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Should You Request Special Ed Services from the School?
by Pam Wright & Pete Wright

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"I am tutoring a fifth grader who has dyslexia. On the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test, his standard score was 85, his age based percentile was 14-19. He is functioning on the 2.7 grade level for the test. He was given Reading Recovery in first grade and was taught to "guess" at reading.

"The parent wants the school to provide more help with his reading/language skills. She requested an evaluation for special education but the process seems to have stopped. Should she request help again?"

Pam answers:

The question that must be answered is whether anyone will teach him to read if he goes into special education. Several factors are working against him.

* Most special ed teachers are not trained to teach children to read. If they do have training, it is often superficial, or they are working in grades K-3. Colleges that train special education teachers do not teach them to use a specific method, nor do most special ed teachers get intensive training in reading instruction from their school districts.

* After third grade, the focus in school shifts from teaching children to read to the children reading to learn. With reading skills at the second grade level, this child will need intensive remediation to catch up.

Ask Hard Questions

The parent needs to ask many questions before she makes a decision about asking the school to evaluate her child for special ed. Once a child enters special ed, very few children ever leave. Approximately 50 percent drop out, and never graduate.

If the school didn't have staff who could teach him to read by the end of 5th grade, who will teach him now? What method will they use? What are the teachers' qualifications? How much training did they receive in this method? How much supervision did they receive? When did they receive training?

How will the IEP team measure and monitor the child's progress? How much progress will the IEP team view as sufficient? What will the IEP team do if he doesn't make acceptable progress and close the gap between his abilities and his reading achievement?

Why did the school use Reading Recovery? There is no evidence that Reading Recovery is effective or appropriate when used with children who have learning disabilities. If the school used a program that has no evidence of effectiveness with learning disabled students, why should the parents assume that the school learned a lesson from this costly mistake?

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

What would happen if this child had daily remediation by a tutor who is trained in Multi-sensory Structured Language methods? Approximately how long will it take to bring him up to grade level, given the fact that he is already three years behind? (The evaluator can probably answer some of those questions).

Options When Special Ed Won't Help

We have worked with thousands of youngsters like the boy you describe. If he was my child, and his only deficit was in language skills like reading and spelling, I would never allow him to go into special ed.

I would mortgage the house, ask the grandparents for help, and go into debt to get him tutoring by an expert in Multi-Sensory Structured Language methods, or place him into a private program that has a proven record of success with children who learn like he does.

Pete's History

Pete was diagnosed with severe dyslexia, dysgraphia, and other learning disabilities in the early 1950's. The public school staff told his parents that he needed to "try harder," that he "wasn't college material" and that they needed to lower their expectations for him.

His parents did not accept this assessment. They searched for a specialist who could teach him and found Diana Hanbury King. In the 1950s, Diana King was an expert in remediating children with dyslexia. Later, she founded The Kildonan School in Amenia NY.

Pete had one-on-one tutoring every day after school for two years. He also went to a residential program in the summer months. Because he received intensive remediation when he was young, he reads faster and writes more legibly than I do.

During that time, his parents were young, just starting their family and careers. It was difficult for them to pay for his tutoring but they knew they had to do it. If they didn't, Pete's future was bleak.

Advice from Reading Specialists and Regular Education Teachers

I have received so much correspondence from reading specialists and regular education teachers who who tell me how sad they are when a child goes into special ed because they know that child will never learn to read. This correspondence led to me to do some research into what special educators are taught in schools of education. Very few are learning to teach children with disabilities and other learning difficulties how to read.

Before a parent assumes that their child's needs will be met in special education, they need to ask questions about the program that will be used and the training and qualifications of the teachers who will administer the program. They need to ask questions about how the child's progress will be measured and monitored and at what intervals. They need to ask what will happen if the school's Plan A doesn't work.

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Revised: 00/00/07
Created: 03/26/07



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