A government-funded research study released this month shows that public schools providing “intense reading intervention services” in a Response-to-Intervention (R-t-I) model often fail to improve student reading skills. In fact, this research suggests that, for some groups of students, the school intervention actually had a negative impact on broad reading skills. The researchers concluded that the interventions the schools are using might not be appropriate for some students. (Balu, R., et al., 2015)
The data from the Institute of Education Sciences and the Institute for Educational Statistics have long called in the question the effectiveness of public school R-t-I services for struggling readers, so this is really nothing new.
Lexercise uses an analogy for how this kind of failure might occur. The 3-legged stool illustrates that intervention must have three strong components all working together or intervention is likely to be ineffective (and stool falls over).
- BLUE LEG
- What was the intervention method? The government-funded research provides no clear description of the intervention curricula. It says it was “small group instruction”, but that’s a feature of the setting in which intervention occurs and not an intervention methodology.
- RED LEG
- Were the educators experts in language structure? There is no description of the competency of those who provided the intervention.
- ORANGE LEG
- Was there customized, daily practice for each student? We are not talking about seat-time here but how many response challenges each student got per day and his or her response to this practice. There is no description of that.
Balu, Rekha, Pei Zhu, Fred Doolittle, Ellen Schiller, Joseph Jenkins, and Russell Gersten (2015). Evaluation of Response to Intervention Practices for Elementary School Reading (NCEE 2016-4000). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.
We hear from parent after parent that the school is failing their child. Unfortunately, schools deny dyslexia and delay children from getting the right help. There are many flaws in the bureaucracy of school systems that make it difficult if not impossible to identify a child with dyslexia and then provide them with the right intervention. Author Holly Korbey from KQED recently wrote about this difficulty in her article “Who Helps Kids With Dyslexia Gain Reading Fluency?”. The article highlights dyslexia expert, educational psychologist, and our friend Martha Youman, Ph.D.
Martha began as an elementary school teacher and quickly realized that despite her master’s in teaching she was completely uneducated to identify her struggling students as dyslexic. Since then, Martha has continued on to become a dyslexia expert and school psychologist to help identify and support those children with learning disabilities. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough, Martha admits “… there are multiple bureaucratic barriers standing in the way of students getting help” (Korbey, 2015). Even if a parent is able to get their child an IEP after months if not years of passing through red tape, it may not be effective. Martha says “…..whether or not IEPs actually help depends upon the individual school’s resources, because teachers and paraprofessionals need to be trained on what exercises to do to help students diagnosed with dyslexia, and the best results come from individual instruction. She admitted that in many cases, IEPs don’t really work and many families must rely on private tutors” (Korbey, 2015). Dyslexia intervention in schools often means a child is taken out of class and given “extra help” in groups of 5-10. Yet individualized 1:1 help is absolutely necessary to teach a dyslexic child how to approach reading in a way that their brain is wired to learn.
Laurie Cutting, professor of special education and faculty director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Reading Clinic says “approximately 1-2 percent of kids will always struggle, but that leaves 48 percent — nearly all of that second half of the classroom — who would be greatly helped with direct instruction correctly administered”(Korbey, 2015). Cutting’s clinic uses the same Orton-Gillingham-based therapy that Lexercise provides; however, we have the advantage of helping any family no matter where they live. She goes on to explain the problem: “’You have a finite amount of money and a bunch of kids. The kids who are going to get the services are most likely the ones who are the most severe or have the most advocates… It’s sort of a fundamental fact of life. It’s too bad that we are not able to capture kids early enough to do some remediation so that they don’t have as many word-level problems. It’s too bad that teachers many times aren’t trained in a way that allows those kids to work through their weaknesses, to sound out their words. Because that would benefit all of the kids”(Korbey, 2015).
Who will help your child? We will. If you are concerned that your child may be dyslexic you can screen them for free here. Don’t wait for the school to provide inadequate help. Don’t let the school deny and delay your child the help that they need. Lexercise will match you with a specialized therapist who will help your child improve their reading to grade level in a matter of months!
Help Now, Diagnose Later
In seven years as a special education teacher, I sat in countless meetings where we reviewed a child’s assessment scores with the parents. In some of those, I shared with parents the challenging news that their child met the criteria of having a disability under the special education law. In others, I shared that their child did not meet the criteria. Having observed many of these meetings, and talking with even more parents since beginning my work with Lexercise, my thoughts on diagnosis have shifted. Here are a few things parents should know about a diagnosis.
