a stranger, nor does it warrant personal attacks and name-calling.

Before accepting advice, we need to ask questions and do our own research. Due diligence. We should find out if the claims made by the specialist or program are supported by independent, quality research, and (politely) ask for a copy of that research.

Just my two cents.


Barton Reading System.

My son is also Dyslexic. He is using the Barton Program with a pprivate tutor. It is a wonderful system. I just had a Could it be Dyslexia class at our school. I had betwee 60 and 70 parents show up (no teachers) They all got a demo in the Barton system and all left hopeful and wondering why we don’t teach all kids to read this way. I encourage all of you to do your research. All orton Gillingham syatems are on the net. Just Google. Check out the web site The whole system is on there. I am a strong believer that if we all stick together we can make a change. You as a parent need to do the research and understand why your kid is not reading. It is not hard to figure out the testing systems with wrights law books and articles. Good Luck to all of you!


For anyone whose child cannot read and/or has dyslexia and/or wants them to be trained in Orton-Gillingham… all I can say is: Barton Reading and Spelling system by Susan Barton. This Orton-Gillingham program offer something the others do not… a train the trainer component that is so good that any parent (that does not have dyslexia) can tutor their child. I used the program to hire someone to tutor my son when we were overseas…. and I tutor him myself in the summer. Now he is back to school in US, I might have to continue as the school is clueless to the need for an Orton-Gillinghim program. You can help your kid yourself. I tutor my daughter with it also, and she has greatly benefited as well.


Jill, I ran into the same problem with 2 of my 4 kids. If you have not read “From Emotions to Advocacy,” that should be your first step. You need to understand exactly where her reading deficit is and understand her evaluation scores. Contact your state PTI (Parent Training and Informattion Center)for training on the law and also get a copy of “Special Education Law” by the Wrights as well. By the way dylsexia is specifically mentioned in the IDEA under specific learning disability. YOU CAN DO THIS! My kids did learn to read, but it was only when I made myself an expert on their disabilities and what the IDEA says about specific learning disabilities. Good Luck!


My daughter is 10years old. After years of trying to find someone that would test her for dyslexia her eye doctor recommended an ophthalmologist 45min. from where we were living. Needless to say I jumped right on that band wagon and took her to see him. He diagnosed her to have 2 different types of dyslexia. I took his report to the school. At her next IEP meeting they told me that dyslexia is not a diagnosis that is recognized by the state and therefore they didn’t have to give her the Orton Gillingham reading program. My daughter was in 3rd grade that year and was reading on an early first grade reading level. Mind you she should have been in 4th grade.
The school system in Florida is ridiculous. They said I should be happy because she made some progress.
I don’t know what else to do for her.
Please advise.


I have one hard and fast rule for dealing with parents, teachers, and administrators:

It’s NEVER my place to say who does or does not care about the kids.

As soon as I started following that rule I found my perception of others and my working relationships improved tremendously. I stopped letting hyper-critical judgements that I couldn’t possibly know or prove obscure my vision.


God bless those of you who are still in this dilema. My son was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was in fifth grade. Luckily we have an excellent school in the area that works with kids with dyslexia and a school district that knows it can’t do what they can. At their expense my son, and later my daughter, attended this school. They both could read on grade level when they graduated.

Neither “likes” to read, although my daughter reads novels that interest her. But they can read and write to be successful and productive citizens. Continue your battles to get what your children are entitled to. Learning your and your childrens’ rights here at Wrights law is a great beginning.


My son is about to turn ten. He has high-functioning autism. When I finally learned about being an effective advocate, I requested a meeting. They asked, “What for?” I said, “My son is seven and he can’t read.” And the school personnel actually said, “Well, duh, he has autism.”

Now, he is about to turn ten, and he is still at below kindergarten level in reading comprehension. as it turns out, last year they only taught fluency, and he made gains. But they didn’t put him in a comprehensive remediation program. Now they are using their choice as to a program for comprehension. I researched it and it is designed to help kids pass state mandated tests — nothing more! My son can’t wait any longer! I need to know a reading program proven to work for a child with autism.


Yes, I am firmly believe teaching in the clasrooms lack of experiences and knowledge. This is not for every teacher or the school where performance ocurrs, but knowledge of Math and LA for many teachers is not there. Most of these teachers have to be experiences enough in that area of expertise. If not, they cannot performed. It is not acceptable that any other person from another country educated can performed better to the teacher’s standards. The country has to change. The be surprise for many if tyou dont’ know this, students in chemistry of physics from Central America know more than elementary or secondary teachers in this countyry.
American had build $$ for the good not for the worse. We must shape the country. Reading is a must now in any country. Lets do the right thing!
Thank you….


