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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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?


My kids are at level 1.7


But he is also smart but he needs more practice. oh no so what should I do? I might have to teach him myself and then my job members pay me. I got all the stuff so like I’m prepared


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!

Jamie Jones

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.


Dale, I praise you for your training, passion and wisdom. I, as a parent, of a dyslexic child who is now in college had to advocate at such a high level for my child years ago. My child had a teachers like you who were trained in both Orton, Wilson and Read 180 AFTER we advocated. My child loved Read180 because the teacher was allowed to teach it with fidelity, classroom support and motivated the students. Teachers increased my child’s confidence. I also focused on my child’s confidence and focused on extracurriculars outside activities which provided a balance. Sometimes, the system is broken and LD kids are pushed through the system. Parents have to strategize and navigate to ensure success. Wrightslaw gave me the resources to “talk the talk” of advocacy and prevail.


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.

Linda C

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?


I am an ESE certified teacher, and the University of South Florida ESE teacher training program does (or at least used to….) include several courses about teaching reading. I discovered, though, that I didn’t have what I needed to teach reading to my middle school students. So….back to school for me. I am now also reading certified, and teach reading all day, mainly to ESE students but also to struggling students without an ESE label. I am lucky to have support from my district, primarily because of the success I have been able to demonstrate. My students who come to me in 6th grade with reading comprehension below 3rd grade. Most of the students with various learning disabilities make growth averaging 3 years in one school year. By the time they finish 7th grade, most are reading at a 6th to 7th grade level. Not perfect, but high enough to allow them success in regular academic classes. Even my students with low cognitive abilities – those the state classifies as having mental retardation – are learning to read to a 3rd or 4th grade level. I agree with you about needing to investigate not only the certification of the ESE teacher, but what specific programs are available. There is no single program that works for all students. The secret to my sucess is a good para, and the ability I have to choose from several research-based programs to find the program with the best fit for an individual student. Before allowing a student to be placed into ESE, make sure you know exactly what the education will look like – even within one district, there are large variations between schools. Then, once your student is placed, insist on regular assessments, at least once a year, to measure growth.


I cannot thank you enough for this article. We have found ourselves in the same situation with our 4th grade daughter-and had I known then what I know now, I would never have put her in Special Ed. Where I thought she would receive and individualized program with intense work in her deficit areas, instead she was dropped through the cracks and shelved. And that is with nonstop advocating on my part trying to right the boat and have her taught to her ability. You give me hope that the daily tutoring, intense summer program and our belief that she can and will do it worth all of the doors we have had to break down to have her educated with her peers up to her ability.

Thank you,

Stacia Irons

Karen: I agree with you.

It’s my understanding that only a handful of colleges and universities teach teachers what you learned at the University of Oregon. This is a problem that’s been discussed for years (decades?), no change. Colleges (or college teachers) don’t want anyone to dictate what they teach. Do you know other colleges that have a similar approach to the U of Oregon? ~ Pam


I would say it would depend on the university that the SPED teacher went to. I graduated from the University of Oregon. They are very serious about teaching teachers how to teach reading.
All graduates are trainned in Direct Instruction Programs and cirriculum and as a teacher, I have taught hundreds of children how to read. My third grade special ed students out performed their regulary ed peers in reading and math.


I wanted to write to tell you how helpful the Wrightslaw site and books have been to me and my son. My son is in the fourth grade and has dyslexia. (Diagnosed in third grade by an independent evaluator.) Thanks to the information I learned from Wrightslaw materials, I am able to attend IEP meetings as a knowledgeable team member. I have been able to argue using fact as opposed to being just an emotional parent. At our most recent meeting, I was able to obtain a dyslexia appropriate Orton-Gillingham influenced program that will be taught to him during the school day. This is huge! Previously, school staff would not even use the WORD dyslexia, preferring to call it a Specific Learning Disability. We still have many issues to iron out, but without the knowledge I gained through Wrightslaw, we would not be this far along our path to success.

I would not agree to put a first grader who is having trouble learning to read in special ed – in fact, that’s the last place I would expect him to learn to read.

From talking with hundreds of reading teachers, reading specialists, and special educators over many years, very few special ed teachers have learned to use any research based reading methodologies as they are intended to be used. As a result, few kids learn to read in special education.

Read these articles – they should help:

Many reading teachers have problems related to having too many students to provide appropriate services:

You need to know exactly what training and certifications a teacher has in a multi-sensory research based reading program. Being a certified special education teacher doesn’t mean that teacher is qualified to teach a research based reading program – and that’s what your child needs. He doesn’t have time to waste.



When children get put into Special Ed do they then have to read grade level? My son is in 1st grade, he is reading at a level 4 and should be 12. The school is recommending him for Special Ed.


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