Last week we discussed Gina, a frustrated 17 year old who was not getting the results she had hoped on tests like the SATs, in spite of her putting in a great deal of effort prepping for the test (Gina, Part I).
Gina had been previously evaluated by the school’s special education team who found her to be “fine,” with scores falling in the average range or better.
When I subsequently evaluated Gina, I found that she had an unrecognized “heel spur,” affecting her ability to perform effectively on challenging tests.
This “heel spur” did not allow her to read complex words very efficiently, slowing down her overall reading process. While ultimately reading words like mechanic, pedestrian and multitudinous correctly, she did so with a great deal of effort, expanding time considerably while reading, greatly impacting timed tests like the SATs.
After the post went public, questions were received from New York to Thailand, including:
“How is this type of problem addressed/corrected?”
“What exactly is her “heel spur?”
“Why was she able to ultimately correctly read the words that were challenging to her?
As it turns out Gina always struggled with reading words, but she was always “good enough” to fall in the dreaded portion of the average range where nothing is done (around the 30th % ile of the bell shaped curve).
Primarily, Gina read words from her memory. This was a habit (style) of hers since first grade.
So, when she saw a word like “pedestrian,” her instinct was to immediately say a word from her memory like “pediatrician,” which looked like “pedestrian.” Eventually stumbling on the word the process was exhausting.
This style/habit was her “heel spur.”
Relative to the question of how to address/correct the problem, if Gina were younger specialized tutoring would be recommended to target her word reading and reading fluency skills.
At this point in her senior year of high school, Gina needs greater understanding that her issue is not her intelligence, as she was getting down on herself and frustrated. Gina needs to understand that we all have “heel spurs” of one sort or another, so she doesn’t make the harsh self statements she was starting to make about herself.
Gina is also in need of accommodations in the form of a 504 Plan, which offers accommodations to those with an identified disability.
Two accommodations come to mind.
First, Gina needs extended time. Typically, students are given either time and a half or double time extension on standardized tests. Even if she is not given this accommodation for the SAT as sometimes happens, the likelihood is that she would be given such accommodations in college.
Another accommodation that is not done with standardized testing, but can be offered in less formal settings such as the classroom, would be to allow Gina the opportunity to preview the difficult words prior to taking a test.
This accommodation would not be giving her an unfair advantage, which is not the purpose of a 504 Plan, but would help to “level the playing field.”
For so many like Gina out there, they can’t manage difficult text and with a little assistance in the form of an accommodation or two, these allow them to get in the game.
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