Today I chatted with parents about their 10 year old fifth grade child, Lianna. Since kindergarten they have watched her struggle.
They saw other children in Lianna’s peer group progressing, while she seemed stuck, barely moving forward.
Even though they would raise their concerns with teachers, they heard statements like, “She’s so sweet – she’s so friendly,” or “Well, she’s young for her grade,” or “She can always use spell check,” and other such statements.
As the grades went by the parents continued to share their concerns, a frequently heard comment was, “We’re not doctors…we can’t diagnose, but…,” with the not so subtle suggestion that Lianna needed to be on medication
To say Lianna’s parents were frustrated is a major understatement,
At the start of fifth grade, Lianna was then tested by the school. Based on the district’s use of a “significant discrepancy,” she was not found to be eligible for an IEP.
This significant discrepancy was based on there being a 1.5 standard deviation unit discrepancy or greater between the child’s overall IQ score and their overall score in academic achievement, typically in reading.
The fact that Lianna maintained above average scores on nonverbal thinking tasks mattered little. She was not eligible. “Perhaps you should consult with a neurologist,” was what the parents were told.
Seeking another opinion, the parents shared the findings with me.
Glancing at the numbers it was clear that Lianna’s parents were correct in their view that she was a struggling child in spite of not being classified for special education.
Her overall standard score in reading of 88 put her at the 21st percentile compared to other children her age. However, her FSIQ of 92 (30th percentile) only resulted in a 4 point difference between her identified intelligence and her academic achievement.
I explained, “Look, you have seen your child struggling since kindergarten and the gap has only widened. She’s in the 21st %ile in reading and the 10th %ile of spelling. That is clear struggling. However, based on the school’s model, there is no significant discrepancy. She’s in what I refer to as the ‘zone of no zone.’”
I call this being in the “zone of no zone,” because in spite of the objective data showing her struggling, no life preserver will be offered to Lianna. In the model used by the school her IQ wasn’t high enough (in spite of above average functioning in key areas of intelligence) to justify giving her services or support.
This leaves Lianna’s parents the only choice to seek outside help in the form of specialized tutoring at their own expense, probably on a twice-weekly basis for at least two years to try and close the gap.
I’ve said it many times before – struggling is struggling no matter what name or label we give it. Struggling children need help whether they are “eligible for services” or not.
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(*** Please note: Dr. Richard Selznick is a psychologist, clinician and author of four books. His blog posts represent his opinions and perspectives based on his years of interacting with struggling children, parents and schools. )