Month: May 2022

“Like Giving Them Oxygen”

Last Sunday on the front page of the New York Times was a major piece on the proponent of “balanced literacy,” offering some type of retreat  for the philosophy behind “balanced literacy” that has been espoused for decades having failed legions of children (NYT Article).

I have always been bothered by these theories and am even more so now.  It seemed that this stated “retreat” was too little, too late

Just to clarify, before thinking I am becoming a “get off my lawn” crank, I felt exactly this way when I was much younger in this field.

To elaborate on this a bit, there are essentially two groups of children – those on the “Smooth Road” and those on a “Rough Road.”

The “Smooth Road” types are fairly immune to whatever is given to them, even when questionable methods are used.  From a very young age, their reading (spelling and writing) progresses down a smooth road in a “natural” process.

A different story altogether are the “Rough Road” types.  Such children do not respond well to these methods espousing terms  terms like, “top-down,” “balanced literacy,” “comprehension-above-all,” and the like. Probably 95 % of the schools and education departments in universities have been behind them for decades, as noted in the NYT article.

Even though these children of concern  have been struggling since kindergarten, few have been directly taught how to overcome their challenges.  That’s not how it’s done in these “top-down” models.

It’s analogous to handing a child a tennis racket and telling them to go play tennis, as if  it will happen magically.

When I attended NYU for my Masters Degree (a long time ago in a galaxy far away), this movement was then an emerging groundswell.

As I sat there listening to what seemed like nonsense to me as these methods and theories were presented as truth, I couldn’t help but think about a boy, 9-year-old Frankie, who I then had in my resource room class.  When I screened him with words like  “cat” “them” “for” and “house,” he  looked at me helplessly shrugging, unable to read any of the words.

When I asked the professors what to do with Frankie, lock-step they answered with concepts from  these very hot theories  – “You start with comprehension and present stories for him to internalize in his higher-order thinking and…(“blah, blah, blah”).

“Yes,” I said,  “But he can’t read words like, ‘dog’ and ‘house,’ so not sure where higher-order thinking comes in.”

It didn’t matter.  The “blah blah blah” went on  and I had still Frankie to deal with the next morning.

Very fortunately, I went to a workshop presented by the late Dr. Gerald Glass, who presented an exact opposite approach embodied in a method he had developed, the “Glass Analysis for Decoding.”  Glass spoke disdainfully of the emerging Whole Language, “Balanced Literacy” movement.

There was no higher thinking in Glass’ approach.  It was pure meat and potatoes, bottom-up word instruction. First teach children how to read words, then later, once this skill has been mastered, comprehension will follow.   Of course, the Whole Language professors and proponents of that model scoffed at Dr. Glass as old-school and out of touch with modern theories.

When I used Glass’ method with Frankie he loved it and made clear progress.  In a fairly rapid time, he was recognizing words and his whole mood and discouraged demeanor changed.  (So did mine.)

Since that time I have met thousands of Frankie.

When they are taught with sensible methods, it’s like giving them oxygen.

When they are not, they remain shut-down and discouraged.

Copyright, 2022

Questions or comments email Dr. Selznick:

“IQ-Achievement Model – ‘Ineffective, Irrational, Immoral & Indefensible'”

Child A, we’ll call him Leo, a second grader, is in the 10th percentile of reading, spelling and writing.

Depending on whether you are a “glass half full or half empty” type you can translate it that Leo is better than 10% of the children his age or that 90% are better than he is.

Being a bit of a “glass half empty type” myself, I’m fixated on the notion of the  90% that are better than Leo.

Child B, Joelle, also a second grader, is in the exact same place as Leo.

Both children are struggling significantly.  Their parents are extremely worried and concerned (rightfully so).

Of the two, only one, Joelle,  is getting any kind of legitimate remediation using methods supported in the research.

If they are in the exact same place in their academic functioning, why is only one getting assistance?

While it won’t be said as bluntly as this, the fact from the school’s point of view is Leo just isn’t smart enough.

Joelle has the good fortune of having a FSIQ of 118 (86th %ile), while Leo’s is in the lower portion of the average range (FSIQ = 92 (21st %ile).

As I noted in last week’s post,  Leo is just out of luck (“Sorry, Our Hands Are Tied”).

This “not smart enough” model is linked to states like New Jersey that use a “severe discrepancy model to determine eligibility for classifying a child with a learning disability.

In an article written by Emerson Dickman, special education attorney and former president of the International Dyslexia Association, he quoted leading experts regarding the use of a discrepancy model.

Here are a few choice ones:

For 25 years we have used  the IQ-achievement discrepancy model, a wait-to-fail model that is known to be ineffective, inefficient, irrational, immoral and indefensible.”  (Dr. Douglas Carmine presentation during testimony to Congress on reauthorization of IDEA.)

