School/Special Education Misc

“Common Sense & ‘Passing the Smell Test'”

Last Sunday there was a feature article in the New York Times on the science of reading emphasizing that “science” has confirmed the need to teach children phonics. (Science of Reading – New York Times)

While this comes after decades of debate, the article notes that the “science of reading” has determined (finally), that there is a correct way to teach reading and it looks like phonics instruction has been declared the winner.

(Not to mention that this was already determined by researchers under the Bush Administration with Reading First and Leave No Child Behind.)

Once again, though, the determination that phonics is the winner, on some level, does not make common sense and does not “pass the smell test.”

The question is not whether phonics instruction is the best way to teach reading, but whether or not the child needs it.

Let’s put it this way.

About 70% or so  of six- and seven-year-olds get on the “reading bike” in kindergarten and first grade without much trouble and before you know it they are reading pretty fluently.

Fortunately for this group their  “reading brain” kicks in, mostly through a type of reading osmosis, such as interacting with books in early childhood and being read to regularly by their parents and other adults.

There was little to no formal phonics instruction, yet they became adequate readers.

For the wobbly remainder, the 20 – 30%, many of whom have a learning disability like dyslexia, the natural interactions did not take hold. There was no reading by osmosis.

Guess what they need?

That’s right –  phonics-based instruction.

Unfortunately, by and large over the last 30-40 years that’s not how it’s gone in the schools.

Common sense did not govern instruction and most kids received a model of reading (often referred to as “top-down”) emphasizing reading comprehension.  Phonics instruction was deemed as “so yesterday” and virtually eliminated.

Top-down approaches became the rule of he land.  For the 70%, for those who already know how to read, that is fine.

For the remainder, they wobble along making little progress with such approaches.

Makes common sense, right?

And it even passes the smell test!

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Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2022,

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“‘What’s Your Mom Gut?'”

As part of the assessment process, I always conduct an interview (usually with the mom) to get an overview of the issues of concern.

Typically, there will be multiple disorders that have been raised by other professionals along with the parent diagnosing by Google.

A mom recently said something like the following:

“When I asked about dyslexia, the teachers raised the question of either dysgraphia or dyscalculia.”

“Phonological awareness/auditory processing disorder was raised by another.”

“My sister thinks he has an oppositional defiant disorder and is sure that there is an attention deficit disorder.”

“My therapist raised the issue of an emotional dysregulation disorder.”

“My husband thinks he is spoiled and just needs more discipline.”

At some point when I feel my eyeballs snapping as they often do when I am in the midst of “disorder speak,” I try and cut through it with a simple question:

“Without any psychological explanation, what’s your mom gut?”

Since no one’s asked the mom this question before, typically there is  a moment of being slightly surprised that someone wants her opinion stated in this way.

“Well, I think he has a reading problem and he hates doing it, because it embarrasses him.  He will do anything to get out of it.”

“Sounds pretty on point to me,” I respond.

Takeaway Point

I have learned to trust “mom gut” over the years.

About 99% of the time they are on the money.

(The dads are another story.)

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Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2022,

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“Pull the Curtain”

One of my favorite comedic bits is the one from Jerry Seinfeld’s standup where he talks about the difference between flying first and passenger class.  As the stewardess brusquely pulls the curtain between the first class and the rest, she has a look of, “If you only worked harder,” looking at the hapless passenger class.

With that said, let’s look at Olivia,  a lively and engaging 8-year-old third grader. Involved with a range of typical 8-year-old pursuits, she’s well-liked by her teachers, coaches and peers.

There’s only one problem.

Olivia can’t read, spell or write very well.

Oh, wait, there’s another problem.  As determined in a recent special education evaluation, Olivia won’t be qualifying for her to get help in the form of an IEP.

You see, her score on an IQ test called the WISC-V came in at 91 (27th %ile) and her Composite Reading score was an 83 (13th %ile).

When the mom was told there wasn’t supporting evidence to generate an IEP, the mom was flabbergasted.

“Wait,” the mom said.  “My child reads at a level where about 90% of the children her age read  better than she does and she does not qualify for services?  How is that possible?  I think you’re telling me that Olivia is just not smart enough.  That is, if her IQ came in at 110 or 115, we’d be signing an IEP right now.”

There was no response to the mom’s statement.

Pull the curtain.

Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2022,

To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email

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“‘FAPE’ Realities”

Let’s say you have a 7 year old child just finishing second grade who struggles greatly with reading, spelling and writing and has been diagnosed with a learning disability (i.e., dyslexia).

The school has recently classified the child for special education and an IEP (Individual Education Plan) is put into place.

In spite of the IEP, you have not been thrilled with how your child has been handled to date, since there has been no specialized intervention and second grade is effectively done..  So you look into a specialized private school about 20 minutes away that everyone tells you is  perhaps one of the best ones in the country, the Dyslexia Nirvana School, commonly referred to as “DNS.”

Dyslexia Nirvana School comes with a pretty hefty price tag of $55,000 per year, so you want the public school to either provide what DNS does (specialized individual instruction daily) or to pay for your child to go there.

The parents ask me,   “Don’t you think the school should either do what DNS does or send her there at their cost?”

I know this is going to be one of those tough conversations, so I breathe deeply going into my meditative mode and then offer the following answer –

“Nope, I do not.”

“What do you mean,” they exasperatedly respond, surprised I am that blunt and direct.  “Do we need to get a lawyer?”

From there, I go into my understanding of special education and how it all works to try and help them get on board (not my favorite conversation).

“Here’s the deal,” I start. “The school is required by Federal Law to provide children who are given IEPs what’s called ‘FAPE’ (i.e., a Free and Appropriate Public Education).  (The operative  word in FAPE being “appropriate” which is challenging to define.) They are not obligated nor do they have the resources or the wherewithal to provide what a highly specialized private school offers such as the Dyslexia Nirvana School offers.”

I continue, “Here’s the guiding principle.  Think of Dyslexia Nirvana as one of the best, most expensive cars you can think of – maybe a Lamborghini.  Schools do not offer a Lamborghini and are not required to by law.  It’s not that they are supposed to provide a mediocre product, but they can’t offer what a specialized private school offers.”

“Well, we want her to have the best,” says the mom.

“Then, at least for now, you need to enroll her in the Dyslexia Nirvana School and pay the tuition on your own.”

“What do you mean ‘at least for now?’”

“Look,” I continue, “I’m not a representative of the school and I’m just sharing my understanding of how it works, but at this point the school has barely worked with her.  The program they are suggesting is ‘appropriate’ meaning it is an educationally acceptable program considered to be “appropriate.”

Let’s say some time goes by with this program and she makes very little progress. Then you are in a better position to say they are not providing FAPE and you can make an argument that she should attend the Nirvana School at their expense.  Let’s hope she makes progress, though.  We need to watch it closely.”

Takeaway Point

FAPE is the guiding principle, with the operative word “appropriate,” being open for interpretation.  Before you go for the Lamborghini and expect the school to pay for it, you need to go a step at a time.

Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2022,

To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email

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“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 –


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