I was reading some of the articles posted here on the site. My child is in the 3rd grade and cannot read at all. She has made minimal progress in all of her subjects. The best advice that I can give to parents is to pay for private evaluations if you can. I could not afford to do so, so I went the long route with the insurance company and the district. I searched every avenue and came up with a diagnostic center that would test my child for free. I want to remind parents to never give up hope; where one door is closed, another will open; you just have to keep advocating and negotating persistently to get your child(ren) the services they are are entitled to. It is very hard to go up against the school districts but if you believe that your child(ren) need extra help, then go the long mile with them; it will pay off eventually.

Y. Maggie

Unfortunately you give no recognition to the fact that there has always been a robust critique of the notion of “dyslexia” in the literature, primarily by Sigfried Engleman and Doug Carnine. Explain, for example, the phenomenon I experienced in graduate school. I worked in a preschool that used the Direct Instruction programs in reading, language and math with welfare kids (precisely the population from which we receive the majority of our special ed referrals). Our research indicated that children who remained in the program for longer than one year exited with average reading scores at the 2.3 grade level (at age 5 years, 10 months). That means that when instructed with a robust research based methodology, nobody (that means ZERO) kids failed to learn how to read.


My son is now in the 4th grade. I have tried every year to get him help with reading at school. I attended a seminar in which I learned my son has many characteristics of dyslexia. The reading specialists in my district admittedly said they do not have the resources to teach a child with dyslexia. I took it upon myself to become his tutor. I have found a great program that is multi-sensory and he loves it.
Being a single working Mom of four children, finding the time to tutor was difficult, but this has become a priority for me. I pull him out of school twice a week during his reading time and tutor him for 30 min. Unfortunately, the school has not been willing to work with me and I am not allowed to tutor on school property. Not worth fighting that battle right now, because the teacher is working with me.


My son is deaf 250/blind 270 he is 10th grade and his reading is 2.7 his writting 2.7. Hi is special instruccion because his desabilities and school give him instruccion of. 2th grade were I go for evaluation I’m in escondido california? Please help me to find help he is ASL


I am a mother of two children on the spectrum. From all my research in the last two years, I find one area that is overlooked in the schools is vision processing. A special optometrist can test and offer therapy in this area. The beauty of the therapy is it can be done at home daily along with weekly visits to the optometrist. Check out the book “Disconnected Kids “


I understand many parents are frustrated with the state of special education but careful with the teacher bashing! We should be a community working together to make things better for OUR children. All the special educators I work with care passionately about teaching and advocating for students with disabilities. Don’t assume that we are not working hard to make things better. I am a case manager, a special education teacher and a parent with a son with a disability. I am grateful for the help he gets at school but the public schools can not provide the level of support we give him outside of school. I am very frustrated by the lack of funding for special education and related services providers and parent advocates make a huge difference. Just remember…we are on the same side!


As a reading specilist in a New York system, I had to have 30 credits or a MA in order to teach reading. Such a ruling was legislated in 1978. I now live in Georgia where teachers who have no special training are selected to teach struggling readers. There is a Reading Endorsement of 12 to15 credits available but the state and the school systems do not require it. As a state consultant I had the opportunity to train some of these teachers in reading assessment strategies. Many attending the course literally ran to the professional learning coordinator and asked why the course was not made available to them years ago. Why isn’t it important to have well trained teachers?


I would recommend reading the book, THE GIFT OF DYSLEXIA, by Ron Davis. I had a fifth grade student who read by sounding out each word although he had a lot of reading instruction. One week of instruction by a qualified Davis counselor worked to help him read a newspaper with better fluency.


I am a retired Sp. Ed. Director, and now supervise Intern Special Education Teachers for a state university. I am in complete agreement with the NCTQ’s findings about the preparation teachers receive in college to be able to competently teach students to read. I use Wrightslaw often in working with my interns. Thank you for all of your helpful information.


For the first few years after finishing my graduate-level courses in education, it was difficult to admit that the preparation I’d received in reading instruction was inadequate. Yet, I kept searching the literature for more methodologies backed by well-designed research studies.

My “a-ha” moment was a few years in coming. I was sharing a pile of educational books about reading instruction with a friend who had just landed a teaching job. Seated there in my friend’s kitchen, it suddenly occurred to me that the materials I had brought were the ones I considered essential to teaching. Not one had been assigned during my graduate training.


What is a parent suppose to do when the school says it up to the parent to get the child extra help they need outside of school because the child has problems reading because they have to keep the ones who can challenged and make sure they dont get bored. And where does a parent go to find the extra help the child needs?


The articles and comments about reading leave off two very important facts. Can the child see appropriately and or can the child hear correctly. These two questions must be answered before any test is administered. The GORT and or the PIAT have distinct limitations and should not be used in an urban setting. The norms established by the KTEA are at best ridiculous.
The articles about reading deal superficially with the problem and do not really expose the possible true causes of reading difficulty.


