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Trapped in Whole Language – Will 504 Accommodations Do Any Good?

by Pam Wright

Please write a book on 504 accommodations that includes ideas specific to dyslexia with emphasis on reading, writing & spelling. I need information on 504 accommodations beyond the typical ‘extended time’ – things like the use of text to speech for high stakes tests such as PSAT, ACT/SAT, and medical school/grad school exams. – from ‘Trapped in Whole Language’

All the accommodations in the world will not teach a child with dyslexia how to read, write, spell, and do math.

If a child has dyslexia, and needs special education services to learn how to read, write, and spell, that child is eligible for services under an IEP.

Section 504 Simply Allows Access to Education

Section 504 is a civil rights law that prevents schools and other entities from discriminating against people with disabilities. 504 is not an education law, and does not require schools to provide an appropriate education to kids with disabilities, including dyslexia. 504 simply allows access to an education – nothing more.

Assume a child is in a wheelchair, wants to take chemistry, but the chemistry class and lab are on the second floor of a school that doesn’t have an elevator. Under 504, that child is entitled to access to an education, same as kids who aren’t disabled, so the school must provide the child with access to the chemistry class. That may involve installing an elevator or moving the chemistry class and lab to the first floor.

Years ago, the parents of a 9th grade boy with dyslexia consulted with Pete because the school was not providing accommodations – specifically, books on tape — in a timely manner. When the new school year started, the boy did not get the books on tape for several weeks, so he fell behind his classmates.

Pete asked the parents why they weren’t focusing on ensuring that the boy learned how to read, write, and spell. The parents had accepted the teachers’ beliefs that the boy couldn’t learn to read well because he had dyslexia.

Long story short – the parents placed the boy in a private special ed school for kids with dyslexia. That school taught the boy to read, write, and spell. Since the public school was not able to teach these skills, they had not provided him with an appropriate education, the private school did provide an appropriate education, so the parents requested that the school district reimburse them for the cost of his private school education.

The case went to due process, the parents prevailed, the school reimbursed them for the cost of the boy’s education in the private school.

Focus on Ensuring Your Child Learns to Read, Write, and Spell

When Pete was 7, his parents realized that he wasn’t learning how to read, write or spell. This was in the 1950s, long before the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was enacted. The teachers in his public school didn’t know how to teach him.

His parents had him evaluated by a psychologist in the private sector who diagnosed Pete as having dyslexia (reading disability), dysgraphia (writing and spelling disability), dyscalculia (math disability), and hyperactivity (ADHD). His parents located an Orton Gillingham tutor who worked one-on-one with Pete, every day for two years. He also went to a residential program in the summer.

After two years of remediation, his reading, writing and spelling skills were above grade level. The learning disabilities were no longer an issue, although he continued to have problems related to ADHD. Pete reads faster than me, and his handwriting is more legible than mine.

Most Public Schools  are not Providing Appropriate Educational Remediation to Kids with Dyslexia

Fast forward from the early 1950s to 2011. Sixty years after Pete had remediation and learned to read, etc, most public schools still aren’t providing appropriate educational remediation to kids with dyslexia. Many schools say they don’t provide any services to kids with dyslexia — even though “dyslexia” is listed in the law as a “specific learning disability.”

Teachers don’t know how to teach dyslexic kids how to read, write, spell, or do arithmetic. If schools do anything for these kids, they provide accommodations. My least favorite is the “read aloud” accommodation where teachers read test questions to dyslexic kids, because no one taught the kid to read.

I’m not opposed to extended time on tests. I think everyone should have extended time …  if we really want to find out if they know the material v. how fast they can fill in bubbles on a test.

Sorry for the rant, but we won’t write a book about 504 for dyslexic kids — putting these kids on 504 plans does not ensure that they learn the basic academic skills, and it causes delays in getting the kid the remediation he or she needs.

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17 Comments on "Trapped in Whole Language – Will 504 Accommodations Do Any Good?"

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09/23/2015 11:05 am

My son’s school has Orton Gillingham assistance in RTI but says not so under an IEP…one step at a time. Thankfully, we are able to keep up with a private tutor who will lead his in school assistance plan as well! Whatever it takes to get him what he needs as we work to change the system for all.

10/15/2013 10:34 am

We seem to forget that learning to read may be a language problem and this is usually not discussed at meetings. NIH study years ago explains what it means to have a problem in reading and the information is still good. Always have a complete language evaluation done when your child is having trouble reading.

Dysgraphia is clearly misunderstood. it is a disconnect between what you see as a letter and being able to transfer to paper. I do not believe any amount of OT or other methods will help. Use a computer, have all… Read more »

08/20/2013 12:34 am

Unfortunately ,some aspects of public education are going backwards fast. I grew up in the fifties. I had poor hearing , very bad eyesight and probably I diagnosed learning disabilities. Because I did not do well academically , I was considered dumb. I knew that I was not stupid , merely misunderstood I spent most of my childhood in the library. Please don’t let the state do that to today’s students. It is just plain mean.

04/10/2013 1:39 pm

My son has dysgraphia. He learned to read at the end of 2nd grade and was encouraged to read a lot. To this day, however, he has not be taught, where he can understand, the mechanics of writing. His penmanship is illegible, he us unable to process information into the written word, he doesn’t know the rules of grammar. No computer usage helps in learning these. He has voice activated software at home. He is to have a 504 plan this week. I feel it is good as he is now in high school and we are looking toward post… Read more »

12/19/2011 1:35 pm

As a mother of a child who has very high verbal comprehension skills and is dyslexic and dysgraphic formally diagnosed in 2nd grade with continual formal yearly evaluations as well as intense remedial interventions, I find the read aloud accommodation my son has as the only way he can truly learn to his potential. My son is now in 5th grade, he still struggles with reading and writing and still gets remediation with an emphasis on decoding skills, Why anyone would not want a child to have a read aloud accommodation for accessing text that they otherwise are not able… Read more »

Mike the psych
06/02/2011 11:05 am

It is not required to have a doctor’s diagnosis to get a 504 plan, although that is usually the case. A school can conduct an evaluation to determine if a student has an “impairment” in 504 terms.

