Many students require extra help in reading. When evaluating remedial reading programs for your child, be aware that not all programs are effective and many can be a waste of time. I made a list of 5 important questions to ask before enrolling your child in this extra reading help.
1. Will the reading help my child receives be provided by a trained teacher, paraprofessional or a parent volunteer?
In many schools parents are trained to work as parent volunteers and aids to help the students who are struggling. If your child has been diagnosed with a learning disability, or you suspect a more severe issue than the school is acknowledging, then you will probably want to decline any reading help that is not from a highly trained reading therapist or reading specialist. A child with true learning difficulties will need instruction delivered by an experienced expert using an effective method for sufficient time for the child to catch up to grade level.
2. What specific reading help will my child be receiving?
A child with a reading disability will need a multisensory, systematic, very structured and cumulative reading program with direct and explicit instruction in phonemic awareness and followed by synthetic and analytic phonics with lots of repetition and practice. It will need to integrate the teaching of listening, speaking, reading, spelling, vocabulary, fluency, handwriting, and written expression. Also, remedial programs differ from “mainstream” programs in the extent to which phonology and language structure are explicitly taught. For best results, avoid reading help that teaches your child the material in the same way he or she was taught the first time around. That didn’t work. Also avoid programs that allow too many kids in the group. The idea is that your child needs more individualized attention.
3. What kind of training in this reading help does the teacher delivering the instructions have?
Although the choice of reading program is important, the expertise and training of the teacher are even more critical. Attendance at a 2 day workshop is probably enough to gain an overview of an approach, but to be truly competent at using this approach, a teacher or therapist should have completed at least 20 – 30 hours of training as well as plenty of experience teaching the program.
4. What will my child miss in the classroom while he gets this reading help?
Being pulled out of class can be challenging for students, especially in the middle school years, since they might have to make up material that they miss in class and might receive lower grades in subjects in which they normally do well.
5. Can I come and watch a session?
Check out the teacher, the program and the other students. See if this is the right fit for your child and if the reading help is working and delivering results.
Learn more about the New PRIDE Reading Program
Karina Richland, M.A. is the Founder and Director of PRIDE Learning Centers, located in Southern California. Ms. Richland is a certified reading and learning disability specialist. Ms. Richland speaks frequently to parents, teachers, and professionals on learning differences, and writes for several journals and publications. You can visit the PRIDE Learning Center website at: www.pridelearningcenter.com
A parent is asking “Why don’t they test dyslexia in all children?”
My answer is that morally speaking, they should, but legally speaking, all schools are supposed to test children for learning disabilities such as dyslexia when there is a reason to do so. The reason to test dyslexia in a child can be as innocuous as a suspicion on the part of a professional teacher or staff member that something (perhaps) unknown prevents a particular student from learning.
Schools are supposed to act as required by law. There is no absolute requirement to test dyslexia in all children, so schools do not currently assess all students for dyslexia unless there is a particular reason to do so. When a parent, teacher or staff member believes that an assessment may be needed in an area of suspected disability, that belief provides a particular reason to ‘test’ or ‘assess’ whether a learning disability such as dyslexia is present. There are many reasons to believe that a particular child should be assessed for a learning disability.
Imagine being a teacher. You are staring into the faces of 20 eager students seated at their desks and looking at you expectantly. Each one is different. Each one looks different. Each one has a different name. Each one has a different background. Not one of them approach learning in the same way. Some of them have disabilities that impact learning, and all of them have the ability to learn if provided special education services and accommodations.
In my experience in a typical K-12 class, there will be an average of at least five kids in twenty who do not seem to focus on the lessons written on the board or textbooks, who write letters backwards, who seem unable to keep handwritten text organized and spaced properly on a page, who squirm, daydream, speak out of turn, fail to follow directions, become defiant, hate school, and/or distract the class from the lesson plan. Any of these characteristics can be indications that something is preventing each of these students from learning. Students demonstrating any of these behaviors could be candidates for testing dyslexia and assessment if there is a suspicion that a disability may be causing the behaviors interfering with learning.
