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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 work against students in special ed.

* Most special ed teachers are not trained in the research based methods of teaching children with learning disabilities, including dyslexia, to read, write and spell. If the teachers received training, it is often superficial or they are working with children in K-3. Most schools of education do not teach aspiring teachers to use a particular method, nor do most teachers receive this training later from their school districts.

* 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, it is often difficult or impossible to get the child out.

  • If the school didn’t teach him to read by the end of 3rd grade, who will teach this 5th grader? What are the teachers’ qualifications and training? What method are they trained to use?
  • How will the school measure and monitor the child’s progress? How much progress will they view as sufficient? What will they do if he doesn’t make good progress?
  • Has the child had a comprehensive psycho educational evaluation by a psychologist in the private sector who has expertise in learning disabilities including dyslexia?
  • If this child did not learn to read when the school used Reading Recovery, this does not mean he has a disability. It means he didn’t learn to read because Reading Recovery is a flawed program that is not effective with many children.
  • What would happen if this child 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 has fallen about 2.5 years behind his peers? (The evaluator can probably answer some of those questions).

Bottom line: We have worked with hundreds of kids 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 who learn like him.

Pete Wright has severe dyslexia, dysgraphia, and other learning disabilities. The public school staff always told his parents that he was “borderline mentally retarded” and (later) “emotionally disturbed.” His teachers advised his parents that they needed to lower their expectations for him.

His parents did not accept this advice. His mother searched for a specialist who could teach him. In the process, she learned about dyslexia, the Orton Gillingham method of teaching kids with dyslexia to read and write. Ultimately, she found found Diana Hanbury King, a top expert in remediating children with dyslexia during the 1950s. Pete had one-on-one tutoring with Diana King every day after school for two years. He also went to a residential program in the summer.

Because Pete received intensive remediation by an expert from age 8 through 10, he reads faster and writes more legibly than I do. During those years, his parents were just starting their family and careers. It was difficult for them to pay for his tutoring. His mother knew they had to find a way to do this. If Pete didn’t get this help when he was young, his future was not bright. 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 describe their feelings of sadness and despair when a child begins to receive typical special ed services because they know that child will never learn to read fluently.

Those messages led me to do research into what colleges of education teach students who are majoring in special education to do. In most cases, they aren’t learning to teach children to read.


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

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11/05/2015 11:08 pm

Wow. I have lost all respect for your program after reading this post. How ignorant. I am an ESE teacher and we are usually the most experienced teaching reading. Why would you tell people ESE teachers don’t have the training other teachers do? We have more and please refer me to an educational college program that doesn’t bother to educate their ESE teachers like gen ed majors? Who are you?

10/18/2015 4:53 pm

Grandson has been going to a very expensive special Ed school for five years and still does not read at all. Seems very bright but just cannot learn to read. Is there any kind of a brain disorder that prevents someone from learning to read? He’s ADHD BUT OTHER KIDS WITH THAT DO LEARN TO READ………WHAT TO DO, IF ANYTHING CAN BE DONE?

ADHD mom
11/02/2015 12:15 am

ADHD is not a reason for special Ed nor is it going to stop someone from reading. As the parent of a kid with adhd who skipped a grade in school and reads well above his grade level at almost 9 this kind of attitude is bothersome. The problem isn’t the kid it’s the school. We homeschool and it makes all the difference!

10/21/2015 12:42 am

Kid with several diagnosis to READ with comprehension and writing taking off.
No prescription but has a “PRISM” in his lenses (clear lens) which took care of 75 percent of the issues. I took the a, e, i, o, u words and put them all on flash cards. For example there are 3 different A sounds. First “A” like “A” dog ran. Second “A” sounds like “AW”. Third “A” is like in AT. Get it “A” , “AW”, “A” T. Put every simple word you can think of… Read more »

07/09/2015 6:36 am

This article moved me to tears. “Fifth grader is reading at 2.7 grade level”. This is my 10yr old son … and 12 yr old daughter. His Lexile is in the 200’s. My daughter also struggles with reading comprehension.

They were evaluated and had IEPs by 1st grade. The help they received did little to provide skills to help work toward grade level work. They, literally, were only accommodated. I thought I was being critical of a process maybe I didn’t understand.

I found an article in The Atlantic that echoes this sentiment.

