School/Special Education Misc

“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:

“504-ing” – Part I

Parents will come to me loaded with terms that are only partially understood.

Let’s look at one of the common ones – “504’s.”

I will hear things like,

“We just need to get him a ‘504.’ We just want to get him the help that he needs so he can start reading better.”

Even if you are able to obtain a 504 Plan, that does not result in giving the child the “help that he needs.”

A 504 provides some accommodation, such as extended time, support with directions, sitting the child near the front of the room, but it does not provide any service or intervention.

504 Plans originated from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  The law provided workplace accommodations to those with a disability in an effort to help, “level the playing field.”

In effect, a 504 minimized handicapping conditions in the workplace.

Since the mid-1990s 504 legislation increasingly found its way into the schools.

The notion of the 504 is that the child identified by an outside professional as having a disability necessitated developing reasonable accommodations so that the child could function as free as possible of the handicapping barriers  in the mainstream setting.

In other words, the 504 provided the handicapped child with equal access to the mainstream.

The fact of the matter is, that the vast majority of 504 plans in the schools are written for children “diagnosed with ADHD.  In most states ADHD is not a classification in special education code. In other words, even if a physician or some other such professional has identified ADHD this does not generate an Individualized Education Plan (i.e., IEP) in special education.

(OK, I can feel your eyes rolling over already, so I will stop here and continue with Part II next week.)

Takeaway Point

504 Plans do not offer services. A 504 provides accommodations, not interventions.

Copyright, 2022

Questions or comments email Dr. Selznick:


“Need to Meditate”

Odn any given week parents will come in seeking my advice about their struggling child.  Invariably they bring in work samples from the child’s school work.

As they tell the stories and show me what’s being asked of their child, I can literally feel my “CM” (Cranky Meter) rising and I think to myself, “It’s a good thing I meditate.”

One of the things that makes me particularly cranky is the way mathematics is taught.

Having never been a particularly good mathematics student myself, I think I would be in a state of total panic the way children are asked to manage math.

Not sure when the reverence for word problems emerged, but it seems that children are almost exclusively taught math through math word problems.  I believe it’s linked to the theory promulgated about 20 or so years ago that math should always be enhancing “higher order thinking,” which is embodied in the word problems.

Let’s look at, Chris age 7, a second grader who is a given a worksheet with 10 problems like:

“Winnie counts the oranges she picks.  Winnie counted between 400 and 500 oranges.  The number of of oranges is an odd number.  The number of oranges is the sum of two of the numbers below.  (Show your work.”)

137                  258                  114                  164                  281

 After Chris muddled through the ten problems with no idea what he was doing, at the top of the page was a grade of  “56% –  F”.

Keeping in mind the fact that Christ doesn’t know what a percent is or what the % sign means or even what an  “F” represents, there’s also another  point to consider just using this problem as an example.

Within this particular problem above, Chris also had no idea what an “odd number” was or the meaning of the word “sum.”

These words meant nothing to him.

Beside the math word problems, Chris has  very limited  reading skills.  So, giving him one math word problem after another is doing nothing for his “higher-order thinking or his basic math skills.

Takeaway Point

My “CM” is ringing off the hook.

I need to meditate more.

Copyright, 2022
Questions or comments email Dr. Selznick:



“The Number In Your Child’s Head”

Probably not a week goes by where I don’t hear stories of parents frustrated that their struggling child is not receiving any services.  At least in New Jersey, this is often because of the child’s overall FSIQ (i.e., Full Scale Intelligence Quotient).

Without being told this directly, a child is often ineligible for services because the IQ is simply too low for there to be a big enough discrepancy between the IQ and the weak reading, spelling and writing skills.

Federal special education code within IDEA (Individuals with Disability Education Act) makes no reference to the FSIQ:

Specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.

(ii) Disorders not included. Specific learning disability does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of intellectual disability, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

Regardless, in many states there seems to be a notion that each child has a number stamped in his/her brain that determines whether a child will be seen as eligible  or not for services.

One can almost imagine a long line of struggling children who are going to be either offered services or not.

Each child’s number is reviewed:

OK…kids…step forward…we need to check the number in your head.  Let’s see.  This one has a 92.  That score’s in the lower portion of the average range, the 32nd percentile…there’s probably not going to be much help for you.  Next up!  Here’s a 103.  That’s a little higher in the average range.  Maybe you’ll get something if your reading is bad enough.  Uh, oh, here comes a tough one, an 85 – that’s the 15th percentile. Sorry, not likely to be much help for you.  Oh good, here comes a 115, the 85th percentile.   You’re really smart.  I bet you’ll get help.”

