The Wrightslaw Way

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Fifth grader is reading at 2.7 grade level. Should he be tested for Special Ed?

by Pam Wright

A question we received about testing a child. The real question is “how can we teach him to read?”

I am Orton-Gillingham/Project Read trained and tutor a fifth grade boy. I gave him the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test. His standard score was 85, age based percentile was 14-19, and grade equivalent was 2.7. He was given Reading Recovery in first grade and taught to “guess” when reading. This boy has average ability in math.

The mother wants more help with her son’s reading/language skills from the school. Last year he attended another school in the same district and the process for special education services was started. Now that this boy is in a different school the process seemed to have stopped. How should she request this help? Does she want the school to test him for special education services?

The big question is whether anyone will teach him how to read if he goes into special ed. Several factors are working against him in special ed.

* Most special ed teachers are not trained to teach children to read. If they have training, it is superficial or they are working in K-3. The colleges that turn out special ed teachers do not teach them any particular method, nor do most teachers get training later from their school district.

* After 3rd grade, the focus of schooling changes from teaching a child to read to the child reading to learn.

This parent needs to ask many questions before she decides whether to allow the school to put him into special ed. Once a child is in special ed, is almost impossible to get the child out.

If the school didn’t teach him to read by the end of 3rd grade, who will teach him now? What are their qualifications and training? What method will they use? How will the school measure and monitor his progress? How much progress will they view as sufficient? What will they do if he doesn’t make good progress?

Has he had a comprehensive psycho educational evaluation by a psychologist in the private sector who has expertise in learning disabilities including dyslexia?

If he didn’t learn to read when the school used Reading Recovery, that doesn’t mean he has a disability. It means he didn’t learn to read because many children who are not disabled don’t learn to read with RR.

What would happen if he had daily tutoring with an OG trained tutor? How long do you think it would take for him to get up to grade level since he is now about 2.5 years behind? (The evaluator can probably answer some of those questions).

Bottom line: We have worked with thousands of youngsters like the one you describe. If he was my child, and his only deficit was in reading, I would never allow him to go into special ed. I would mortgage the house, beg the grandparents, go into debt to get him
tutoring by an expert or place him in a private program with other kids like him.

Pete has severe dyslexia, dysgraphia, and several other learning disabilities. The public school staff always told his parents that he “wasn’t college material” and that they needed to lower their expectations for him.

His parents did not accept this. They searched for a specialist who could work with him and found Diana Hanbury King. Diana King was the top expert in remediating children with dyslexia in the early 1950s and later founded the Kildonan School in Amenia NY. Pete had one-on-one tutoring with her every day after school for two years. He also
went to a residential program in the summer. Because he received that intensive help when he was young, he reads faster writes more legibly than I do. At that time, his parents were young, just starting their family and careers. It was difficult for them to pay
for this tutoring but they knew they had to find a way do it. If they didn’t, Pete’s future was not good. So they did what they needed to do.

I am not usually this outspoken in offering advice. But I have received so much correspondence from reading specialists (not special educators) who tell me how sad they are when a child goes into special ed because they know that child will never learn to read.

Those messages prompted me to do some research into what special educators are taught to do – and it isn’t teaching children to read.


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118 Comments on "Fifth grader is reading at 2.7 grade level. Should he be tested for Special Ed?"


What a horrible interpretation of SPED and of SPED teachers. I have my Master’s in SPED and I was taught explicitly how to teach reading. That’s what we do! We teach basic skills. If there are SPED teachers out there that don’t then shame on the universities that allowed them to graduate. I have to admit, that when I get a student teacher they are often times not prepared at all and when that is expressed to college mentors, nothing is done. (Maybe that’s why I haven’t had any for a long time.)
As far as never getting your kid out of SPED. That’s ridiculous. The parent makes that decision and can do so at any time.
Our goal is not to label kids, we should be trying every intervention possible before we place a student in the SPED program. Personally, I know some incredible SPED teachers, so don’t throw us all under the bus.


My child is in 6th grade and he was overdosed by the school district 2 times his adhd medicine


Just read your 2008 answer to a parent who asked about having a child evaluated for special ed. Yes, as some people responded, your blanket criticism of special ed teachers is a tad unfair, but I’ve worked with the families of dyslexics for 16 years, and almost all who have come to the ExWyZee Remedial Reading Program were, or had been, in special ed, and those kids’ conditions were consistent with your remarks. eg: All, no exception, had deficits in Decoding By Parts of multi-syllable words. Further, I did some demonstration tutoring in a charter school for several months. It was difficult to hold my tongue when seeing a college elementary ed student, or a teacher’s aid, coaching a student to SOUND OUT the word “mastodon.” Bill


My son is in 6th grade and is dyslexic. He is in special ed. classes and he hates it. What I have seen so far especially with the special ed. teacher. She picks on him. Uses him as an example in the front of the class. Have talked to counselors, teachers, and even the principal. Getting ready to go to the board. I agree, since in middle school, I am not pleased with the system. I cannot afford a tutor. I am going to try to tutor him myself, I fear if he does not get confidence and positiveness from the school system he is going to end up dropping out of school.


I am a middle school RS teacher with 1-6th grade readers in my classes. I try desperately to find the time to teach them to read, and without a reading program…it’s a shame they got this far–I have my aide teach them phonics daily and focus on reading the most with them,…any advice is helpful, because they are my responsibility and I want to do right by them…