The school psychologist can conduct a detailed family and developmental history, rating scales, and possibly processing testing to determine if a student matches symptoms of ADHD, which may lead to special education eligibility for OHI or a 504 plan.

special ed mom & teacher
06/01/2011 7:07 pm

504. ADHD- If a child has ADHD or ADD, a 504 can help. But in order to get a 504, the child’s doctor must write a letter with the diagnoses. Recommended accommodations may include extended time on tests, modified homework, classwork, and other work for the classroom. The child may be allowed to move around the room, unlike classrooms that require all students to sit still.
Hope this helps

06/01/2011 9:41 am

I filed a discrimination complaint with OCR and requested that USDOE require the district to have a private sector evaluation of our 3rd son with dyslexia who is twice exceptional. He had IEP since 2nd grade – IEP exited while failing Math/ English 11th grade. 504 meeting on 5-31-11. IEE “18” page report was not introduced. LEA, 504 Dist. Coord-only allowed the teachers to see 4 pages and no history handed at the meeting. When I asked for entire 18 page report to be read at the 504 meeting. I was told “no”, the TEAM did not… Read more »

05/31/2011 1:55 pm

To NIna—

Has he had an Occupational Therapy evaluation?

Remediate and support
05/30/2011 7:33 am

I feel the read aloud accomodation will create a co dependency issue for my daughter. I am front and center on the remedial issue and it remains a current battle. For the sake of inclusion and regular ed classes, I am advocating for the adaptive technologies of Kurzweil, which also is completely compatible with Dragon Speak. Combined they are text to speech and speech to text technologies. Kurzweil also has study skill builders in graphic organization formats, word predictors, highlighters for producing study guides from the notes the child takes..etc. The school’s distributor of the program also has adaptive technology… Read more »

05/28/2011 3:39 pm

What Can I do to help my child who has been diagnosed with Dysgraphia? In the fourth grade as writing became more important in class he fell behind. I took him to see a doctor who specializes in nuerodevelopment disorders. It was then that he was diagnosed with Dysgraphia. I took all the finding that the doctor gave me as well as a letter he wrote to the school. They agreed to write a 504 plan for my son for the use of computers on all writing assignments including state testing. The problem he is having now is he… Read more »

Mike the psych
05/27/2011 12:40 pm

I will concur with Jessica, I think there is often confusion from parents when they ask is a reading problem dyslexia or not. School evaluations are concerned with identifying disabilities based on eligibility categories noted in IDEA, there is no benefit in diagnosing dyslexia specifically for the school. The focus should be on providing appropriate services and supports to meet the child’s needs. In states that mandate a RtI process to be used as part of the evaluation, it can help to ensure intensive intervention supports were already in place prior to difficulties even raising to a level to consider… Read more »

05/24/2011 2:35 pm

As a school psychologist I evaluate students to determine the reasons they are having difficulty learning. I have never diagnosed “dyslexia” in a student. My reason is because in school I was trained to locate underlying processing weaknesses that impacted academic functioning. We were taught not to “diagnose” anything, including dyslexia. So, my evaluations of students with specific learning disabilities in basic reading will include the specific cognitive processing weaknesses, but will not include a diagnosis.

With that said, I too have issue with providing “read aloud” accommodations rather than teaching kids how to read. I have seen too many… Read more »

05/24/2011 11:01 am

Will 504 Accommodations Do Any Good?

As far as getting meaningful accomodations, section 504 is the hamster wheel of Addressing academic deficits.

If you have ever attended a ball game where the ball is in the posession of the opposing team with minutes and seconds to go, this is what having our son on a 504 felt like. You know there is work to be done to catch up but as long as they are simply passing the ball from one player to another, you can not make progress.

We got an independent evaluation so we knew where we were starting, developed… Read more »

05/23/2011 9:49 pm

Pam, Sandy and I attended this conference together and I especially was very interested when we were told IT IS a disablity. When I spoke with the lady at WI DPI, I was shocked when she told me that. I almost laughed while on the phone. I did correct her about the law and Dyslexia. She resonded with “it’s not in anything we have.” to which I stated, “It is a Federal Law it is in a book I have.” She proceeded to say legally the school is doing what they are legally suppose to do. WRONG no they are… Read more »

Pam Wright
05/23/2011 5:28 pm

Sandy: When you contacted the Wisconsin Dept of Public Instruction, you were told that Wisconsin does not include “dyslexia” as a specific learning disability. I was surprised to hear this – a state can provide more rights than the federal law (IDEA), but cannot provide fewer rights.

So I went to the Wisconsin DPI site, searched for the legal definition of “Specific Learning Disability” in the Wisconsin statute and regulations. The Wisconsin definition of SLD is identical to the federal definition and DOES include “dyslexia.”

(6) SPECIFIC LEARNING DISABILITY. (a) Specific learning disability, pursuant to s. 115.76 (5) (a) 10., Stats.,… Read more »

05/23/2011 2:52 pm

I’m wondering if this person that wrote in is in College. Dyslexia is a medical term and I question why schools continue not to even consider this word. A friend of mine called our Department of Public Instruction last week with questions with her son about Dyslexia and the person stated to her that Wisconsin nor the Federal Government don’t even consider this word “Dyslexia” to use as a form of the disability. Well my friend and I attended a Wrightslaw Confrence last year and learned the Federal Government uses the word “Dyslexia”. Very frustrated with why… Read more »