I am now seeking out OG (Orton-Gillingham)… Read more »

06/13/2015 11:57 pm

My son has been seeing a orton gillingham tutor twice a week for six years. He is six years behind in reading. His dyslexia has affected everything from reading and math and every other subject. I have no idea what else to do for him. All testing points to dyslexia.

06/16/2015 9:49 pm

Kelly – kids with dyslexia can and do learn to read if they are taught by a properly trained tutor. Do you know if this tutor is trained and certified by the Orton-Gillingham Academy? Is the tutor supervised by an O-G Academy member?

You need answers to these questions and you need to know why your son has made little or no progress after six years of tutoring. Your son doesn’t have more time to waste. He can’t check these things out – he needs you to step up to the plate.

09/13/2015 12:33 pm

Thanks for your help. He has been seeing an Orton-Gillingham trained teacher. She has been teaching for 10 plus years as a tutor using this program. He has also been given an IEP in school and has been getting help one on one and in groups since first grade. I’ve seen Neuropsychologist for testing..test result is dyslexia. I’ve stepped up to the plate. I’m wondering if maybe Orton-Gillingham isn’t the best program for all dyslexics?

01/11/2015 6:26 pm

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… Read more »

01/08/2015 5:23 pm

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

12/27/2014 12:00 pm

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… Read more »

12/21/2014 12:29 pm

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… Read more »

12/14/2014 12:43 am

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…

12/02/2014 11:04 pm

In my experience as both a regular ed teacher and a parent of a special education child……special ed is BABYSITTING!

12/01/2014 4:03 am

i am so happy to read all these matters that happens to special kids.
i have a question
ie , i have a student in my class of age 11 whose IQ is only 58% and a mild MR . I WANT TO KNOW HOW CAN I HELP HIM AS A TEACHER ?

10/14/2014 7:19 am

This has been a rough year. I have a group of 8th grade students whose math skills are between 2nd-4th grade and reading skills between the 2nd and 5th grade. I am unsure what to do at this point. They do not know how to add, subtract, multiply or divide with confidence so we are taking two weeks “off” to learn multiplication facts.

10/08/2014 12:19 pm

I have a 5th grader who reads between 2nd and 3rd. I meet with him four or five times a week and it’s a painful experience, for both of us. I’m at a loss beyond what I’ve already done, the usual sounding out words, sight words, reading aloud, reading silently. Will this student ever progress? And how can I help him to make progress?

09/21/2014 3:34 pm

Studies have shown parents who don’t read produce children who can’t or don’t read. Children don’t learn the love of reading in school, they learn it at home. School offers skills and help in the process but telling a child how important reading is, is a poor substitute for showing them. If you enjoy reading your child in most cases will too. That is not to say that some kids with LDs won’t struggle with reading, just that if we want to show kids the joy of reading we need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Even… Read more »

10/10/2015 12:17 am

My father is an avid reader. I personally, do not care for it. I have a hard time with comprehension. (I have a MS and then later went back to school to get my nursing degree.) My daughter likes reading, but takes it in spurts. My son does not care for it. My husband is an avid reader – several, several books per week. I do not feel that all children learn the “love” of reading from their parents. For me, I have comprehension problems, so I’m a very slow reader. There are many other things that I want or… Read more »

07/23/2014 4:07 pm

The issue is that there is such a huge variance in the training received by both reading teachers and learning specialists. Both MAY be very capable of teaching a child with a print disability. But not always. We went through multiple rounds of school testing, worked extensively with the school reading specialist, learning specialist and speech pathologist. I questioned dyslexia and none of them thought it was a concern. Finally went to an outside testing center who tested and pointed to his non-existent phonemic awareness score and confirmed exactly what we had seen but didn’t understand… Read more »

07/01/2014 12:52 pm

Pam, you are lumping all Sp.Ed. teachers into a “can’t teach reading” category, which is totally not fair! I am a middle school teacher in a rural California community & I teach the Susan Barton Reading & Spelling Program to our Sp. Ed. & school-based students. This program has been highly successful for our students. I also disagree with the “once in Sp.Ed., always in Sp.Ed.” remark. It is our duty to find the appropriate placement for all our students throughout their learning experience. It is my goal to mainstream as many of my Sp.Ed. students, as possible, by 8th… Read more »

06/30/2014 10:26 am

Such a shame that you have not worked with competent Sp.Ed. teachers. They do exist and do have alternative prescriptive methods to help students read. For a child who needs help getting through public school, especially with the inappropriate testing that is going on and upon which graduation depends; Sp. Ed. is a way to get support anonymously and free. Some parents don’t have a house to mortgage.

