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My Child is Not Learning - What Can I Ask the School to Do?
by Sue Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw

"My son is 8 years old and in 2nd grade. Last fall, the school evaluated him, found that he has a learning disability, and placed him in a resource class for reading.

"He isn't learning to read in the resource class. He is failing math and barely passing his other subjects. His teacher is talking about retaining him. Because he was not learning at school, I took him for an outside evaluation. The evaluator diagnosed him with dyslexia and dysgraphia.

"I made a written request for a IEP review meeting. I sent copies of this evaluation to all members of his his IEP group. What can I suggest at this meeting? The process of getting help from the school is incredibly slow. I want to be prepared so I can make good decisions for my child."

From Sue

You need to thorougly understand the test results in your son's evaluations.

Read "What You Should Know About Evaluations" by parent attorney Bob Crabtree.

Next, read "Tests and Measurements for the Parent, Educator, Advocate & Attorney by Pete and Pam Wright. Use a highlighter and make margin notes. Read it again.

Look at the recommendations made by the evaluator - these recommendations should describe the educational program and services he needs.

Present Levels of Academic Achievement in the IEP

Your child's IEP is based on evaluations. The evaluation you had done includes the most current information about your son's present levels of academic achievement and functional performance.

Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd EditionWrightslaw: All About IEPs

Present Levels

Chapter 4, page 29

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The IEP team should use current information about your son's levels of performance as the basis of his IEP.

Your son is eight, almost nine years old. He does not have any more time to waste. Your goals are:

* to get the IEP updated so it is based on accurate, current information about his academic performance and reflects his needs, and

* to get an appropriate research-based reading program in place for the rest of this year and next year.

Your son hasn't learned to read. He doesn't have any more time to waste. Ask your evaluator to recommend an academic therapist or reading tutor who can begin working with him right away.

Children with learning disabilities who receive adequate reading instruction at an early age become fluent readers. Children who do not get adequate reading instruction at an early age do not become fluent readers.

Say "No" to Retention

The school should be using an appropriate research-based reading method to teach your child to read. Retention is not a research-based reading method and will not help him learn to read. Do NOT let the school retain him. Say "no".

Prepare for the IEP Meeting

IEP meetings are stressful. Consider hiring an advocate to help you negotiate a good IEP for your child.

To prepare for the meeting, you need to understand your child's evaluations and how to to measure progress. You also need to be knowledgeable about research-based reading programs, retention, IEPs, advocacy, letter-writing, and your child's right to a free appropriate education (FAPE).

If you have Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, read the chapters about organizing the child's file, evaluations, tests and measurements (2 chapters), SMART IEPs, letter-writing (2 chapters), and preparing for school meetings (2 chapters). Be sure to read the sample letters at the end of the letter writing chapters - they will help you think about how to frame your child's problems.

You need to become an expert in these areas. While this feels overwhelming now, you can do it if you take it one step at a time, one day at a time.



Advocating for Your Child - Getting Started - Good special education services are intensive and expensive. Resources are limited. If you have a child with special needs, you may wind up battling the school district for the services your child needs. To prevail, you need information, skills, and tools.

Parent Advocacy: What You Should Do - and Not Do - Good advice from attorney Leslie Margolis about steps parents can take to get quality educational services for their children with disabilities.

Understanding the Playing Field - Pat Howey, Indiana advocate, talks to parents about trust, expectations, power struggles between parents and schools and how to avoid them, the parental role, and the need to understand different perspectives.

More about advocacy

Evaluations & Measuring Progress

"What You Should Know About Evaluations" - Parent attorney Bob Crabtree writes, "As a parent, you must make sure that all areas of possible need are assessed as quickly as possible. While some parents would rather not allow their school system to evaluate their child, a refusal to cooperate at this stage of the process can backfire . . . "

Tests and Measurements for the Parent, Teacher, Advocate & Attorney by Pete and Pam Wright. To successfully negotiate for special ed services that provide educational benefit, you need to know how to interpret test scores - standard scores, percentile ranks, subtest scores, and age and grade equivalents.

Learn more about evaluations and how to measure progress.


Guide to the Individualized Education Program published by the U. S. Department of Education.
Learn how to write IEPs that improve teaching, learning, and educational results.

How to Write IEP Goals and Objectives. How can you get good goals and objectives in your child's IEP? What can you do if the school wants to use subjective "teacher observations," not objective testing in the IEP? How can parents avoid "methodology disputes?"

Writing IEPs for Success by Dr. Barbara Bateman. Dr. Bateman will teach you how to write IEPs that are educationally useful and legally correct. This article includes a discussion of transition and transition plans.

Learn more about Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

Dyslexia / Language Learning Disabilities

What Every Parent Should Know about Dyslexia

Dyslexia Basics

Decoding Dyslexia

Learning to Read

How to Catch Children Before they Fail at Reading

Why Children Succeed or Fail at Reading, Research from National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Program in Learning Disabilities

Reading Disabilities: Why Do Some Children Have Difficulty Learning to Read? What Can Be Done About It? by G. Reid Lyon, Ph.D.

Learn more about reading

Research-Based Reading Programs

Because less than 35 percent of fourth graders are proficient readers, No Child Left Behind requires schools to use research-based reading programs.

How to Find and Select an Academic Therapist

National Reading Panel Reports

Briefs for Families on Evidence-Based Practices - Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice

Learn more about research-based reading programs from the International Dyslexia Association in Matrix of Multi Sensory Stuctured Language Programs.


Grade Retention - Achievement and Mental Health Outcomes (National Association of School Psychologists) 6th grade students rated grade retention as the single most stressful life event. Retained students are less likely to receive a high school diploma, receive poorer educational competence ratings, and are less likely to attend any educational program after high school. Retained students receive lower educational and employment ratings and are paid less per hour.

Position Statement on Student Grade Retention and Social Promotion (National Association of School Psychologists) "Through many years of research, the practice of retaining children in grade has been shown to be ineffective in meeting the needs of children who are academically delayed."

Learn more about retention


When you advocate for a child, you use logs, calendars, and journals to create paper trails. You write letters to clarify events and what you were told. When you train yourself to write things down, you are taking steps to protect your child's interests. Learn more about letter-writing and paper trails.

Find an Advocate


National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems

Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates

Directory of Legal and Advocacy Resources

Rev. 03/31/14

Meet Sue Whitney

Sue Whitney of Manchester, New Hampshire, works with families as a special education advocate and is the research editor for Wrightslaw.

Doing Your Homework, Suzanne Whitney gives savvy advice about reading, research based instruction, and creative strategies for using education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools.

Her articles have been reprinted by,,, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys.

Sue is the co-author of Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind (ISBN: 978-1-892320-12-4) that was published by Harbor House Law Press, Inc.

She also served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC).

Sue Whitney's bio.

Copyright © 2002-2022 by Suzanne Whitney.

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