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

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We received a question from a tutor 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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138 Comments on "Fifth grader is reading at 2.7 grade level. Should he be tested for Special Ed?"

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I’ve gone through a Due Process, due to my own disability (phsyical) a week before the Due Process I requested a continuance. The IHO refused the County Attorney had no problem with it. I filed a complaint with the Executive Secretary of the state Supreme Court. Who is the entity who assigns IHO’s on grounds that he unilaterally narrowed the issues and his professional demeanor was bias. I could not introduce the most important issues such as failure to provide a written notice of the intent of providing ESY. Our son Joshua is entering 6th grade at a 2nd grade reading and math level. I’ve complained to every department of the state DOE I finally reached out to DOJ. We relocated and have seen the same approach. We insisted that he receive OG and ESY. They are still trying to wiggle around the issue. Your site helped.

I take exception to the statement regarding Sp.Ed. teachers. I’ve been one for 25 yrs. I am trained in Alpha. Phon., Herman, Project Read, Spalding, Math Their Way, Touchmath and have used Saxon (phonics and math) and TEXTEAMS/North Carolina Math. Currently, I am searching the net for free or low cost accredited training in MSLA so I can take the test for Dyslexia Therapist Certification. I don’t know where some people get their information, maybe just skewed perception!

I am a special education teacher at the high school level. I taught early childhood regular education for 14 years and have been teaching spec. 5. You are right. Spec. teachers except maybe for the recently retired SLD teacher at my school. I have had numerous students tell me that she taught them to read at the high school level. I would love to be able to teach my low readers how to read, but it is nearly impossible or it is impossible because we no longer have resource classes. We must be co-teaching and no, we cannot teach them how to read when we are in a class of 35 11th graders. Maybe talk about context clues, etc. I am fully aware of the reading problem but as you well know, teachers do not make the decisions on what we teach; government does.

d.warner – Our son has dyslexia and stopped progressing with reading at 2nd grade. We tried everything with the school and only had success with Wilson Reading program and Alphabetic Phonics. MY son did not get into the proper reading program until 9th grade and had low self esteem issues. Don’t make our mistake. Get him evaluated by an outside psychologist at public expense and get together with the school to get an alternate reading program. All children can read with the proper program. Read the book “Overcoming Dyslexia”. That helped me a lot.

My third grader had a speech disability. In all areas of phonics. He has stopped progressing in his reading. He hasn’t made any improvemnet since first grade. He goes to a speech therapist at school, his teacher reads with him several times a week and he also has seperate class time with another reading specialtist. I’m really worried about him. Could it be that were trying to teach him to read wrong? He is taught by cueing and looking at the picture for clues. What skills can i teach him beside that. I have tried flashcards of sight words and it helps a little. I get mixed messages from all his teachers and feel as if they are giving up on him. One told me his sucess stops with me. Help…
Thank you

I have also heard these same types of stories. They also want to put my child in SE class too. She is in first grade, has a visual perceptual problem or it could be dyslexia like her grandfather. The school said they don’t test for it because she is too young. I think before I put her in anything, I need to take her to a developmental pediatrician or get a psychological evaluation.

Actually, the comment that Pam made about special educators not being taught to teach reading is horrendously incorrect. I have been teaching special education in the elementary system for 9 years in the same school. I began as a third grade teacher for five years at the same school. The reason I took the special education position is for the very fact that I have specialized training on how to teach children to read who have extreme challenges. As a matter of fact, I taught students to read that the Reading Recovery Specialist was unable to teach. When the students were referred and brought into special ed., they began reading successfully over a period of one to two years. One young man that I had as a student when he was in second grade actually “graduated” from the special education services in sixth grade. Pam needs to researc

my child is a fifth grader,and does not read independently.he also does not understand the matter of his books if read out to him.he is too lazy to write.what do i do?

I just went to a emergency IEP for my son who is in Spec Ed because he is in 4th grade reading at a 1.5 grade level. Considering he was not reading in 3rd grade at all this is some progress, which they conclude it is. I don’t think it’s enough considering how far behind it is. I was told I should not expect much more then a 1 year progression in reading since he is so far behind, which is their fault to begin with. He is in a inclusive class with PDD kids which is not appropriate placement for him but he is so far behind his peers would be moving him be wise? He can not keep up with the work but he is being unchallenged and not even following grade level material just what they think his ability can handle.

