So, I bet your wondering what the M could possibly represent when we are talking about dyslexia. Money? Mystery? Nope. In this article we are talking about marginalization. It happens often and it happens under the radar. In IEPs and IEP meetings everywhere comments are being made, goals are be written and recommendations are being made that marginalize students with dyslexia. From recommendations of retention to writing goals with low expectations to providing inadequate services, these students are as capable as their peers and there are ways to not only avoid these paths to marginalization but also expose them along the way. Below are some recent comments heard and seen in IEPs and what they really mean.
“We realize she only learned 7 new letters last year, but she has a learning disability…”
Now, this might not be so hidden after all. This is the most egregious form of marginalization of a student with dyslexia. The underlying message is: she has a learning disability so we really shouldn’t expect that much from her. She actually went on to say that they did not know she had dyslexia until halfway through the school year, so what did we expect.
Yes, I am pretty happy we were recording this meeting. There are a few problems with this situation and one question to ask her. The problems are that whether or not the child has a diagnosis of dyslexia (which was accomplished independently) does not excuse the school from the teaching the student. Secondly, the school is required to provide the student with at least a floor of opportunity to access the curriculum.
Your rebuttal: “So, if I follow your logic, you are saying that because she has dyslexia, in the absence of any intellectual or cognitive deficits, she should not be expected to learn?” Expect to hear silence…but your point will be made. Your child, or any other child with dyslexia, will not be marginalized.
“Well, he didn’t really meet the standards for this grade, so we are recommending that he be retained.”
The recommendation of retention at any grade really gets my blood boiling. This recommendation insinuates that the child needs to change. The child needs to change? Really? The child has dyslexia and that will never change. When a child with dyslexia is retained, nothing changes. He receives the same services, the same ‘intervention,’ the same curriculum and then moves on the next grade with lower self-esteem. If that isn’t marginalization then I don’t know what is. The solution is to allow this intellectually competent child to move on with his classmates, change the intervention, and provide the appropriate accommodations for the next grade level.
Your rebuttal: “No, my child will not be held behind. Instead, let’s investigate the reason he did not meet the standards needed to read and change the intervention.”
“She cannot read, so what is the point in having a fluency goal?”
I cannot begin to count how many times I have figuratively rolled my eyes when I heard this in an IEP or see an IEP that did not have a fluency goal, or a reading comprehension goal or a phonics (or phonemic awareness) goal. According to the National Reading Panel and No Child Left Behind, reading instruction should be made up of five components: phonemic awareness, phonics, reading comprehension, fluency and vocabulary. All five components should be represented in every IEP, every time. The only exception could be phonemic awareness if the student has mastered that skill. Other than that, leaving out one of these components, leads to marginalization of the reading program for a student with dyslexia.
Your rebuttal: “According the NRP and NCLB, fluency is part of the reading intervention that is required for a student to learn to read independently. Now, let’s get a baseline, even it is 8CWPM and write a fluency goal.”
“Now that he is middle school, we don’t have time to read the tests to him and we think he should skip history and science for extra homework help.”
It seems to be a ubiquitous problem. When a student transitions from elementary school to middle school, the IEP seems to lose its power. The most egregious part of this statement is the suggestion that this student should miss content for homework help. This student is being marginalized by the staff assuming he cannot learn the content. They further deny that he be allowed to continue with the accommodations that were put in place in his IEP. Unfortunately, the culture in middle and high schools do not respond well to the needs of students with dyslexia and these students are still struggling at the time of this transition, they will begin to marginalize themselves.
Your rebuttal: “Well, the IEP is a legal document. If he still has the need for accommodations such as reading the tests to him, then you have the legal responsibility to give him that accommodation. Furthermore, this student is capable of learning history and science and if you do not offer him that opportunity you are denying him FAPE.”
Not only do the statements above do great harm and create a great injustice to all students with dyslexia, but it illustrates the pervasive misunderstanding of students with dyslexia. They are not the underdogs. They are not to be pitied. They are to be taught and given the opportunity to compete on an even playing field.
Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley is the co-founder of the Dyslexia Training Institute (www.dyslexiatraininginstitute.org and www.dyslexiadr.com.) She is currently writing, Putting the D in to the IEP, and you can read excerpts at www.dyslexiadr.blogspot.com. She received her doctorate in Literacy with a specialization in reading and dyslexia from San Diego State University and the University of San Diego. Dr. Sandman-Hurley a Certified Special Education Advocate assisting parents and children through the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and 504 Plan process. She is an adjunct professor of reading, literacy coordinator and a tutor trainer. Kelli is trained by a fellow of the Orton-Gillingham Academy and in the Lindamood-Bell, RAVE-O and Wilson Reading Programs. Kelli is the Past-President of the San Diego Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. She has presented at numerous conferences as well as provided professional development for k-12 teachers. Join the Dyslexia Training Institute at www.facebook.com/dyslexiatraining