A disability does not have to actually exist to trigger the law’s duty to ‘Child Find.’ It is enough if there is an area of suspected disability.
Although it is the school’s responsibility to implement ‘Child Find’ policies to identify and then remediate learning disabilities, savvy parents with advocacy experience will always want to assure in advance that everybody does the right thing, and follow-up afterwards. Here’s how we do it: put in writing all reasons for the concerns that a disability may exist. Explain that whatever the cause may be, it is impeding your child’s learning. Cite examples, and ask for a psycho-educational evaluation at the school’s expense to determine whether a learning disability is interfering with your child’s access to the educational curriculum. This will trigger a timeline, and the school will have a certain amount of time to respond. Deadlines do tend to motivate action, but a parent who is pro-active will not wait for the school to schedule an assessment; for many reasons it is advisable to take a child to a private psychologist who specializes in psycho-educational evaluations.
Some parents feel that psychologists employed by a school district have a first loyalty to the school district/employer and not to the child being tested. These parents feel there is a built-in bias or conflict of interest when the testing staff are employees of an entity which may have adverse interests to their child. There are nonprofit organizations and some private psychologists providing sliding fee scales depending on a family’s ability to pay for the private evaluation(s), which can become costly. Finally, the testing psychologist writes a report, or assessment, about a student – these should be written only after careful study, testing, observation, interviews with teachers, staff, parents, friends (if applicable) and review of student’s work product. No single method of evaluation is sufficient to determine whether a learning disability exists.
A parent can call for an individual education plan (IEP) meeting at any time by writing and delivering a letter to the appropriate school staff. Schools may fail in their ‘child find’ efforts, but no parent should! Any parent who believes something is interfering with her child’s ability to read, write, spell, and do math ought to have her child evaluated to see whether a learning disability exists, and find out what can be provided in the way of educational services and accommodations to allow this child to receive an appropriate education.
So, if you think your child has dyslexia, be a squeaky wheel and get a dyslexia test for your child. Nobody will do your child’s educational advocacy for you. For more information, ask someone with experience to teach you to advocate for your child’s educational needs. Be sure to bring every educational document in your possession, including IEP documents, testing from the past, teacher letters, etc.
It is with adult vigilance, follow-through and careful observation that all students who need it will be ‘found’ through ‘Child Find.’ That is, they are identified, assessed, and provided with the educational services and accommodations needed to learn effectively.
Learn more about the New PRIDE Reading Program
Nan Waldman, Esq. is a special education and disabilities consultant in Los Angeles with 20 years of experience in the field. She is also a parent and primary caregiver of a child with disabilities, a teacher, an advocate and a lawyer. Nan Waldman, Esq. can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Summer is just around the corner! Before heading to the beach, here are a few tips to help close out the end of the school year IEP and plan ahead for September’s IEP.
Tip 1: Collect Your Child’s Work Samples
Your child’s teacher is probably busy cleaning out the classroom. This is a perfect time to collect work samples, such as writing journals; completed consumable workbooks (Language Arts, Math); artwork; and work samples that the teacher may have saved in a personal or portfolio file. This information will come in handy to measure progress (or regression) over the summer and the next school year.
Tip 2: Ask for the Raw Data for the Report Card and IEP Goal Progress Report
Your child’s Report Card and IEP Goal Progress Report contain general statements about achievement (e.g., “Partially Proficient – Sometimes Meets Standards” or “Progress has been met towards the goal”). It is important to ask for the actual raw data that the staff relied on to reach conclusions about your child’s progress.
Tip 3: Request a Complete Copy of Your Child’s School Records
Summer is a perfect time to organize your child’s file. This is especially true if you plan on consulting with professionals over the summer. In California, a school district must provide a parent with a copy of their child’s school records within five business days of a parent’s request. Since a child’s school may be closed during the summer, a parent should contact the District Office to request a copy of records.
