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

05/23/11
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 responses so far ↓

  • 1 suzanne 10/15/13 at 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 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.

  • 2 Ellen 08/20/13 at 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.

  • 3 Cindy 04/10/13 at 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 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.

  • 4 Robbi 12/19/11 at 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 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.

  • 5 Mike the psych 06/02/11 at 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.

  • 6 special ed mom & teacher 06/01/11 at 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

  • 7 Wanda 06/01/11 at 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 have to do so. I mentioned I was part of the TEAM and I wanted the entire report read. The LEA and Dist 504 Coord. said the teachers have the student in their Theater class and Math class, that was enough. The 504 decision was the school coaching on 4 pages and teacher observation.

  • 8 Jennifer 05/31/11 at 1:55 pm

    To NIna—

    Has he had an Occupational Therapy evaluation?

  • 9 Remediate and support 05/30/11 at 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 assesments by ATR certified OT specialists available for fee to come on site to individuaize goals for kids in addition to follow up evaluations to allow us to see what happens as it is imlemented. Equal Access Goal !

  • 10 Nina 05/28/11 at 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 can hardly spell correctly and his writing is illegible. While the assistance of the computer is nice, he needs to be able to spell and write somewhat legibly. What can I do? Please any advice would help. I am knowledgeable in IEP’s as I have a deaf daughter. What I don’t know about is how to help him with the dysgraphia.

  • 11 Mike the psych 05/27/11 at 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 evaluation, which can really speed up data collection

    It will be interesting to see what impact the DSM-V will have in terminology usage as the proposed change is from Reading Disorder to Dyslexia and Mathematics Disorder to Dyscalculia

  • 12 Jessica 05/24/11 at 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 middle school students reading on a 1st or 2nd grade level.

  • 13 David1 05/24/11 at 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 a mission statement so we knew where we were going, added measurable goals to the “IEP” so we knew if we were moving in either direction.

  • 14 MomofDyslexic 05/23/11 at 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 not. Due Process is already scheduled :) Thank you to the conference we attended and the e-mails to keep us up to date and for our research. It has been VERY helpful to us as parents and as advocates to others..

  • 15 Pam Wright 05/23/11 at 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., means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or perform mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia and developmental aphasia. (emphasis added) The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, motor disabilities, cognitive disabilities, emotional disturbance, cultural factors, environmental, or economic disadvantage.

    Here is one of several links to the definition of “Specific Learning Disability” on the Wisc DPI site:
    http://www.dpi.state.wi.us/sped/pi11_0701.html#ld

    Jeez. Shouldn’t the Wisconsin DPI staff have to read the law and regulations before they are allowed to tell citizens what the law says and doesn’t say? As a person who attended a Wrightslaw Special Ed Law & Advocacy program, you knew the right answer and where to find it!

  • 16 Sandy 05/23/11 at 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 schools continue not to use “Dyslexia” and they wonder why kids with disabilities get past through the system year after year. Sorry this needs to change kids that attend middle school shouldn’t be reading at a 1st grade level. Funny how many parents don’t know they have rights.