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Strategies to Get an Appropriate Educational Program
for Children with Dyslexia and Other Learning Disabilities

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 and his reading grade level is 2.3. After 3 years of special education, he regressed and is even further behind.

sad boy

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

The school insists that Paul's strengths are “"reading in context" and using "a variety of different strategies to decode words”." Despite test scores that show he has regressed 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’ is based on the Orton-Gillingham principles of teaching and 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 (untrained) 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 teaches alternative reading strategies. If she doesn't use an appropriate program like Wilson consistently, Paul will not learn to read and will continue 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 halfway.” She said I was “not entitled to dictate the method they chose to use to teach my child. ”

I requested more 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.

* * * * * * * *

From Pam Wright: 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 one year of progress in reading. The fact that he made so little progress is evidence that the reading method used by the school was not appropriate.

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

Your Game Plan

Get an Evaluation from an Expert in the Private Sector
You need to get a comprehensive evaluation of Paul by an independent evaluator who has expertise in dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities. The evaluation needs to describe his educational needs and the reading program he requires to receive FAPE. The evaluator should attend the IEP meeting to describe the reading program Paul needs and that his teacher needs to be trained to use this method.

The evaluator also needs to describe what will happen if the school does not provide the educational services he needs -- that he is on track to be illiterate, unable to read proficiently, and how this will damage him throughout his life. Most IEP teams give outside experts credit for knowing what children need.

Your independent expert could 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.

Use IDEA

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 the law to obtain a better IEP for their children.

Learn how to include research-based methodology in the IEP and ensure that the IEP goals are comprehensive, specific -- and measurable. Wayne advises you about pitfalls to avoid and offers advice about how to 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.

Use the Federal Guidance on Educating Children with Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia

In 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 school administrators and teachers about these requirements. Download the Guidance Publication on Educating Students with Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia. Make several copies to share with the administrators and teachers at your child's school.

Use the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

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 created a higher standard for a free, appropriate public education and how parents can use the law to obtain a better IEP for their children.

You will learn how to include research-based methodology in the IEP and ensure that the IEP goals are comprehensive, specific -- and measurable. Wayne advises you about pitfalls to avoid and offers advice about how to 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
.

Become an Expert: Join the International Dyslexia Association

You need to become an expert on dyslexia and how children with dyslexia learn to read. Visit the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) site. The IDA publishes excellent information about dyslexia for individuals, families, and professionals.

Consider attending the annual conference for your state and/or the National Conference. After an IDA conference, you will have new ideas and are likely to meet new friends.

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.

Use the Federal Education Law (ESSA)

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

Dealing with Resistance from School Staff

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

Unfortunately, your experience with the resistant teacher is not unusual. Many teachers are in a tough spot. If this teacher knew how to implement an effective research-based reading program, it is unlikely she would resist. If the teacher felt confident that her supervisors would provide her with the training she needs, it is unlikely she would resist.

Request a meeting with the principal to discuss the resistance you encountered from the teacher and your position that special education teachers need an upgrade in their professional training to do their jobs. You can use the ESSA's requirements for evidence-based interventions to support your position.

After the meeting, write a note to document what you requested and what you were told. When you put these issues in writing, you make it more likely that the administrator will realize they have a problem and need to deal with it. If you know other parents who share your concerns, see if they are willing to support you.

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 writing letters and keeping a log to maintain a good paper trail

I have copies of all paperwork sent to 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.

Last revised: 04/21/2022

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