Tip 4: Consult with Professionals to Discuss IEP Concerns
If you have concerns about your child’s IEP and are thinking about consulting with a private assessor, an advocate or an attorney, it is a good idea to schedule appointments during the early summer plan instead of waiting until late summer or early Fall. It takes time to search for professionals, schedule appointments, gather records, analyze files, conduct assessments, prepare reports, discuss recommendations, and implement strategies.
Tip 5: Submit Request for IEP Meeting
If you need to meet with the IEP Team in early September, then it is a good idea to submit your written request before the end of the school year. In California, an IEP Meeting must be scheduled within 30 calendar days from the school’s receipt of a parent’s written request. However, there is an exception to the 30-day timeline: a district does not need to count the days between regular school sessions (e.g., the summer break). If you submit your written request at the beginning of June, then the countdown will start in June, stop during the summer break, and start again when school is back in session. The early bird catches the worm!
Tip 6: Measure Your Child’s Levels of Performance Before and After Summer
A child with an IEP may be eligible for special education services during the summer, commonly referred to as “Extended School Year” (ESY) services. Decisions about the intensity and duration of ESY services should be based on reliable data. Parents are in an excellent position to observe the extent to which their child’s levels of performance vary with instructional breaks over the summer (e.g., the end of June to the beginning of September). Parents can gather data or work with an educational consultant to measure progress or regression. A logical source for data is the child’s performance on his or her IEP goals and/or benchmarks.
Learn more about the New PRIDE Reading Program
Caroline A. Zuk, Esq., is a former special education advocate and attorney for children. She has nearly 30 years of combined experienced as a special education teacher, diagnostician and attorney.
Most people have read the quotation, “History is written by the victors.” In special education law, victory is often achieved by the best historians. Obtaining, keeping, and organizing your child’s educational records for an IEP might be the single most important variable for your chances of a positive outcome in the event of a disagreement with your child’s school district.
Almost any special education attorney will begin your intake interview by asking for your educational records, and, should you be forced to press your child’s claims through a due process hearing, the majority of evidence bound up in heavy volumes that are ultimately presented to the judge will be made up of those same educational records. In fact, that’s a good way to think about your educational records during any phase of a special education dispute: EVIDENCE. With this in mind, follow the few simple tips below to maximize the utility of these building blocks of special education law and organizing your student’s educational records for an IEP.
Do Not Rely on the School District to Keep Complete Special Education Records: School districts are required by federal laws such as FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to keep educational records, and to make these records available to parents upon request. However, the increasing volume of records coupled with the growing ubiquity of digital or “cloud” storage has resulted in many Districts computerizing student’s educational files. While there are several obvious advantages to the digitalization of student records (conservation of storage space, environmental concerns, ease of transfer, etc.), one major drawback is that not every document which might be considered an “educational record” will find its way from the physical file to the hard drive.
Documents like IEPs, report cards, and District-provided evaluations tend to make the transition to digital format, while documents that are less easily scannable (e.g. student work samples) or documents which were not generated on a computer to begin with (e.g. teacher or service provider notes) can get lost in the shuffle. All of which is to say that documents containing valuable information about your student’s day-to-day performance and progress may not be among the records provided by a District subject to a FERPA or IDEA records request. This leads us to our next tip . . .
Cultivate Healthy Relationships With Your Student’s Teacher or Service Provider: Parents naturally consider issues surrounding their student’s education to be both important and personal, and when disagreements arise relationships can quickly turn contentious. That said, teachers, aides and service providers can be the most valuable sources of the sorts information and records missing from sanitized District educational files. Periodic progress reports (even monthly or bi-monthly) from those on the front line can go a long way toward filling the gaps between annual or triennial data collection like IEPs and formal assessments. Get these records yourself. Keep them. The contrast between your set of records and those maintained by the District can make all the difference.