I have an 11 year old Autistic child who has been in SPED for the last 4 years we have done nothing but battle the system for appropriate placement and services. He continues to test below proficient in every subject in state test scores TCAP. I am preparing to file an Administrative Complaint in which I will site lack of sufficient preformance and inability to follow through with his IEP already in place. I want to know what recommendations you have as far as services for reading and math. My son can learn and his IQ is right at 72 so I know that teaching him is possible with the right techniques and approaches. Please advise me regarding appropriate services to request. He does have defecites in both receptive and expressive language which I believe complicates his abilities. He currently only receives 1 hour of Language therapy a week.

My 13 yr old son with autism (PDDNOS) was “tested” and is reading at pre-primer level for comprehension and 3rd grade level for sight word. He’s in the 7th grade! He has been in sp ed since kindergarten. He CAN learn and has learned. I have a meeting with reading specialists and sp ed teachers on 10/19. Are there any reading programs that I should ask the specialist to consider? Are the any specific questions I should ask of the teachers and the reading specialist? Is there any hope for my son?

We had our 3rd grade dyslexic son admitted into special ed. My reason for opting this route was mainly done to enforce my sons right to FAPE, and his rights to equal access to the curriculum. In Texas we have something called a Dyslexia Handbook created by the state board of education and it governs what types of interventions must be implemented once a child, in 504 OR Special ED, has been diagnosed with Dyslexia.

I believe that IDEA, as it applies to special ed, is instruction that meets the child’s individual needs. That is what I am now advocating for my son, nothing less than he is entitled to receive. If the teacher in special ed is not trained to properly administer a program or the school does not have an appropriate program in place, that is not my son’s problem. His rights will be my fight!

I am very surprised about all of the comments about special education teachers that are not able to teach students to read. I don’t know if this information is an eye opener for me or it is just innacurate. I am a Special Education Teacher and in my 14 years of teaching I have always, as well as my colleagues, been effective in teaching students to read. Furthermore, myself and colleagues have been sent to many reading training programs including the newest , research based reading programs.

Pam, You hit the bull’s eye! I have been using O-G to teach adults and children since 1986. Like you, I use Orton-Gillingham method – explicit , tactile, direct, structured instruction. . Neuroscience proves that reading instruction should start in the formative years. I propose Slingerland reading instruction starting kindergarten; This will reduce assignments to special education classes for learning differences. (an estimated 70%). At the same time, colleges should serve teachers appropriately by acknowledging the evidence of neuroscience, and prepare accordingly. Schools will then be in compliance with NCLB, and also, conform to the recommendations of the National Reading Report 2000. A little critical thinking when combined with action can save anguish and taxpayer dollars by preparing a literate population.

As a special education teacher of over 20 years I find your comments offensive. I’ve found teachers of today are not taught the same way I was taught or given opportunites because of budgets, to explore reading and it’s instruction to it’s fullest. Do not assess all of us by only your experiences. You need to further explore backround of teachers for your argument to be valid.

This is an old post that I am replying to, but Pam’s commments touched a nerve with me…I was a trained advocate before becoming a Sped. teacher. Pam hit the head on the nail when referring to Sped. as a black hole. I swore when I entered the field of special ed. that I would be the exception–& I am, but it’s at a cost. I love working with my students; I love testing them to prove progress, collecting data, & really teaching them the skills they need to be successful–like study skills–what a concept! What I have traded for bringing advocacy to my students is to constantly fight against the public school system idea of special ed.–I have to fight to keep my spirits up; to not feel overwhelmed; to remember that I am one person & am trying to rectify years of poor teaching for my students. I refer parents to Wrightslaw all the time!

Kristy: There is overwhelming evidence that RR should never be used with kids with learning disabilities. After you read these articles, come back and share your thoughts.

1. “Experts Say Reading Recovery Is Not Effective, Leaves Too Many Children Behind” – An Open Letter from more than 30 Reading Researchers

2. “Reading Recovery for First Grade Children with Reading Difficulties”

“What does independent research show about using Reading Recovery for students who are having difficulty learning to read in first grade?”

3. Letter from Cameron James about what happened when the school insisted on using Reading Recovery with his son Joe, who has dyslexia.

