5 Reasons Why Good Grades Don’t Rule Out Dyslexia

This is Part One of a two-part series about what report cards might mean (or might not mean) for the struggling reader and writer.

graphic showcasing good grades at schoolThe school year’s first-grade reporting and parent-teacher conferences are coming up across the country. Often we find that parents of struggling readers and writers have outstanding questions and concerns as to how their child’s academic performance is being reported. Hearing your child’s teacher is satisfied with your son or daughter’s performance should feel great, but it can be extremely confusing if your gut is telling you the child is not reaching his or her full potential at school.

Why Do Good Grades Do Not Rule Out Dyslexia?

1. Reading is reported to be “on grade level,” which is confusing since you see your child struggle with reading and writing at home.

  • Reading assessments used from school to school vary greatly around the country, and many do not give the full learning profile of your child.
    Children with dyslexia have great coping skills/strategies to help them read passages with accuracy (clues from the context, being able to successfully guess words, relying on a thorough vocabulary).
    Using these skills typically works for a while, but by 3rd and 4th grade dyslexic children’s underlying difficulties with decoding tend to surface and cause problems.

2. Your child’s strengths, such as having a strong vocabulary and high emotional intelligence, might make him or her “slip through the cracks.”

  • Children with dyslexia learn early on to compensate for their areas of weakness, since they often have average/above-average intelligence and strong listening and speaking skills.
    Being bright and often borderline gifted with a learning disability (twice exceptional), present inconsistencies in academic performance and can make it very difficult for parents and teachers to pinpoint the underlying cause to their literacy difficulties.
    Teachers often have children with many different learning needs in their class and often are not well-trained in identifying learning differences.

3. You are wondering why you received a good report from school when you see your child struggling at home.

  • As a parent you might see more going on behind the scenes. Your child might be adapting and compensating at school, but comes home exhausted and emotionally deflated.
    Perhaps your child has started to open up about his or her feelings, like feeling as if he or she is not as smart as peers.
    Homework is becoming a daily battle. Your child is struggling to complete assignments that you know he/she can cognitively understand. It seems that he or she is held back due to reading, writing and spelling difficulties.
    You see your child becoming anxious and avoiding reading, writing and homework. Your child who was once excited and willing to try, no longer wants to make any effort.

4. The school dismisses the signs you are seeing of dyslexia and is not addressing them.

  • Federal funds do not require public schools to test children for dyslexia. Schools test for eligibility for special education services which is not diagnostic testing.
    Since there is very little training and support in the area of dyslexia in schools, well-intentioned staff may not pick up on the signs of dyslexia.
    Even if the school does pick up on the signs of dyslexia, it is almost certain they do not have the training or staffing to provide your child with daily, individualized dyslexia intervention.

5. Another label such as “behavioral difficulties,” has been given to your child.

  • Behaviors that commonly show themselves at school in children coping with dyslexia are likely to cause them to be called: immature, the “class clown” and/or a trouble maker.
    Students with dyslexia may also have challenges with executive functioning that make them appear disorganized, inattentive or careless. The teacher may assume that since your child is doing so well in other subject areas, the lack of growth in literacy or bad handwriting and spelling is due to lack of effort and may judge your child to be “lazy.”

Why Teachers and Schools Miss the Signs

Teachers may not recognize that dyslexia is at the root of these problems. And, if your child is doing well on graded assignments, teachers may not realize there is a problem at all!

Don’t let a good report card override your instinct if you are seeing other symptoms such as:

  • Substituting words for other words that make sense in the sentence when reading aloud.
  • Omitting or changing sounds in words for reading or spelling.
  • Doing well on the spelling test but not being able to spell those words in other contexts, such as writing assignments.

It is important to have your child assessed and treated early. This gives you and your child a clear path forward to help him/her overcome any literacy difficulties and sets him/her up for academic success.

If you haven’t administered our online dyslexia screener yet, we strongly recommend it to all parents of struggling readers, writers, and spellers. If you have completed the test, online dyslexia therapy from Lexercise is a great way to get children the help they need–even if the school is unable to provide it.

3 Responses to 5 Reasons Why Good Grades Don’t Rule Out Dyslexia

  • Misty Hess commented

    I wish I had read this article about 4 years ago. Our son was doagnosised with ADHD, Executive Dysfunction, and Reading Fisorder/Dyslexia this summer. We’ve really struggled creating a plan for him. The doctor gave us an appendix with a lot of recommendations, but not a true plan on how we should handle everything. My husband and I are so frustrated. I wish they had a medical plan they could just give us to fix it all for our son, but I know that will never happen so we keep plugging along hoping that we are making the best educated decisions we can.

    • Misty,
      The “canned” recommendations that are often appended to reports are just too general to help much. But individualized plans are very difficult to deliver in group learning (school) settings. You can sense from the parents’ comments here how very different the individualized therapy experience is from model used in public education. We’d be happy to help if we can.

  • t.b commented

    I really appreciated this article, im 22 now and am doing a masters in genetics. In recent years it has dawned on me that my reading abilities really are bellow par when compared to my contemporaries. I was tested for dyslexia at school, but no-one really told me If I was dyslexic or not, and frankly I was embaressed by the whole thing so i just Ignored he whole situation. Wihout ever saying it a loudI desperately didnt want people to label me as dyslexic because in my childish mind I thought that meant I wasnt clever.
    Your comments on slipping through the cracks is spot on. I never strugled with concepts or understandig the general mood of some writing, and would regularly just make educated guesses at what the answers were to reading comprehension questions, without reading the writing. As for reading aloud to the class I would always do so very slowly and act as if I wasn’t interested, killin the mood of the readin aloud session so the teacher wouldn’t want to pick me again in the future. Daft I know now, but at the time i so desperately didnt want to be found out as “not clever”.

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Jennifer Salisbury

In 2004, Jennifer joined Teach for America as a special educator where she taught kindergarten through fifth grade. Her passion for reading instruction led her to be trained in a program based on the Orton-Gillingham method. After achieving significant results with her students, she began conducting trainings to help strengthen other teachers’ reading instruction. “My motivation as a teacher is to share my love of learning, and my gift has been working with struggling readers. There is no better feeling than to help someone become a strong reader and independent learner.” Jennifer earned a B.A. in Global studies University of California Santa Barbara and M.S. in Special Education from Lehman College.