Organizing Your Records Is Almost as Important as Having Them in the First Place: If you’ve followed the above two tips, you’ll almost certainly have a voluminous set of records for your student. When parents have thousands, or even tens of thousands of pages of documents, it will be difficult for anyone – even your lawyer, or, more importantly, a judge – to distill from this record all of the subtlety and detail that you, the parent, understand simply by being a first-hand observer. Anything that you can do to begin to isolate the issues and tell the story of your student will begin to define the trajectory of your case. In organizing your records, be attuned to a couple of focal points.
1.) Chronological organization works for everyone. There may be better and more intuitive ways to organize your educational records than chronological order, but we won’t know that until we’ve read them all. Organizing records chronologically makes their initial presentation more cohesive to advocates and attorneys. Like most things that appeal to people immediately, it’s just the simplest way.
2.) Think concretely. Dealing with educational issues on a daily basis can grind anyone down. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day slights and mistakes that seem most offensive at the time they occur. However, these things in isolation often do not amount to legal claims. Keep in mind that addressing your student’s educational needs is the District’s obligation, and proving concrete and specific ways in which the District failed to address those needs over time is how parents prevail in due process matters. This is best shown by demonstrating lack of progress or a persistent area of weakness for your student, not by what happened in a classroom on any given day.
Summaries are an Invaluable Tool: Remember that history may be written by the victors, but victory goes to the best historians. No one knows the story of your student better than you, and educational records are your best tool to tell that story. Challenge yourself to summarize your student’s educational records at least annually with a one-to-two page document that outlines the concrete issues that have arisen over the year and the remedies you believe may address those issues. If you can master your evidence, your advocate or attorney will have a running start in mastering it too. Take a hand in writing your student’s history.
Learn more about the New PRIDE Reading Program
Valerie Vanaman graduated from the Ohio State University College of Law in 1967. After law school, Valerie worked in legal services for several years and received from the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association the Reginald Heber Smith Award for Dedicated Service. In 1980, Valerie founded with Joel S. Aaronson the Law Firm of Newman.Aaronson.Vanaman and through that Law Firm carried on her work begun at the Children’s Defense Fund in developing the practice of special education law. Since opening Newman.Aaronson.Vanaman, Valerie has been a tireless advocate for students and the parents of students with disabilities and educational needs, and a preeminent authority on the field of special education law. She can be reached at: 818-990-7722 or visit her website at: www.navlaw.net
In the children’s book Madeline, Nurse Clavel is lying in bed when she bolts upright in fright in the middle of the night and says, “Something is not right.”
She had the good sense to trust her intuition about a child in her care. Parents who suspect that something may not be right can trust their intuition and do well to follow Nurse Clavel’s example to get help.
A parent’s intuition is a reliable indicator of the existence of a learning difference or a disability, which interferes with a child’s ability to access the curriculum in school.
When a child is not doing well in school, there may be good reason for you to request an immediate assessment. Responsible parents always want to be certain the school is providing what is needed for their child to succeed in school. To know what is necessary, an assessment is the first thing to do in order to identify the issues to remedy.
What is an assessment?
An assessment is simply a standardized test performed by someone trained and licensed to understand how to give the test and how to interpret the results. The assessor will write a report. If the report indicates a need for special education services or accommodations, school staff and parents in a meeting will discuss the report’s findings.
Parents will receive notice of the meeting. It is called an IEP meeting. An Individual Education Plan designed to provide FAPE, a Free; the IEP team will design Appropriate Public Education. The document, which results from the IEP team meeting, is also called “The IEP.” The IEP is a contract between parents, who are the holders of a child’s educational rights, and the child’s school. There are many ways parents can affect an offer of FAPE, and among them is participating fully in the IEP process, and being certain that all areas of suspected disability are assessed and investigated — thoroughly, fairly and objectively.
How do you get an assessment?
You write a letter to the school and ask for one in a signed and dated letter, describing why you believe your child needs to be assessed.
Be brief, and describe what it is that makes you think an assessment should be performed. If you can, describe the possible disabilities, which prompted your writing: hearing, vision, learning difference, other health impairment, etc.
How is a learning disability remedied?