Katie: You can revoke consent for your child to receive special ed services. On December 1, 2008, the Department of Education announced changes to the IDEA regulations.

Parents have the right to revoke consent for their children to receive special ed, without fear that the school will request a due process hearing against them. Parents must make this request in writing. Section 300.300(b)(4)

After receiving a revocation of consent, the school is required to provide the parent with prior written notice. (see Sec. 300.503)

Please read the revised regulations and commentary at:

HOWEVER, if you revoke consent for your child to receive special ed, you need to have a plan to remedy the problems you describe in your post.

Our 8th grader is on an IEP and receiving pasted-together curriculum in reading. He is still decoding at 3rd grade level. We have been fighting hard for research-based curriculum for two years, with no success. We are now asking to drop special ed because it is turning him against school. The district refuses–they say his decoding disability is so severe that they can’t let him go for fear we’ll sue. Somehow they aren’t afraid we’ll sue over their refusal to do whatever it takes to teach him to read–including changing curriculum and instruction methods. If I could do it over, I would bring a lawyer when he started kindergarten, rather than a plea to deal with his already-obvious deficits. And I would yank him from special ed after 4th grade and get the job of teaching him to read done by professionals rather than bureaucrats.

It is an acceptable reading strategy to teach a child to guess when determining an unknown word; however, after guessing, the student must stop and think about three things:
1. Does it look right?
2. Does it sound right?
3. Does it make sense?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then the student must use another strategy. There are many.

I am a special ed teacher and teach reading quite well. I did not learn how to teach reading at the University of California, Riverside where I received all my degrees. I learned at conferences and the best was from a former Reading Recovery teacher.

My son is in 4th grade and reading at a first grade level, I recently took him out of the resource room and bought him the Hooked on Phonics master reader. He is doing great! I only hope it is not too late – he enters middle school next year and I am very nervous.The guilt I have is overwhelming. I should have researched about special ed a long time ago!!!!!!!!!!

I have also received training in the teaching of reading, and have benefited from the conferences and trainings offered by my district. I do admit that there are many districts who do not take proactive stances when it comes to addressing the complex needs of their students. However, to infer that ALL SPED programs are inherently useless is dangerous. The family of the child who serves as the subject of this blog needs to look at the following:

a) WHY their child is two+ years below grade level in reading?
b) HAS the child had an assessment for a disability?
c) WHAT programs are available at the school or district that can be used to target the difficulties he is having with reading?

Remember, research shows that not ONE sole reading program can foster improvements in reading: a balanced reading instructional program is key.

I find Pam’s comments to be inflammatory and flat-out disrespectful to the thousands of hard-working SPED professionals who are devoted to improving the academic (including reading) skills of their students. Pam’s comments seem to suggest that SPED is a useless by product of archaic education laws when in actuality, the purpose of SPED is to help children acquire the skills they lack. MOST students who receive SPED services have disabilities that negatively impact their reading and writing skills, so one would assume SPED teachers would have some knowledge in this field. Why have a website devoted to the dissemination of SPED advocacy strategies if you believe the system is inherently flawed and incapable of helping children at all? Why is Pam biting the hands that feed her?

Had to correct my spelling errors . . . must be dyslexia!

I am a special education teacher and am very offended by the comment. I am trained in Orton Gillingham, Sonday and Read 180. In addition to supporting students in the classroom I offer afterschool tutoring. I feel that one major benefit of a special education class is that these students who struggle become unmotivated, give up and become ridiculed by other peers in the regular education setting who “catch on” a lot faster than these students. In addition to just decoding the words, we teach comprehension strategies that struggling readers don’t “just get” like good readers do. I would recommend to ask good questions and look at the goals and objectives being created for your child and well as the measurement strategies. Consider your child’s self confidence as well.

As parents we need to push for scientifically research based reading instruction in the general ed classroom. This instruction must include the 5 components put forth by the National Reading Panel that an effective program should include and is mandated in NCLB, Reading First. Hopefully, with IDEA using the RTI verbiage in the 2004 regulations we will be moving toward this. But right now, many school districts are still not doing it. My school district is still using “whole language” as their core reading curriculum. In my research on how kids learn to read and in talking with many teachers, both regular and special ed, I have learned that more educators than not really believe that whole language works, it’s like a religion. Good articles for all: Whole Language HiJinks & Whole Language Lives On by Lousia Motes, a reading guru.