05/02/2014 2:54 pm

Sharla I find what Pam is stating to be true. In my state certain schools are doing a pilot project. Only certain cities were selected for this and teachers are being trained. There was a law that just passed in Ohio for this. So yes she is right. It’s the universities that are not training teachers properly to acknowledge or know what and/or how to teach a dyslexic child. Or what tests need tp be administered to find out if the child is dyslexic.

04/05/2014 7:20 pm

Pam, I have been a special educator for many years and have had a great deal of success with teaching reading to my students. Obviously, your research was completed in the wrong areas. I am now working at the university teaching students how to teach reading!

03/12/2014 9:25 pm

Some offs are both… The reading specialists Nd the sped teacher
And I agree they never let a good sped teacher out to help reg. ed. The demand is too great and and sped teachers are greatly under- appreciated as well as the numbers of students grow larger and larger every year!!

12/13/2013 1:28 am

A standard score of 85, is considered low average. If he is truly 2.5 years behind in reading, then that score should be much lower. Something does not sound right to me. If the process was started before he left, then it does not stop because he goes to a new school. They need to continue with the process and pick up where the old school left off. That actually happened with one of my students this school year and I contacted the new school… Read more »

12/12/2013 7:22 pm

My son has an IEP and in the Resource Room for most subjects including reading and decoding. I pay for tutoring by a 13 year trained teacher of Orton-Gillingham. He goes 2x wk. He has only made progress with the Orton-Gillingham tutor. He is in 5th grade and testing at 2nd grade reading level despite all this help which began 1st grade. He has been tested by the school and independently by a Neuropsychologist. His diagnosis said normal IQ with delays in Language and Speech. He has what appears to be dyslexia and… Read more »

07/10/2012 10:41 am

GiGi Abd Sharon L,
I wish we could sit down for lunch and talk about our experiences. I, like Sharon L, was able to get FAPE for my child who is now an older dyslexic student. It was not easy as I did not initially know the law years ago. My child is now in middle school. I have found that collaboration is better than screaming the law at the school officials. GIGi, I know what your school is doing–they have filled the spots for the program and your son does not have a spot. … Read more »

Sharon L.
06/09/2012 10:36 am

GIGI – First of all I never heard of anyone not qualifying for Wilson reading. It is not a program that you test into. It is another way of teaching people how to read along with many other methods like Alphabetic Phonics, etc. The school is obligated by law (FAPE) to teach your son to read. Whatever methodology that is required to do that must be done & if the school does not have someone that can teach your son effectively they must find someone. My son has dyslexia. Wilson was used for awhile & then he… Read more »

06/08/2012 8:57 pm

My 7th grade son has been in resource room special ed since 3rd grade. He was just tested. Reading on a 5th grade level. In 3rd grade I was told he needed wilson but the schoool’s requirements to get into the program were so strict he wouldn’t qualify. 1. Can they do that or are there standard requirements that all schools must follow? 2. If he needs a program that they do not offer, are they required to pay for it? 3. How far behind does he have to be to get a research based program? We live in NY.… Read more »

05/29/2012 7:58 pm

Wow….you are doing a great service to your students. How do you fight the system? I feel, as a parent, I am a change agent via my child. When I question IDEA, have the district enroll kids in bookshre, or even listen when I talk about best practices –then I know I am making a difference. I cannot change a whole system but I have made more staff members aware of my child’s needs and as a result they advocate for other kids. I cannot fight the system, but I can advocate for… Read more »

05/29/2012 11:59 am

I am a special educator with 30 years experience. I teach in a Resource Room setting. I use an Orton-Gillingham based reading program (Barton Reading & Spelling System) with my students. However, administration is not always in agreement
that I should meet with my students 1:1 because it is not the “best use of my time.” How do you fight the system?

