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


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 work given to student in a typed form, etc. My family has perfect knowledge with this and the person involved had a Masters at 20 and an excellent job. You still can’t read his signature not can he really read anything but computer written materials. sounds as though you have finally gotten what your son needs.


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.


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 high school learning. He is an A/B student and it infuriates me as both his mom and a retired special educator that more has not been done in our public schools. Every year I work with his teachers and still I feel like he has fallen through the cracks.


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 to access? Pete has a great story but maybe his disability was not as severe as other kids that struggle, extra time will not help my son, ACCESS will and does.

Mike the psych

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.