This is all very interesting. I don’t know how it took me so long to relaize my son is not going to learn to read with the public school. They had him in one program for a long time and I had two mediations to get him out of it and try an Orton Gillingham…the first was Wilson. After thee years, he still reads at a 1.8 reading level. We had an independent eval and she said he must be in a school for children wityh dyslexia. The closest one is 3 hours away and is more than we make, so we are trying to battle the school.

I just found this site and it is eye opening! I am very disheartened and know that his only chance is to go to the special boarding school. I just ekpt believing the school when they said he was making progress. They tested him with different tests and it makes it look like he wasn’t as bad as he is.

As a special education teacher I will tell you i was taught to teach reading. The district where I teach is also very proactive in this area and we have had extensive training using the Wilson reading appraoch. it is very effective. I can also tell you that special education does not mean a “life sentence’ as described here. Our goal is to service these children and help them move on. He may need classification for him to receive the extra reading support he needs. I am willing to bet he struggles in Science and Social Studies as well due to his reading deficits. Bottom line – get the district to do their job, get him tested and push them to get his the sipports he needs.

My 11 year old regressed in reading. I had to fight to keep my son on campus, fight about his reading program, fight to keep him included & not self contained,,,continue to fight for a reading program like the Herman Method or Orton Gillingham, for 5 years.went through mediation; finally, the district is piloting a reading program very similar at my son’s school. They trained my son’s general & special ed teacher. I feel at least some battle success. As a parent & a teacher, I advocate for parents. Sometimes the professionals I work with aren’t happy, but that’s because I know the law & student’s rights. Know the law, understand it & don’t be afraid to quote it!!! Unfortunately, if districts think they can save a buck at the expense of students; they do. I know, I taught 15 yrs in the ISD my son attends.

I had graduated with a degree in Historoy & Sociology, secondary certified. I had gone back to get my special ed cerification. In 1984 I got a job my second year at a small rural school; 7-12 all subjects. My 7th a& 8th graders read at maybe a 2nd grade level. “They” said teach them how to read; I said, “I have no clue how I learned how to read,,, help!” I was lucky. I was sent to learn to teach reading with Renee Herman. It seemed weird, but I was determined to have an open mind. I incorporated the program into my classroom. In 1 year my students jumped at least 2 grade levels, some more. I am a general ed & special ed teacher. These reading programs discussed work! We just need to teach the program as it was intended. If I had my way, every school would have this reading program for ANY child that needed it, period.

I just want to let you know that my son is severely dyslexic. I would not accept the school letting them do their interventions. I got them to put on his IEP that he needed the Wilson Reading program. I found out he was having trouble in the 1st grade and would not budge until they put in writing what he needed. I provided a tutor until they put it on the IEP. He is now in 3rd grade and goes to a tutor for 2 hours a day. He is a fluent reader and very confident of himself. He does not see the special ed teacher only his tutor. He still has trouble with his dysgraphia but, I know every year I have to explain to the teachers his situation and what I expect of them. It has not been an easy road and I have 2 other boys with dyslexia. I have a scheduled IEP meeting for my second son in two weeks. I will never stop advocating.

hi my name is jeanne. i have a 9 yr.old son in the 3rd. grade. my son has a iep. i feel exactly the same way. it seems to be that because my son has a iep ,the school is not teaching my son at a 3rd. grade level. and the school is allowed to do that because he has a iep. i wanted to sign off of the iep, because he is reading at a 1.5 grade level, i thought with a iep the school had to teach him at his grade level. i thought that is what fape is. it seems to me, he is being left behind, and they are useing my sons iep, by saying ,thats why he has a iep. i had a iep review meeting with the school. i pulled out the same exact school work that he did last to page, to show them he allready did that work, he needs to be challanged. they said do you want him to have a iep? i said yes , but taught at grade level, you are giving him old

I am a special education teacher, I agree with Pam.

My students struggle and I am looking for training and/or a different program not more of the same. My district won’t support training, I would have to pay. I am expected to continue Reading Recovery with kids once they qualify for services. If it didn’t work when did Reading Recovery with a highly trained reading specialist, how will it work with me teaching a watered down version?