The formula is a “wait and fail” model and is immoral.”  (Dr. Thomas Hehir, Director of Special Education Programs during Clinton Presidency.)

IQ-Achievement discrepancy is not a valid means for identifying individuals with LD.”  (Dr. Robert Pasternack, Assistant Secretary for Office of Special Education)

 One last point.  Not only is the model unfair and immoral offering no support to struggling children who just aren’t “smart enough,  it also leaves everything entirely up to parents to try and find outside services like tutoring that are never covered by insurance.

Individual tutoring is expensive.  Depending on where you live the range can be between $60 to $100 an hour.  To be effective children ideally should be getting twice weekly sessions.

So, for the single mom I met recently who works full-time with three children, one of whom is severely learning disabled but getting nothing, I ask proponents of this model to guide me on what I should tell her.

Help me out here.

Copyright, 2022

Questions or comments email Dr. Selznick:

“Sorry, Our Hands Are Tied”

Perhaps nothing is more frustrating and resulting in tremendous parental consternation than when they hear the following from me after I’ve done an assessment:

“Yes, you were right.  The results validate your concerns.  Your child has a serious reading (spelling and writing) disorder.  He needs tremendous help, but there’s just one problem.  The school’s unlikely to do anything about it.”

Falling out of their chairs as they hear this, I always worry about the “kill the messenger effect.”

“What do you mean,” they ask me.  “How can that be? You say it right in your report that the child has a “severe learning disorder.”

As my consistent mission is to talk to parents in “plain, down-to-earth language,” I take a deep breath for about the 9,000th time in my career and dive in the pool.

“Well, the State of New Jersey, uses the following in special education code to determine whether a child will be found eligible or not.”

A specific learning disability can be determined when a severe discrepancy is found between the student’s current achievement and intellectual ability in one or more of the following areas:

As the parents turn different colors, I try and continue.

“So, if the child is in the 10th %ile of reading as your child is on the tests I gave and his overall IQ score placed him in the 19th %ile, according to the statistical formula, your child is not eligible.  He is offered  nothing.  Next case.”

Here’s what G. Emerson Dickman,  the renowned special education attorney/special education consultant and former president of the International Dyslexia Association has to say on the topic:

The Aptitude/Achievement discrepancy formula and other approaches to determine eligibility for services offer help only after the seeds of emotional decompensation are planted and a child has reaped a bitter harvest of failure.  The use of “severe discrepancy” to justify eligibility is a policy intended to rationalize decision making without engaging or challenging a sense of morality, justice, ethics or expertise.  ‘I am sorry, he didn’t make the cutoff; it is not my fault.’”

(There will be more next week,  but one last point.  This post and my guess is that Emerson Dickman would agree, is in no way meant to cast aspersions on teachers or special education team members.  Virtually all that I’ve met over the years are caring people who wan to do right by the children they serve.  However, in states like New Jersey and others that use a “severe discrepancy formula” their hands are tied by the bad hand they’ve been dealt.)


Copyright, 2022

Questions or comments email Dr. Selznick:

“504-ing – Part II (‘Swimmies’)”

In last week’s post we talked about some of the basics involved with obtaining a 504 Plan  (504-ing-part-i/)

This week we move it along to bring some practical realities to you.

Remember that a 504 does not offer any interventions,  but accommodations. It is intended to provide equal access to the mainstream to those identified as having a disability .  By far, ADHD is the disorder that receives the most 504 plans in school.

Of the things (among many) that raises my IQ (i.e., Irritation Quotient) are the 504 accommodations that seem rubber-stamped or templated.

A classic one of these  accommodations is the provision of extra time, which is the top of the list of accommodations typically offered to ADHD children.

To illustrate and expand upon my irritation, let’s look at Carl, an impulsive child who rushes through his work (and practically everything else he does).  Diagnosed by his pediatrician with ADHD, the parents took the physician’s prescription with a request for a 504 to the school.

The team met with the parents and set up a 504.  Among a few other accommodations was the provision of extra time (i.e., double time) on tests and classroom activities.

Given Carl’s characteristic impulsive style, the last thing Carl needs is extra time.

As Carl blitzes through everything, it’s unclear how double-time helps Carl as he is finishing a typical 15 minute task in under 3 minutes (without checking any of his work).

As you go into your 504 meetings  try and have an open and honest conversation (admittedly, not easy to do) regarding your child.

To guide the discussion there should be one central question.   That is, “What are the few things that can be done  to  help the child to function more effectively in the classroom?”

Don’t ask for the “moon, sun and stars.” Be practical and realistic.

Think of 504 accommodations as “swimmies” for children who are unable to swim in the deep end of the pool.  They don’t teach the child how to swim,  but help the child to get in the game.

Takeaway Point

Keep it simple.  Keep asking the central question.

Copyright, 2022

Questions or comments email Dr. Selznick:


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