- Not qualifying for special education does not mean your child does not need help.
I understand why parents feel relieved when they hear their child does not have a learning disability. On the surface it seems like great news, right? Here’s the thing though: your child was referred in the first place for testing, which means that he or she is significantly behind. It means that the teacher is very concerned about his or her progress. It means that something about the current education system is not working for the child. It means your child needs help, whether or not special education is able to provide it.
- Being diagnosed as dyslexic does not mean your child will qualify for special education. The guidelines that states use to determine whether to disburse funds allocated for special education service are not about diagnosis but about level of need. For instance, if a student has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or a mobility impairment, or a genetic deficit but is able to function to an acceptable level in the general education classroom, he or she will not qualify for special education. The same is true with dyslexia. Even if your child is learning to read and spell through unreliable strategies and in a way that will impair his or her literacy as an adult, the key question for special education is whether academic achievement is in the acceptable range. For many dyslexics, especially bright dyslexics, this rings true.
- Therapists don’t need a diagnosis to begin improving your child’s outcomes. If you are looking for information about dyslexia, chances are your child is struggling with reading. While a diagnosis will give us some information about why he or she is having a hard time, we can start improving his or her reading without a diagnosis. When you start therapy without a diagnosis, your clinician will do some quick assessments to determine whether your child has language comprehension difficulties, which would be the primary reason Structured Literacy would not work. For the same price as some evaluations, you could have bought enough therapy to get your child reading on grade level! So, why not start your child with therapy, see how they respond and then decide whether to test?
- Different states, and schools have different requirements for a dyslexia diagnosis. Since I started working with Lexercise, I’ve heard it all. “It’s a medical diagnosis, so your doctor has to make it” (Except that most doctors don’t do that kind of testing). “You need a neuropsychological evaluation” (Except that then they do the same intellectual and achievement testing most schools do for special education, which does not identify dyslexia). Schools often don’t have the resources to provide adequate help to dyslexic children, let alone diagnose them! Therapists who have worked with dyslexic kids know them when they see them. With most kids, I can look at a writing sample and tell whether it’s dyslexia in a matter of minutes. That’s not usually enough to get accommodations from the school and certainly not enough for special education, but it’s plenty for me to start teaching the kid to read, write and spell. Accommodations can be a vital part of a child’s academic success, but on the whole, learning to read is more important. While accommodations can be provided at any time with a diagnosis, the window for maximum language and literacy learning is much narrower and does not require a diagnosis to begin.
If your primary goal is to find out in great detail what is going on in your child’s brain, testing is the way to get that information. But, if your priority is to get your child reading and learning in a way that makes sense to them then I highly suggest you seek therapy sooner rather than later. As a result you can save you and your child time and frustration and start celebrating their improvement! Start getting help now and get a diagnosis later if you feel it’s still necessary.
The beginning of the school year is a busy time for families of school-aged kids but it also comes with a lot of frustration for parents of children with learning challenges.
We want you to know that it is not just you! We have compiled a list of frustrations we repeatedly hear from parents of dyslexic children. Have you experienced any of these frustrations with your struggling reader? If so, comment below or share this post to let other parents know that they’re not alone.
Here are the top 10 school frustrations we hear from families with dyslexic children:
“My smart daughter tells me she’s ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid’ because she compares her reading to her classmates.”
“She comes home from school in tears after being called on to read aloud, getting a bad grade in spelling, or running out of time on a test.”
“The school has told me for years that he would ‘outgrow’ his reading problems, and each year he gets further behind.”
“The school wants to hold my child back to repeat a grade just because of his reading level.”
“The school is teaching him to memorize words, instead of helping him to learn to read in a way his brain can understand.”
“The school treats accommodations as cheating and won’t even consider letting my child use audiobooks to learn.”
“The school gives my child too much homework, and it takes him twice as long as his peers!”
“The school says there is no such thing as dyslexia since they don’t have the resources to test or treat it.”
“The school’s tests show she isn’t far enough behind to qualify for additional support.”
“I paid for a test that proves my daughter is dyslexic – now the school won’t accept the results!”
We all know schools struggle to help dyslexic children, and we wish schools would get on board with what science says works. In the meantime, we are here to help. Contact us to connect with one of our expert dyslexia therapists or to schedule a free consultation on this page.