Students who have been assessed often require more educational services, accommodations, support and/or remediation than those provided to the general student population. These are called ‘special education services’ and Federal and State laws created special education as a civil right.
Are Special Education Services and Accommodations Really Special?
Imagine a pencil taped very high on the wall.
It is not within easy reach for people of average height.
People of average height must jump to reach the pencil and take it off the wall.
People who are very tall will easily extend an arm to reach the pencil and take it down.
People who are very short must stand on a chair to reach the pencil and take it down.
— That chair describes special education services and accommodations.
Here are some insights about our perceptions of those using the chair: The shortest people are no less worthy for needing the chair. The tallest people are no more worthy for not needing the chair. People are people — and some of us need the chair to reach the pencil. The chair levels the playing field.
One in five children have a learning disability, and these range from hardly noticeable to severe. With expert and targeted remedial help — and heaps of extra praise — children with learning disabilities can be taught appropriately and motivated to work extra hard to address their learning needs effectively.
How do you know whether an assessment is needed?
You look for signs and symptoms. A child with a learning disability, for example, will take in and process information differently and needs to be taught by specialists. Some people with learning differences also have another diagnosis, such as ADHD.
Effective early intervention is the key to succeeding in life! It can be a tremendous relief to you as a parent if you understand that success is not necessarily affected by learning differences if learning differences are remedied appropriately – so, the training needed must begin sooner rather than later for the best result. It is heartwarming to see the relief a child feels when their reading ability improves after struggling so long. Their self-esteem improves as their abilities improve.
Because early intervention is best, the sooner parents can identify a learning disability and complete the assessment process, the sooner a child can begin to be taught in a way that makes sense.
What method makes sense?
One that works! Forty percent of children in the United States have difficulties learning to read. Most of these children can learn to read at average grade levels if taught appropriately.
The most well-known and effective method for reading intervention is the Orton-Gillingham approach. With this approach, the teacher presents the building blocks of our language, vowels and consonants, one or two at a time, using a multisensory technique.
Here is an example of multisensory teaching: prompted by the letter ‘A’ on a flashcard, a student will say it’s name, say its sound, and ‘write’ the letter ‘A’ on their other palm using an inkless index finger. This technique uses sight, hearing, movement and touch.
Orton-Gillingham-trained teachers help students with dyslexia to progress because of the sequential, repetitive and systematic structure of the Orton-Gillingham approach. It is effective, thorough — but also slow. Unfortunately, due to the time requirements in public school classrooms, most teachers cannot incorporate this method into their daily curriculum.
But, you can’t remedy what you don’t thoroughly understand. Here are some indications that an assessment is needed for a learning disability. Other disabilities have other indications for which an assessment can be requested. See www.pridelearningcenter.com for more about learning disabilities.
- Choppy and labored reading
- Reading comprehension inconsistent with intelligence
- Words are omitted or lines of text are skipped over while reading
- Unusual spelling
- Disoriented handwriting
- Easily distracted
- Attention wanders and on-task focus disappears
- Labored writing
- Spatial disorientation
- May ignore margins completely
- May pack words or sentences too tightly on the page
- Frustrated with expressive written and oral communication
- Doesn’t complete class work or homework on time
- Wrongly accused of being lazy, unmotivated, difficult or unintelligent
- Letter reversals
- Difficulty copying off the board
If, like Nurse Clavel, you find your intuition keeping you awake at night, look for indications that an assessment is needed. And get your child assessed!
About the Authors
Karina Richland, M.A. is the Founder of Pride Learning Centers, located in Los Angeles and Orange County. Ms. Richland is a reading and learning disability specialist. She speaks frequently to parents, teachers, and professionals on learning differences, and writes for several journals and publications. You can reach her by email at email@example.com
Learn more about the New PRIDE Reading Program
Nan, Waldman, Esq. is a special education and disabilities consultant in Los Angeles with 20 years of experience in the field. She is also a parent and primary caregiver of a child with disabilities, a teacher, an advocate and a lawyer. Nan Waldman, Esq. can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org