Month: January 2016

Know What You Are Targeting

As the landscape of struggling children gets more and more complicated, with parents confused to know where to turn or what to do next, I do my best to simplify things. One area to simplify is the reading remediation your child is receiving.

Presuming you have had your child assessed (whether in school by the special education team or on the outside by a professional who does this type of testing), if you are not clear on the target of the remediation to follow, I encourage you to ask what should be the emphasis of the instruction.

After all of these years of conducting assessments and reading the literature (when I can), I still see two fundamental reading problems.

The first I call, “Type I.”

Type I readers are the ones that make up 80% of the referrals for special education. These kids struggle with internalizing adequate decoding skills. Their oral reading fluency is problematic beyond the level of words that they have memorized. Spelling and writing (open-ended writing) are always an issue. Most of their “comprehension” problems come from the word substitutions (e.g., “pricapinny” for “porcupine”) and the strained style of reading which creates a great deal of interference. The vast majority of kids of the Type I variety, especially those that are more moderate and severe on the continuum fit the definition of “dyslexia.”

Type II children are very different. These kids read fluently, but have difficulty understanding what they read. This group is a much smaller percentage, but they exist.

If you are seeking remediation (tutoring), get clear on what you are targeting; don’t scattershot the remediation. If the teacher doing the tutoring says something like, “I do a little of this and a little of that,” that should raise some red flags of concern.

Good testing should help you get clear on what you need to have emphasized. (In many ways, that is the central point of doing the testing in the first place.)
Be laser-focused in your approach so you can hit the right target.

(Adapted “School Struggles,” (2012), Richard Selznick, Ph.D., Sentient Publications)

“You Can Observe a Lot By Watching”

Yogi Berra – “You can observe a lot by just watching.”

One of my big themes is that in the assessment world there is an overplaying of quantitative data. There is too much “Well, the student is in the ‘average range’,” and therefore gets no service or support.

Young Isabelle, age 17, is a good example. Smart and hardworking, Isabelle has gotten good grades all of her life. She can take tests pretty well and tends to score at least in an average range or better on most tests.
Yet, I think Isabelle has a reading disability (dyslexia) based on observations of her performance, even though her scores will not get anyone too excited.

Using Yogi Berra as my touchstone, I observed a lot by watching. For example, at the 8th grade level on an informal passage here are a couple of lines translated as close as possible to how Isabelle read the material:

(The story was about a Chinese warrior named Chang.)

Text: “Chang, seemed devoid of emotion…”
Isabelle: Chang seemed devoted of emotion…”

Text: The battle that day provided a legacy…
Isabelle: The battle that day proved…”

Text: “The army pinched in from the right…”
Isabelle: “The army pitched in from the right…”

From the fourth grade forward, 99% of reading that takes place is done silently. Unless one listened to Isabelle read the 8th grade selection one would have no idea of the tedious, laborious way that she read the selection.

Oh, I forgot to tell you that Isabelle comprehended the selection pretty well – her score fell in an “average” range.

Takeaway Point
It’s more than the scores.

Assessment: Weighing the “Data”

There are many mythologies out there in the land of struggling children. Many of the mythologies reside in the assessment corner of the universe.

One of the problems with both dyslexia (and ADHD, for that matter) assessment is there is no agreed upon test, no gold standard x-ray that tells you with absolute certainty, “Yes, this individual does or does not have it.”

I like to think of assessment, whether it is a screening, more moderate or comprehensive assessment, as a weighing of variables. Data comes in and helps tip the scales in one direction or another.

Much of “data” is qualitative, little pieces of information that add up to tell a larger story. Using ADHD, for example, so much of “the diagnosis,” comes from the parents’ telling of the child’s history – how the child does on a day-to-day basis in school, at home and on the soccer field. The child’s history is also important in the assessment of dyslexia.

Such data is virtually impossible to quantify, yet central to how the scales get tilted.

Much of the same is true of a reading disability (dyslexia). I find most of the “gold standard tests on the market that assess reading, spelling and writing have their strengths, but they certainly have their limitations. Assessing writing is particularly problematic.

Good assessment involves a combination of utilizing tests that yield information that help to make informed decisions along with clinical or professional experience.

Almost anyone can be trained to administer many of the tests used in an assessment for the purpose of deriving scores and quantitative data. (I could probably train a college kid to do that.)

Even though scores and data are crucial, professional judgment is an essential component and needs to be factored in to whatever formula is being used to determine a child’s needs.

“Takeaway Point”

It’s a weighing of variables that helps in tilting the scales one way or another.

Overplaying the IQ

The following is a letter from nine year old Cassie transcribed from her hand-written letter to a relative:

Dear Uncl mic:
I had a grate time at the lunch/diner. Wer are you getting mered? Haw are you dowing? I love you . Plese rite back (ar you aksw tell ant emmy to rite back to.

In school, she wrote the following as part of a journal entry:

I got a pes of choclit art of moon codineen.
Today I hid cumPyoters. I was partners with Clowe. We plad a game wer you hat to capcher a crock. I hope tomara is a nutther grat day.

Writing samples, especially ones that are part of “open-ended” writing activities as the above from school are the x-ray that tell you something is going on with a child. They offer a window into how the child is processes information, her awareness of sound-symbol relationships, and her sense of internal organization.

Hands up – how many of you reading the samples above think this child may be dyslexic or at least have a writing disability?

Yep. I bet a lot of hands went up.

To me it is clear and self-evident. This nine year old child is in need of significant assistance and remediation. With her severe writing difficulty, coupled with her not so great reading skills, she is drowning, coming home every day upset that she is “so dumb.”

The problem is this is child was found to be ineligible for services after she was evaluated for special education. There was not a sufficient discrepancy between her Full Scale IQ (FSIQ = 91) and her overall achievement score (Global Reading = 87) to warrant giving her any assistance.

The IQ test (typically the WISC-V) is very helpful in yielding rich diagnostic information. Among other things, the test offers information as to what are the child’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses. To my understanding of the original intent of the developer of the test (then called the WISC), Dr. David Wechsler, many decades ago, the instrument was not designed for the purpose of keeping children from getting what they need.

Testing for a learning disability is tricky business. There really is no “gold standard” test that everyone agrees is the one instrument to use. Additionally, the FSIQ often does not fully represent the child’s potential, particularly when there is considerable scatter (as there was in Cassie’s case above). Compounding these challenges inherent in the testing, is the fact that there is a combination of quantitative and qualitative information that needs to be considered as part of an assessment. Just focusing on the quantitative is limiting.

For example, look at the writing samples above. (They would be even more dramatic if you saw the handwritten originals.) Really, I have no idea how to quantify the writing sample, but I do know by looking at them qualitatively and watching Cassie write, that they are suggestive of a pretty considerable learning disability (dyslexia).

The same is true with the IQ. The FSIQ is only one piece of information that needs to be considered within the context of other valuable diagnostic information.

Takeaway Points
Good assessments need to take quantitative and qualitative information into consideration when formulating whether or not a child has a learning disability. The IQ is just one piece of quantitative information and should not be overused.


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