Even though parents are not told this as bluntly or directly, the message for those on the lower side of the curve is, “We’re sorry, but state regulations are such that there has to be this very large discrepancy between the number that’s stamped in your child’s brain and his reading score. Otherwise, you’re just out of luck.”

In other words, a child is often held hostage to his/her IQ.

We need to face that no matter the number in the child’s head, struggling is struggling.

When a child is a weak swimmer struggling in in the deep end, we don’t just shrug and say, “oh well.”

We take the child to the shallow end and teach him how to swim.

Copyright, 2021
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

Just Not Smart Enough

When children are assessed for special education typically they are given a test called the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children – V (WISC –V).

Within the WISC-V there are seven subtests that comprise an overall score called the Full Scale Intelligence Quotient (FSIQ).  The subtests tap different skill domains, such as verbal and spatial functioning, active working memory and processing speed.

Most of the time children with learning issues display a wide range of variability on these domains, often being well above average on one or two tasks, while well below average on others.

In order for children to be classified (that is receive an IEP), there needs to be a very significant discrepancy between the FSIQ and a composite score in an academic domain.

Some states have set a 22 point discrepancy in order to receive any help.

This 22 points standard is very tough to obtain.

Let’s take scenario #1 with 8 year old Brody, a child who is struggling in reading and spelling.  Upon being tested his FSIQ came up above average   (FSIQ = 110, 70th %ile),  while reading came in well below average (Reading Composite = 82, 12th %ile).

With this 28 point discrepancy, Brody was offered direct services to remediate his reading.  Everyone smiled around the table, shaking hands when his IEP was written and signed.

In scenario #2,  Ava, also age 8 and struggling with reading, had a broad range of variability in her intelligence test profile.  With verbal intelligence  above average,  other areas were below.  Putting the scores  together to derive an overall score, she came up in the lower portion of the average range (FSIQ = 93, 27th %ile).

Even though Ava’s functioning in reading was at the exact same level as Brody’s (Reading Composite = 82, 12th %ile), Ava’s parents were told her 11 point discrepancy made her ineligible to receive any services.

There was nothing that would be done for her.

Case closed.

You can imagine how the mood was around the table.

There was no smiling or shaking of hands.

Copyright, 2021
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –


“To Complain About the School, Press 1”

Recently an email came to us from the Maroochydore High School in Queensland, Australia.  Included in the email was an audio phone message.

The school staff had voted unanimously to record the  message on the school’s  answering machine.

The message came about because the school implemented a policy requiring students to be responsible for their children’s absences and missing homework.

As it was explained, the school and teachers were being sued by parents  requesting  that their child’s failing grades be changed to passing grades, even though the children were absent 15-30 times (pre-coronavirus) during the semester and did not make up enough of the work from what  they had missed to get passing grades

Recognizing that humor can be tricky (one person’s funny is another person’s offense), the following transcription of the phone message is cautiously offered:

“Hello, you have reached the automated answering service of your school.  In order to assist you in connecting you to the right staff member, please listen to all of the following options before making your selection.”


  •   To lie about why your child is absent, Press 1.
  •   To make excuses for why your child did not do his homework, Press 2.
  •   To complain about what we do, Press 3. 
  •   To swear at staff members, Press 4.
  •   To ask why you didn’t get information that has already been enclosed in your newsletter and several fliers that have been mailed to you, Press 5.
  •   If you want us to raise your child, Press 6.
  •   If you want to reach out, slap or hit someone, Press 7.
  •   To request another teacher for the third time this year, Press 8.
  •   To complain about bus transportation, Press 9. 
  •   To complain about school lunches, Press 0.

If you realize the real world and your child must be accountable and responsible for his or her behavior, classwork and homework and it’s not your teachers’ fault for your child’s lack of effort, please hang up and have a nice day.”

 Takeaway Point

Pretty funny.

Hope you are laughing too.


Schools Don’t Diagnose

This is a follow up to a recent blog post – “Back in the Zone (of No Zone): Back in the Zone (of No Zone).

Parents frequently talk to me about their frustration (insistence) that schools diagnose their child’s  dyslexia (or other learning disorders for that matter).

One of my favorite books in the field, “Dyslexia Advocate:  How to Advocate for a Child Within the Public School System,” by Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley, comments on this.

As she notes:

“School districts do not diagnose anything.  They don’t diagnose ADHD, autism, dyslexia, nothing.   It may seem as if they do because we tend to hear the terms autism and ADHD thrown around in meetings all the time, but they cannot diagnose those qualifying conditions either.  They can only determine eligibility under specific eligibility categories.  In the case of dyslexia, they will be looking at the specific learning disability (SLD category.”

