IEP Archives - Lexercise

Systems vs. Goals: Is it time to toss out the resolutions?

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, many of us put the same things on our list year after year: lose weight, exercise more, travel, and so on. You probably have your own familiar favorites.

New Year’s resolutions are goals. Putting them on our list makes us feel like we’ve taken the first important step toward achievement. But the fact that they show up year after year suggests that having a goal is not enough. What’s more, having a goal may not be as important as we think.

A goal doesn’t explain how we do what we hope to accomplish. That’s the role of systems. Systems spell out the steps and track our progress.

Let’s look at this in terms of education and, specifically, teaching students to read, spell and write.


Teachers often set learning goals for students. Passing a standardized test is a goal. An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a list of goals. IEPs are the backbone of special education programs.

IEPs offer some systems guidance, such as the number of lessons per week and how progress will be measured. But they rarely track what matters most: the direct instruction of specific concepts and the frequency and number of practice challenges provided to the student. What is tracked, if anything, is seat-time. And, alas, seat-time is not practice.

Over many decades, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has shown that students who read at a below-basic level in 4th grade rarely become proficient readers by 8th grade. Even if they show up for classroom seat-time, the system doesn’t provide the necessary steps to move them toward literacy.

Could a tighter system approach change that? At Lexercise, we think it could.


Lexercise’s System Approach: Structured Literacy

Lexercise is a systems approach: one structured literacy lesson a week followed by at least 15 minutes a day of structured practice, four days a week. Our data over the last 10 years shows that students who actually use this system (not just aspire to it) make at least a year of reading gain in the first eight weeks!

Note the absence of a goal in the Lexercise approach. We don’t say that the student will be able to read a certain book, or will be able to read or write at a certain grade level. Those are goals. What we say is that if the student actually does the lesson and the practice, they will make significant progress.

James Clear writes about habits and human potential. In Chapter 1 of his book Atomic Habits, he writes about goals and systems. Again and again, he emphasizes the importance of process and actions over goals. “Systems-based thinking is never about hitting a particular number, it’s about sticking to the process and not missing workouts.” “Goals are about the short-term result. Systems are about the long-term process.”

Clear also emphasizes the importance of feedback as a way of tracking progress. At Lexercise, feedback is built into our ongoing testing system, so that the student sees and hears their progress as they move through the practice.

Can the systems approach work for your student? We think so. We’d also be very interested to see how the systems approach might change your New Year’s resolutions!

Whatever approach you take, we wish you the very best for 2019 and look forward to sharing our understanding of learning and to answering any questions you may have about dyslexia and other language-processing disorders.


If you’d like to learn more about our services, click here.

Can we say “dyslexia”?



Dyslexia?  “Oh no no. We don’t say that.”  

In Part 4 of her Unlocking Dyslexia series on NPR’s All Things Considered,  Gabrielle Emanuel explored the issues that public schools have with the term “dyslexia”.  

NPR_CYMK_2014Emmanuel quotes an English teacher recalling an administrator explaining that they are not allowed to use the term because, “….we don’t have the capabilities to support that particular learning difference.”

Over the last several decades, language scientists have developed clear and specific procedures for identifying dyslexia and differentiating it from other types of learning problems.  Educators are typically not trained to diagnose or treat dyslexia, but parents don’t understand this.  If educators do use the term dyslexia in discussing a child’s reading and/or spelling difficulties, parents understandably assume that means the child will be getting an instructional program designed to address it.

The federal special education law does require public schools to provide qualified disabled readers and writers with an Individual Education Plan (IEP). But the specific services provided under an IEP are decided by the local school district.  Most public school interventions are provided in group settings and, often, using methods that do not address dyslexia’s core deficits.

Odd as it seems, clarity about the nature of a child’s reading, spelling and writing difficulties is often left up to parents.  This is why Lexercise partners with parents to provide intervention matched to the child’s specific reading, spelling and/or writing difficulties.

Click here to learn more about our therapists and how Lexercise partners with parents!

Government Says R-t-I Doesn’t Work

RTIgovernment-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).   

updated stool graphic-03 small

    • 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.


    • Were the educators experts in language structure?  There is no description of the competency of those who provided the intervention.


    • 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.

Is a Dyslexia Diagnosis Necessary?

Help Now, Diagnose LaterHelp NowDiagnose 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.

  1. 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.  
  2. 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.
  3. 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.  Lex_telepractice_withmom_illustrationWhile 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?  
  4. 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.

FAQ Friday: Is the term ‘individual’ important in my Child’s IEP?

one-on-one learningThe short answer: YES!

In 1984, Benjamin S. Bloom published a report in Educational Researcher (Vol. 13, No. 6) that examined the benefits of one-on-one education. “The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring” concluded that students taught one-on-one WAY out-perform the vast majority of students taught in groups.

In close to 30 years since Bloom’s report, the evidence keeps stacking up in favor of one-on-one education, especially with children who struggle to read, write and spell — children with dyslexia, dysgraphia and other language-processing disorders. But one-on-one education is not a magic bullet. There ARE no magic bullets. Naturally, the content of teaching matters a lot and good group instruction might very well be more effective than poor one-on-one instruction.

In fact, many parents don’t realize that a public school child who has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is very unlikely to get any “individual education.” IEPs are almost always carried out in groups and often, because they have to address the needs of a diverse group, the teaching methods are often very similar to the methods used in general education.

What makes one-on-one instruction so much more effective than group education for building basic language-literacy skills?

There are a number of possibilities, but one of the most likely is that one-on-one instruction gives the child a lot more of the essential practice known as response challenges. (A response challenge is when the child is asked to respond in a way that demonstrates his or her knowledge and/or skill.) Response challenges are usually accompanied by immediate feedback, which is known to be important for building a skill. (In contrast, “homework” is practice, but usually without immediate feedback and sometimes without any feedback.) It stands to reason that there might be more opportunities for response challenges in one-on-one interchanges than in group settings.

Professor John Hattie has studied performance indicators to evaluate teaching methods — using evidence to build and defend a model of teaching and learning. (Teachers toolbox reprints a chart of Hattie’s effect sizes here.) While Hattie asserts that, when you look at a large population of children, “almost everything works” to some degree, certainly some teaching methods are more effective for some children.

As Brandt Redd comments in a July 2012 blog post that considers Hattie’s list of effects, “The top five influences all involve adapting the experience according to individual student needs.” That brings us right back to the close observation and feedback that’s possible only in one-on-one education.

Adapting learning to the individual student’s needs is basically what Lexercise is all about! Lexercise’s online services for struggling readers, writers and spellers are a motivating blend of high-touch and high-tech.

If your child has difficulty reading, writing or spelling, Lexercise can help. Take a look at our Online Dyslexia Testing and Treatment page or request a free consult at this link.