I care for my students and want to see them succeed. I feel I don’t have the training or expertise needed to help them progress. None of these families could afford a highly trained specialist outside of school and shouldn’t have to. The only thing I provide for my students is advocacy and a desire to help them be the best they can be, since I’m not trained to teach them.

Today after a year of struggling with the school district to get special education services for my son he was found to be eligible. My son is a 12 year old fourth grader with adhd. His strengths are math and science, but he struggles in reading and language arts.
At a previous meeting to determine whether or not my son would be evaluated. The superintendent told me that my son would not get the intense level of education in special education that he was currently getting. My son was in a class that provided various accomodations and interventions that he was not responding to.
My son is on a 3.2 grade level in reading and a 4.4 grade level in math. What can I do to ensure that my son goes forward and not backwards?
In my opinion the interventions do help and I do see improvements academically but just just not enough to where he is passing. I know it sounds strange that I do see improvement but I don’t see passing grades. Any suggestions, please help.

I also have an 8th grader that reads at 5.2 GE level and reading comprehension is -2 SD on WISC IV and WIAToutside eval.

We just had IEP 4/11/08 and IEP Team said they have no programs or services for reading comprehension disabilities.

Do I create the school program for reading comprehension services at school for them? It effects all core and elective classes as well, since not being able to understand what you have read, results in failing/poor grades (even w/accomm and modif.) on tests, quizzes, homework. Example: Foods and Nutrition elective class has written assignments, labs, and tests, my son failed it!

I just re-read the posted story about the 5th grade child with the 2.7 reading level. It got me thinking about what I should do for my son. If you do not live near a dyslexic school (closest three hours away), would home-schooling using a OG tutor work (50 min. away) just as well? What are the advantages of the dyslexic school setting verses a model with home schooling or limited school participation combined with an OG tutor perhaps 2 hours a day?

Yikes! I have a severely dyslexic son and have filed for due process last month and I went to the district in 2006 and demanded Linda Mood and was turned down. I had spent about $36,000 on Linda Mood already! I asked for a tutor and noted Special Ed had not helped for 5 years and he needed outside help… We were turned down. In 2006 my son was 2 deviations off in reading, writing and math. In 2008, after more of their “great intervention” he is 4 deviations off his grade level. After reading this blog – I have a better understanding of the problem.

Our situation looks like the Draper case we have read on this website except our son has an average IQ. The problems we have is the district not keeping records, hiding them, shredding some, and then even manipulating normed testing results and reports…This was clearly done to hide the districts lack of progress and also to hide our son’s additional auditory processing disorder. We can use any help with due process we can get. We are concerned with the cost of experts, but we have several that have assessed our son.

In your question you say, “Does she want the school to test him for special education services?” I’m at the beginning of this process and my daughter (kindergarten) has been tested and I do not yet know the results but I do know that she has impulse control problems and fluid reasoning deficits. Does testing which leads to creating an IEP that will address discipline and motivation efforts by the teachers automatically mean special ed? When you say special ed are you talking about actually being in the special ed classroom? How do you create specific goals when what you need is a classroom atmosphere that helps the child feel calm and successful so she can learn? The teacher this year is very good but the one for next year is inclined to deny recess etc. if behavior is not appropriate.

JW – Thanks for your post and for going back to school to update your knowledge and skills. You gave a roadmap to other teachers who realize that the training they received in college was not sufficient – if you can do it, they can too. ~ Pam

Stacia – I’m glad the article helped. I wish your situation was unusual but it’s not. You will find several excellent articles about teaching children to read in Doing Your Homework by Sue Whitney Heath:

mykids: I don’t have enough information about your child, his history, or his situation to give you any specific advice. If children are not reading at grade level by the end of 3rd grade, at least 80% will never be good readers. There are several reasons for this – the focus on school changes from teaching children to read to children reading to learn, there are fewer teachers who have expertise in teaching reading, the child feels like a failure and gives up.

Take care ~ Pam

Do I understand this right? If your child who is past 3rd grade is having difficulties in reading (not at grade level) you should not even bother to work with the school on getting extra help thru special education?
What if the child had difficulties in all subjects due to processing speed issues and memory issues?
Do you suggest an after school tutor instead of special education within the school?