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How Can I Get the School to Provide an
Appropriate Reading Program?

When my child entered special education, he was in the 2nd grade. His reading grade level was 1.3. He is now in the 5th grade. His reading grade level is 2.3. 

sad boy

After 30 months of special education, he has fallen further behind.

"I have done a great deal of research about the components of an appropriate reading program for learning disabled children.  I requested that the school use a program that is structured, systematic, sequential, repetitive and phonologically based." 

The school insists that Paul’s strengths are “reading in context” and “employing a variety of different strategies to decode words” (i.e. picture cues, context cues). Despite test scores that show that Paul has not made progress with their methods, the school team continues to use it.

The special education supervisor attended the last IEP meeting because I refused to sign the IEP. She said our school district recently purchased the Wilson Reading System to use in resource classes.

Wilson is a good system – it’s based on the Orton-Gillingham principles of remediating kids with dyslexia. I was encouraged when I learned that the school purchased the Wilson Reading program until I discovered that Paul's teacher had no training in how to use the program and did not want to use it.

Paul's IEP says he will receive 45 minutes of “pull out instruction” a day. The teacher says she will use the Wilson Reading System two days a week. On the other three days, she will put him in a group where she will teach “alternative reading strategies.” If she doesn't use an appropriate program like Wilson consistently, Paul will to fall further behind.

I asked that Paul receive Wilson Reading System instruction five days a week. The principal said they were “trying to meet me half way.” She said I was “not entitled to dictate the method they chose to use to remediate my son.”

I requested additional time to review the IEP and did not sign it. We agreed to meet again in two weeks. Should I sign the IEP and be grateful for two days of Wilson?  I am so tired of fighting with them. I feel like giving up but my son is too important.

* * * * * * * *

You’re right – your son is too important. You can’t give up.

From your description, it sounds like your son has a language based learning disability - dyslexia. After 2.5 years of special education, he made 1.0 year of progress in reading. The fact that he made so little progress is evidence that the reading method that was being used is not appropriate.

Unfortunately, school culture often prevents school staff from realizing that sometimes, parents really do know what their children need. Teachers who need training in research based programs often do not get support from their administrators and do not get the training they need.

Your Game Plan

Get a Private Sector Evaluation

To get your son the help he needs, you need to have an independent expert who evaluated Paul and describe his educational needs. The evaluator should attend the IEP meeting and explain that your child needs a reading program that is “structured, systematic, sequential, repetitive and phonologically based,” and needs to be taught be a teacher who is trained in this method. The evaluator also needs to describe what will happen if the school does not provide the educational services he needs. Most IEP teams give outside experts credit for knowing what children need.

Your independent expert should be a child psychologist or educational diagnostician who specializes in reading disorders. To find an expert who understands the educational needs of children with dyslexia and other language learning disabilities, go to our Reading Library and scroll down to the Database of Service Providers.

Strategy: Use this federal Guidance Publication on Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia

On October 23, 2015, the US Department of Education issued a Guidance Publication to all school leaders about the need to address the "unique educational needs of children with dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia" and legal requirements for ensuring that these students receive a "high-quality education."

Your job is to educate the educators about these issues. We suggest that you download this Guidance Publication on Educating Students with Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia and make several copies to share with the educators and adminstrators at your child's school.

Strategy: Use IDEA 2004

Read 10 Tips: How to Use IDEA 2004 to Improve Your Child's Special Education by parent attorney Wayne Steedman.

Wayne explains how IDEA 2004 creates a higher standard for a free, appropriate public education and how parents can use NCLB to obtain a better IEP for their children.

Learn how to include research based methodology in the IEP and ensure how to that the IEP goals are comprehensive, specific -- and measurable. Wayne advises you about pitfalls to avoid and offers advice about how you can resolve disputes without resorting to a due process hearing - and what you should do if you cannot resolve your dispute.

IDEA 2004 places schools under increased pressure to use educational programs that work, i.e., that have a track record of success. “What works” for dyslexic children are research-based reading programs based on Orton-Gillingham principles. Learn more about research-based instruction

Strategy: Connect with your State Decoding Dyslexia Group

Decoding Dyslexia is a network of parent-led grassroot movements across the country. Their goals are to raise dyslexia awareness, empower families to support their children and inform policy-makers on best practices to identify, remediate and support students with dyslexia. Find your state group here.

Strategy: Use the federal education law (ESSA)

You can use the recently reauthorized version of the federal education law, Every Student Succeeds Act, (ESSA) to support your position. The law places emphasizes literacy and requires school districts to include "evidence-based interventions" in their comprehensive improvement plans.

Strategy: Dealing with Resistance

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Unfortunately, your experience with the resistant teacher is not unusual. The teacher may not know how to implement any other reading program or method. If this is the problem, you need to know this.

Write a polite letter that documents the resistance you encountered from the teacher and your attempts to resolve the problems. When you put your concerns in writing, it is more likely that administrators will realize that they have a serious problem on their hands and will take steps to deal with the problem.

Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy has sample letters that you can adopt to your circumstances.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Update from Kate

Thanks for your advice. I contacted organizations that could recommend evaluators who understand the needs of dyslexic children. Paul was screened at a school in Seattle that uses the Slingerland Method of Instruction. Slingerland is one of the organizations I called about recommendations for an independent evaluation.

I also called every resource teacher in our district to find out what methods they use to teach dyslexic children. It is up to the teacher to decide what method to use so most of them use different methods or an "eclectic" method which seems to be "a little of this and a little of that."

I had some success.  One school uses Slingerland for their resource students. Another school uses the Wilson Reading System.  I will try to move my son to another school if I cannot resolve the IEP issue.

I have done a great deal of reading on your web site.

I am trying writing letters and notes to maintain a good paper trail

I have copies of all paperwork sent to the school and received from the school. I organized my son's file as you recommend in your book, From Emotions to Advocacy.

I read your article about Tests and Measurements several times.

I used the results of the Woodcock-Johnson to make a chart of Paul's progress over the last three years. I will share this chart with the IEP team at our next meeting.

I hope we will be able to resolve these issues, but I want to be prepared if we cannot.

Recommended Reading

We asked attorneys, educators, and advocates to recommend their favorite books for the Advocacy Bookstore.

Here are some recommended books about reading, dyslexia and learning disabilities:

Straight Talk About Reading: How Parents Can Make a Difference During the Early Years by Susan Hall, Louisa Moats, and Reid Lyon

Parenting a Struggling Reader by Susan Hall and Louisa Moats

Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Overcoming Reading Problems at Any Level by M.D. Sally Shaywitz (Author)

Speech to Print: Language Essentials for Teachers by Louisa Cook Moats

Dyslexia: Theory & Practice of  Remedial Instruction by Diana Brewster Clark and Johanna Kellogg Uhry

The Dyslexic Scholar by Kathleen Nosek.

You will find more good books about education in the Research Based Instruction section of our bookstore.

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Last revised: 12/12/15

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