05/24/2012 5:09 pm

I totally agree with this article. We had my son privately tested at the beginning of 2nd grade, after a year in reading recovery with no improvement. The neuropsych evaluation revealed dyslexia. We finally got an IEP (though we still have not signed it, because it’s no good). We could quickly see that the sped teacher (though well intentioned) didn’t have a clue what she was doing, and the school refused 1 on 1 help – instead they have him in a group of 4 children, for a half hour 5 days a week. We… Read more »

05/13/2012 9:32 pm

Re: Teacher Training – I think some teachers are feeling attacked reading this blog. The truth is that many of the college curriculums for teacher training has little to do with teaching kids to read–the data and research on this is very clear, please review it for your state. Do research!! Also, teachers are not getting the instructional support necessary for them to teach struggling readers. I warn parents with older dyslesic kids to carefully monitor to ensure that the expectations are kept high for your child during the middle and high school years. Carefully… Read more »

03/22/2012 1:22 pm

Debbie and Paula your comments are thought provoking and help us parents understand that indeed there are teachers that are trained and capable of teaching children symptomatic of dyslexia. If I may add on, there are many cases where children are not getting the appropriate remediation and parents must ‘push’ or often we feel ‘fight to get the correct instruction. I speak on behalf of my son, who was pulled out for 240 hours of special instruction, his second year in kindergarten and yet was still severely behind his grade mates in regards to literacy. After tutoring… Read more »

03/22/2012 12:27 am

This is the biggest bunch of bull I have ever read. As a special ed teacher, I can not tell you how many kids I have taught to read. My children love coming to me because for once they are beginning to feel good about themselves. I use systematic approaches to reading that include…read naturally, explode the code, Edmark and Language. As to getting out, why wouldn’t I want them returned to general education? How ridiculous! I guess it is better to call your kids stupid, rather than special. You think that because they sit in general… Read more »

03/02/2012 1:56 pm

WOW! The comment about colleges NOT training their students who are going to be Special Education teachers in the methods of teaching a child to read! REALLY!?? I think you missed the mark on that one. I have been teaching Special Education for 22 years. I can honestly tell you that I have taught numerous children to not only “word call”- read the words but also to comprehend what those words mean in context. So, I am shocked that you feel that way! I, however, would never have told a parent that their… Read more »

02/22/2012 11:08 pm

I am certified as sped, reading specialist and ESL
I want out of sped to teach regular eduction students but most districts will not let a good special ed teacher out of sped!! And the numbers keep going up along with the behavioral challenges of the students!

Sharon L.
02/05/2012 4:13 pm

Lori – You say you and your staff are “trained” in ortin gillingham and wilson”. What do you mean by “trained”? How much training do you and the others have? This is a concern by parents seeking reading success for their children. I have 3 boys who all had various degrees of reading problems. I have dealt with 3 different school districts. They were not wilson trained or any other specialized reading program. We had to seek outside professional tutoring for our sons which the school paid for since they could not provide it. I believe… Read more »

Sharon L.
02/05/2012 3:56 pm

Deb You are welcome and good luck.

02/04/2012 4:43 pm

I completely disagree with your statement that special educators are not trained to teach reading. I am a special educator and teach mostly 4th and 5th grade students through inclusion and resource. I am trained in teaching using the orton gillingham approach as well as wilson reading. Our entire special education staff from k all the way through high school is wilson trained. I do agree that once a child is in a grade higher than 3rd grade and is behind in reading, it is very difficult to catch up but it can and has been done… Read more »

02/02/2012 8:08 pm

Where have we been? In the trenches of special education for our own children & children of others. As an advocate for my own children & for families of other children with disabilities, I have worked with some really great educators, who do “get it” & know how to teach reading, however, unfortunately they are few & far in between. I am always disheartened when I speak with a teacher responsible for teaching reading (special ed & regular ed) who do not know the difference between phonemic awareness & phonics. It is not their faults,… Read more »

02/01/2012 11:21 pm

Sharon L. – thank you for your response it means a great deal. I am more than excited to have my son in this free program funded by a grant. I will continue to work with the school, administration and the board for future help and remediation that is less myopic. I am also pushing through via ‘the community’ and our legislators. The story should and needs to be heard. Thanks!

02/01/2012 7:45 am

It is NOT “Once a child is in special ed, is almost impossible to get the child out.” Are you kidding me? All the parent has to do is say no. Take my child out.
And, I resent your comment that “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. ” Again, are you kidding me??? where have YOU been these past few years?

Sharon L.
01/31/2012 4:18 pm

Deb – Alphabetic Phonics was the only program that worked for my son. My son tried & tried all of the reading programs they threw at him. When we found the tutor that actually taught him to read it was because she used alphabetic phonics. My son was so discouraged prior to this but is now in his 3rd year of college. My son does not understand why the school’s cannot teach everyone in this manner as it made so much sense to him. He started it at beginning of 9th grade 5 days… Read more »

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