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Individualized Instruction is Not One-Size-Fits All

by Wrightslaw

As a teacher, how can I advocate for a third grade student who receives resource support services, but failed to make any progress in reading or math this year?

Her parents paid for a daily specialized reading program for three months. She made astounding progress.

She learned to read and her scores improved greatly. Her parents have now requested the school fund the continuation of this program for reading comprehension and the LMB math program.

The school district says “No.” They say they have a solid reading and math program, while not “a cadillac,” it works.

The program they use may be good, but it has not been adequate for this child to learn or reach her potential.

You are right. A program the school considers “good”may not be adequate for every child, depending on the child’s needs.

The bottom line is the child has a right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). If she did not learn and make progress in the district’s program, the district did not provide her with FAPE.

The parents were faced with a choice:

  • keep her in the district’s program where she isn’t learning the most basic skills, or
  • pull her out and pay for the services she needs.

Fortunately, the parents took the second option. But this is not what Congress envisioned when they enacted the IDEA in 1975.

What the Courts Have Said

The district should reimburse the parents for the cost of the child’s education retroactively and prospectively. Courts have held that while children are not entitled to a Cadillac, they are entitled to a serviceable Chevrolet that runs. Courts have also held that if a child isn’t learning, the school provided a lemon and the school should reimburse.

Of course, schools are not inclined to do this. This is especially true when they claim that their program, which didn’t teach a child to read, “works.”

The special education law is based on the fact that children learn differently.

A standardized one-size-fits all reading and math program may “work” for most kids, but it won’t work for every child. This is why the law requires schools to provide services that are individualized to meet the unique needs of each child.

For reasons that are not clear to me, many schools don’t seem to understand the requirement that they must individualize instruction. If a child isn’t learning in a particular program, that program doesn’t “work.” The school must provide a different program that does work.

Thanks for caring about the kids!

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41 Comments on "Individualized Instruction is Not One-Size-Fits All"


I have a high functioning autistic grandchild and apparently he is the only one in this school district, or so we are led to believe. We have been told that since he is the ONLY one, the school does not have to provide behavioral therapists, or interventionists, does not have to have teachers nor shadows certified or trained to deal with him and his sensory issues, outbursts, etc. He has been placed in a contained classroom with other kids who have severe learning disabilities and is not learning at his full capacity because the teachers say they do not have the time nor training, nor inclination to deal with his issues. Been fighting this for 5 years, no help, Superintendent is no help, turns blind eye. Do not have money for private teaching and help. His father is talking about homeschooling him from now on. What do you do?


As a teacher, what can I do when my school refuses to individualize for our special-needs students, and the director of special ed, legal council for the district, superintendent, and school board members have all ignored the requests of teachers to make this right for our students? I teach in a very low SES school, and our parents don’t know that they can or should advocate for their child. The parents who would like to advocate, cannot take time off of their job to even attend an IEP meeting. Many parents are afraid to speak up because they and their children are undocumented.
The parents who do file a complaint nearly always get what they want for their own child, but nothing improves for the rest of the students.
I have been instructed by an attorney not to file a complaint on behalf of the students because I will lose my job.


I was taking notes in a meeting for a parent of a child who has visual impairment. Although her child was making progress in Braille and was using technology in the general ed. classroom, the use of technology was not consistent in all of her classes. The child was also reluctant in using technology among her sighted peers. Her ability in keeping up with these peers was slipping the farther she went through school as a result, the parent maintains. It will be her argument in seeing that her child be put into a school for the blind.
A parent of a student of mine attempted to have the district put her child through a private school teaching ABA. He had met all goals that she had wanted while I had him, so she could not prove he was not receiving FAPE. ABA is sort of a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching those with autism, I think.


Where can I find the court cases this article refers to?


Does your website have a listing of nclb interventions? Or where can I find them.