I think I am a fairly reasonable person. I know how to pick my battles and when to use honey to catch flies. This spelling conundrum is getting the better of me. Let me refresh your memory and then give you an update. Awhile back I shared a story about an IEP where the resource teacher and general education teacher unanimously agreed that the 5th grade student with dyslexia really didn’t need to know how to spell because, “…after all, they don’t really need it in middle school anyway and he can just use spell check.” I then put their theory to the test and found that if this student relied solely on spell check in WORD, he would still misspell 27% of the words.
I was fairly confident that I had made some headway explaining the importance of teaching spelling using an explicit, systematic, multisensory technique. I was also fairly certain I was clear that it was important to teach spelling and not to only teach sight words. I also agreed that teaching sight words was important as well. One thing I did not share in my previous article was that this student’s decoding was below average and his fluency was about 92CWPM at the end of the 5th grade. We had also requested an Assistive Technology (AT) assessment that was completed and found to be appropriate for this student. So, as we (at the Dyslexia Training Institute we advocate in teams of two) walked in to the third IEP, yes the third IEP for a spelling goal, we were expecting a quick and easy meeting. When will I learn? Nothing is quick and easy when it comes to advocacy and dyslexia.
Are you sitting down? Below is the suggested goal for spelling verbatim:
Jake will revise his writing assignments and improve his spelling by using a word processor or portable spell checker to correctly spell at least 95% of the words measured by student work samples.
Do you need a moment to pick your mouth up off the floor? Is your heart racing with sheer frustration? If not, maybe this will get you going. I read this goal before the team had gotten there so I continued to flip through the pages in the hopes that this was just one goal of three for spelling. I was sure there another goal to actually teach spelling and one to teach the spelling of sight words. I would be wrong. This was the sole goal for spelling. Ok, now how are you feeling? If you are anything like me, this would render you speechless for a minute or two while you control your racing heart and think about the questions the attorney or compliance officer that may eventually get this case now needs you to ask.
As the resource teacher began to nonchalantly read the goal to the team I was actually expecting her to laugh and say, ‘just kidding,’ but that never came. With a straight face accompanied by the straight faces of the principal, general ed teacher and school psychologist, she looked up and said, “Are we all ok with new goal for spelling?” What? Come again?
My response: “Just to clarify, are you suggesting this goal in place of a spelling goal?”
Her response, “Yes.” – the tape is rolling.
My response: “So, you have decided that you are no longer going to teach Jason to learn to spell. Is that right?”
Her response: “Yes. Yes.” – the tape is rolling
My response: “Ok, just to be clear, you are proposing that Jason use spell check and we will no longer be teaching him to spell?”
Her response: “Yes.”
I ended the conversation there, because at that point I had the information that the attorney or compliance officer would need. It seemed we had reached a point of absurdity and to belabor the point past three IEP meeting was going to be ineffective and it was time to pass this case on to the next level. In hindsight I was happy with my questioning, but I always have the “I should have said this and I have should have said that,’ and because I intend my articles to be practical, I would advise you to add the following should you ever find yourself in this situation be it spelling, reading, writing or math:
“Do you believe that by denying Jason a spelling (or reading or math) intervention you are providing him a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE)?”
“What pedagogical theory are you relying to support this decision?”
“Do you believe Jason can learn to spell (or read or do math) with the correct intervention?”
There is a happy ending. I would not be a good advocate if I allowed the IEP to remain this way and when all was said and done, we had a great spelling goal (which I wrote ahead of time and brought with me):
When given 50 multisyllabic words that contain close, open, v-c-e, and vowel team syllables, Jason will correctly spell them with 90% accuracy in 4/5 trials as measured by teacher-kept data.
So, Jason will learn to spell and he will do so with an evidence-based program that was agreed to in the IEP meeting. The teacher is now obligated (against her will) to teach him to spell so that this GATE-identified student can be as educated to his potential.
This extremely frustrating and absurd IEP adventure got me thinking. Physicians take the Hippocratic oath to practice medicine ethically. Should educators take an oath to educate everyone? I find it unethical to deny the student spelling instruction when he is capable of learning. If there had not been an advocate involved in this case, this student would have been marginalized to the point of never knowing how to write a letter to his mom – should he decide he wanted to do that.
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 is the co-producer of Dyslexia for a Day. 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. 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, www.twitter.com/dyslexiatrainer and www.dyslexiadr.blogspot.com.