I’ve had the same experience. My daughter was in special ed but she was making little progress in reading. At every IEP meeting, we’d bring up our concerns, and they’d insist that she was making satisfactory progress. Finally I talked to a learning disability specialist at a local university who told me about private schools that specialize in teaching students with learning disabilities and might be appropriate for my daughter. We visited the schools and people there were able to recommend lawyers. We found a special ed lawyer and had outside evals done. We were preparing to go to due process, but once the district saw the reports by the outside evaluators, they agreed to pay for the private school. My daughter started at the new school a month ago, and we had our first IEP meeting there last week. She is finally getting what she needs!


I have a 16 year old in the 10th. grade who we have spent ALOT of money for reading tutors and lawyers to fight our school district! He is only reading at a beginning 6th. grade reading level. It is very dishearting….the schools and teachers just don’t care!


Don’t give up. My son struggled in reading for years. I repeatedly was told that he would not learn to read, but they could read to him, etc. I got evaluations on several occasions, with recommendations in each. I made graphs of his test scores, and plotted them against his expected reading scores. I allowed for some flexibility in scheduling, but not in intensity (we could move the time around, but he received instruction daily). At 13, he finally began to make the connections and now if a fluent reader who reads for enjoyment. If you can allow your child to always have material he or she has chosen, regardless of the level, it reinforces that reading is for them, not the school. The truth is, we now know how to teach virtually all children to read. Contact local universities, find experts to back you up. It can happen.


I think I work in one of the worst school districts in the nation in NJ. The percentage of non-readers is appalling. What’s worse is, that everyone knows, and there are no programs available to eliminate this problem. Child Study Team referrals are generally high. People in charge don’t seem to be the least bit worried. They continue to collect their paychecks, as John and Jose struggle to learn to read.

Tina M

I have to say that my 5th grader is also only reading at a 2.7 grade level and I have searched far and wide for help. I can state that I agree with everything said here and wish that as a parent I had more options available.

If there were a way to hold someone accountable for the failings of my child (he has dyslexia that the “teachers” thought he would outgrow) I would have done so, now however it is much more important to find a way to “fix” the problem and not blame. Even after having talked to many teachers and trying to explain that there are many more ways to teach him to read I still come up against roadblock after roadblock.

I find now that many different things are the problem and to get to the solution is almost impossible. Lets band together and find any way we can to fix it.


Jamie: You write, “It seems that so many children … have problems with reading. So why do the schools not want to help?”

Lots of reasons. Most teachers graduate from college without learning how to teach kids to read. For years, educators believed children learn to read “naturally,” as they learn to speak. Reading comes easily to some kids. But most kids need a research-based reading program, a teacher who is fully trained to use that program, and who has enough time to teach properly. This is expensive & time-consuming.

Some kids need instruction in small homogeneous groups, or one-to-one. One teacher provides instruction to 3, 2, or 1 child for 90 min a day. This is expensive. The school will give that reading teacher so many students that no one gets quality instruction.


I wrote this article the other day as a post to on and advocacy website and wanted to share it here because if the statistics are right that i in 5 have a mental illness, then can you imagine what WEcould accomplish if all the education advocacy groups, mental health organizations and the parents united to say WE the People, SO ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

I truly hope this inspires all who are weary as I am with the tactics and the complaints for what is mandated, and a violation of ours and our children’s civil rights.


I can relate. Our daughter has dyslexia and adhd. She has been in reading recovery since K. She is now in the 5th grade and reading at a 2nd grade/3month level. We have hired and finally found a tutor who is trained in Orton-Gillingham. However, the cost is $360/per month. In a time of recession and job loss this isn’t good for our family. I am going to demand that the school pay for this tutoring. It’s a crime as far as we are concerned. Educational Neglect. Worse yet….we’ve let the district put bandaids on our wounds and we are just as guilty for allowing this to go on. The school isn’t always right!



Wrightslaw folks. I definitely hear and amplify your suggestion that the public at large is unfamiliar with RTI and its precepts as well as your point that there is a serious dearth of training in colleges of ed. Vis-a-vis advocacy on the part of parents, I would further point folks to look at the following dynamics influencing our current situation:

+Gentleman’s agreement between certified/admin: “Admin pay will go up exponentially and teachers won’t be judged on their skills and pedagogical acumen but will experience stagnant pay.”

+The best and brightest teachers leave the field within 5 years of teacher (high NTE scores correlate positively with leaving teaching)

+The caliber of students graduating from colleges of Ed. have decreased with the relative buying power of teachers’ salaries in the last 20 years.