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 www.shutdownlearner.com
Questions or comments email Dr. Selznick: firstname.lastname@example.org
Your are wrong! NJ teams look at Response to Intervention as well. Not every school has strong tiers of intervention though. General education needs to invest in multiple tiers of intervention! Why should a child be labeled disabled and all responsibilities be put on special education? It takes a village!
When was the last time you taught in a school or worked on a Child Study Team? Your views are out dated and should not be “sold” as fact! You are feeding the flames. Sad 🙁
Thanks for the comment. I fully agree that a child need not be labeled “learning disabled” in order to get the help needed. I also agree that “It takes a village.” I also have not been in the classroom for quite some time, but I get legions of parents coming to me frustrated by what seems to be a child not getting what is needed because they were seen to be “ineligible.” Please help me understand that better. From my perspective, weak reading is weak reading, regardless of giving it a label. (Please see my example of Child A & B both in the 10th percentile of reading.) Why should Child A get help, but Child B get nothing? Beyond my understanding.
One more point. I have never “sold my views as fact.” I am sharing my opinion/perspective based on the the thousands of children I have seen (and continue to see) and my understanding of research and theory. I fully appreciate there are different perspectives. What I am mostly critical of is the model used in states like NJ that hold to a statistical discrepancy for identifying children.
I look forward to your response.
Having been on a Child Study Team I can say that schools need to do more than just provide the same classroom curriculum materials in a small group setting and call this RTI. There are many materials that can supplement, such as Explode the Code, which would provide direct instruction for phonemic awareness, and using decodable texts for practice. Then you will have a better idea whether kids really are dyslexic or their reading issues relate to the wrong teaching method for their learning styles. Furthermore, a student may be able to decode but have poor fluency, which could impact comprehension. If such issues will be addressed in the general education or even thru a reading specialist that would be great, but this is all too often not the case which is where eligibility and special education come into play. Early intervention whenever possible is the best option for later success and the discrepancy model typically doesn’t help either. So, Doing a good psychological/educational evaluation will provide information regarding what may be interfering with the child’s progress in addition to looking at what has already been tried thru rti and determine whether a child’s needs special education or not. Maybe a speech-language evaluation may also be needed. Neither RTI alone, especially if not done well, or a discrepancy model is the way to go.
Where I get stuck (and always have) is from my perspective struggling is struggling no matter what it is labeled. I have always considered it roughly in one camp (Type I) or the other (Type II). That is, it is either primarily decoding/fluency or one based in comprehension. I tested a child the other day who was clearly fluent but looked at me blankly whenever asked a “why” question.
There are probably different methods from an RTI point of view to see what she would respond to, but I start with the premise that it is a “Type I” issue, whether or not she is legitimately learning disabled or not.
Thanks for the comment.