Something that is a common occurrence will be a parent bringing testing to me that was conducted by the school special education team.   Numbers will jump out at me suggesting weaknesses, “red-flags” and even indicators of “dyslexia” or related learning disorders.

Yet, to the consternation of the parents quite often they are told that the child is not eligible for an IEP and will not be getting any services.

Each state and, to my knowledge, each school district interprets the federal code differently as to what leads to eligibility.

As Dr. Sandman-Hurley states:

“To qualify for special education services, the child must meet two requirements, which is the two-pronged approach to eligibility.  First, the child must have a disability and show the need for services.  In other words, just because a student has dyslexia (or any other disability) does not mean they automatically qualify for services.  Second, it must be shown that the child needs services in order to succeed in the general education classroom.”

In New Jersey, for example, there is an emphasis on the child’s Full Scale Intelligence Quotient or “FSIQ” in determining eligibility.  A statistically significant discrepancy must be shown between the FSIQ and the overall score in academic achievement (typically reading).

Infuriating and puzzling as this may be to parents, children showing signs of “dyslexia” or reading/learning disabilities often  do not have such a discrepancy in their assessment, and therefore they will not be receiving services.

Even if the child is found to be eligible for services, rarely is the child given what is called “direct instruction with multisensory methodologies,” which research and clinical experience show to be the most effective in remediating the deficiencies.

More commonly, the child is given, “In-Class Support,” which is much harder to define than direct instruction.  In-Class Support is the equivalent of having an adult in the deep end of the pool to keep an eye on the weak swimmers to make sure they don’t drown.

This is not teaching the child to swim.

My best advice to parents in this situation is to “bite the bullet” and seek services outside of the school.  While it may not be ideal, more and more providers of these methods are starting to report offering such instruction on-line with reasonable effectiveness.

This recommendation puts you more in the driver’s seat.  You can choose to take an effective action step, rather than remain in the  passive  position of hoping that the school will step-up.

Takeaway Point

Schools don’t diagnose.  They determine eligibility for an IEP.  Even if you obtain an IEP, it does not mean your child will receive direct instruction.

Take effective action on your own.

Accommodations: Avoiding “Rubber-Stamping”

When a children have a learning disability like dyslexia, typically this impacts their reading fluency, spelling and writing.  For those who have been “diagnosed” as ADHD/ADD their central features are distractability, inattentiveness and impulsivity.

Quite often children have combined features from both of these syndromes.

As I noted in recent blogs (see recent posts on “504 & You” and “Accommodations ‘R’ Us” (Recent Blog Posts,) a top accommodation is to give such children “extended time.”


Most of the kids I see have no interest in “extended time,” even though behind the scenes there is much negotiation taking place between parents and schools for the child to receive this accommodation.

I emphasize again, I am not against extended time, but am against  the “rubber stamping” of extended time as a top “go-to” accommodation.

If the child works painfully slowly and finds him or herself unable to complete tasks within allotted time, then extended time is an appropriate accommodation.

For distractible and impulsive children who also struggle with reading (spelling and writing), such an accommodation has virtually no impact.  There is no “leveling of the playing field,” which is the central concept guiding the implementation of a 504 Plan in the first place.

Assume that for the children with the combination of reading problems and ADHD issues, has difficulty with managing large, multisyllabic words, following directions and staying on task.

For such a child giving time is not the issue.  Helping with directions would be a top, “level-the- playing- field” accommodation.

Further, the teacher can preview some of the tougher words prior to the child reading.  (“Let me help you with some of the words that are difficult.”)

How do you avoid “rubber stamp” accommodations?

Very simply, you ask a basic question such as, “What does he/or she need that would help level the playing field?”

Asking that question of the clinician who conducted the assessment or the school assessment team is essential.

The team and the clinician  should be able to come up with three or four good accommodations specifically addressing the child’s needs and identified deficits.

If an accommodation doesn’t make sense to you, push back a little and ask for justification and an explanation.  Do not accept recommendations of accommodations that do not match the child’s needs.

Takeaway Point

Be on guard for “rubber-stamped” accommodations.  Continually ask yourself and your team (both in and out of school) what does the child need?  What would help him/her to be on more equal footing with the others in class who do not have this identified disability?

Keep  working together as a team to come up with the individual accommodations that make sense and that address the areas of identified need.

Copyright, 2020
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

To purchase a signed copy of  “What To Do About Dyslexia: 25 Essential Concepts” & Dr. Selznick’s other books and to receive blog updates go to


(***  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. )


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