“They cannot use RTI or an SST to delay an IEP or 504. Also are they using OG and have they requested AT and OT assessment? Lastly, what is the status of her OG tutor?” There are a lot of things that are right with these sentences but there one thing that is glaringly wrong with it. Go back and read that sentence again and this time read it as a parent who might just be starting their journey with a child with dyslexia. How would you feel? Left out? Overwhelmed? Well, I must admit this is what I allowed to happen in one of my own IEP meetings very recently. When we adjourned the meeting and stepped outside to debrief, the dad said, “What was going on in there? Were they speaking Spanish?” Right then I knew I had failed to do part of my job. I had failed to check-in with my clients and make sure they understood what we were talking about. I failed to prepare them with a list of acronyms to refer to. I failed to make sure they understood they could pause the meeting at any time to ask for clarification. The ironic part of this story is that the dad is active military which means he speaks in acronyms all day long – and the IEP jargon was overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, I am not taking all of the responsibility, the school side of the table (yes, I know we are supposed to be a team, but…) were equally as guilty as myself. We get into this mode of talking to each, preaching to the choir and forget how overwhelming and new this is for parents. So, to prevent this from happening again, I have listed below some commonly used terms during IEP meetings for a child with dyslexia, what they mean and how they can be misused and misunderstood and why they come up in meetings about students with dyslexia.
What is an IEP anyway?
I know that if you are reading this article or have been to an IEP meeting that you probably know what an IEP is, but just in case, I will give an abbreviated explanation. IEP is an acronym for Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP is granted to a student who is eligible for Special Education services by way of 13 categories. Our students are qualify under SLD (oops, there’s another acronym). SLD stands for Specific Learning Disability and guess what? Dyslexia is a qualifying condition listed under the SLD definition and guess what again; dyslexia has been there for over thirty years. The IEP is a legal document that holds the school responsible for the providing FAPE (see the acronyms are everywhere!) Free and Appropriate Education that is outlined in the IEP document – this is called an Offer of FAPE. FAPE is what every child is entitled to under IDEA (again? really?), the Individuals with Disabilities Act. FAPE means that every child it entitled to an education that free and appropriate. Remember, appropriate means Ford, not Cadillac – that is an important distinction to remember. Whew. That was a lot of information.
While we are on the topic of IEPs we must make sure the role of a 504 is understood. According to Wrightslaw a 504 is “…a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Section 504 ensures that the child with a disability has equal access to an education. The child may receive accommodations and modifications.” So when you are offered a 504 you need to know that your student is begin offered accommodations only, not services. Of course, there may be exceptions, but we don’t have room for the exceptions here. If you hear 504 during an IEP meeting and are unsure if it is the appropriate path for your student, take a night to sleep on it and investigate. In the case of dyslexia the appropriate path will be dependent on many factors and the 504 is very appropriate for one student (usually older students) and not so appropriate for others – it is all individualized after all, right?
RTI – Response to Intervention
Just mention RTI to anyone not teaching at a school and even many teachers will either look at you with a blank stare or curl their upper lip. RTI is the acronym for Response to Intervention and its role is to provide reading intervention to students at-risk for reading failure – it is a preemptive strike – an attempt to ‘cure’ reading problems before they are referred for special education. Of course I could go on for many pages about RTI, however the point of this article to educate about the terms used in meetings. The important thing to remember about RTI in a meeting is that a school cannot delay testing for Special Education because they have not implemented RTI – that is important. Need some backup to that statement, check out the memo here: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/osep11-07rtimemo.pdf. An added bonus to this article is that they make a note about schools not needing to use the discrepancy definition to determining. This is a good memo to print out and put in your notebook.
SST – Student Study Team/Student Support Team/ Student Success Teams
I am sure there are more names than ones I have listed, but these are the most common. The SST acronym stands for Student Study Team (or one of the names listed above). I am not a huge fan of these meetings. I think they are stalling tactics, but they happen nonetheless so you need to know what they are and what they intend to do. SSTs are designed to talk about a student who has been identified has struggling in the classroom. They talk about strengths, weaknesses, history and a ‘plan.’ This is a nice idea, but when it comes to a student with dyslexia, it is a waste of time. On top of that, it is not bound by any legal language, so monitoring that what is in the SST is really being done in the classroom is almost impossible – and more time passes. I say skip it and go right to the assessment process.
AT – Assistive Technology
The assistive technology is most under-utilized assessment in schools for a student who has or is suspected of having dyslexia. If you are from the Nation of Dyslexia (thank you Ben Foss for this term) you should know that you not only have the right ask for an AT assessment, but that it is imperative that your student learn to use and embrace it as soon as developmentally possible. This assessment will determine which technology devices and/or programs would help your student access the curriculum and allow them to learn grade level material – while or after receiving the appropriate remediation. Some examples are Speech-to-text, text-to-speech, word prediction, Bookshare, Learning Ally. This can also include accommodations that include taking a picture of the notes on the board, recording lectures, and using a calculator. These all have to be documented in the IEP and/or 504 paperwork. Do not accept the, ‘We do that anyway, why do we need to write it all down.” Again, it needs to be documented. When you hear the argument that this gives the student an unfair advantage, counter by asking them if they would take the wheelchair from a paralyzed student or the glasses from a vision-impaired student. It is the same thing – it is evening the playing field, not creating an unfair advantage. Then give them a copy of the book, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan. You can also listen to an interview with the author, Ben Foss here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/dti/2013/09/10/an-interview-with-ben-foss
OT – Occupational Therapy
Many students with dyslexia also have dysgraphia. According the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) dysgraphia is: Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects writing, which requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills. Dysgraphia makes the act of writing difficult. It can lead to problems with spelling, poor handwriting and putting thoughts on paper. People with dysgraphia can have trouble organizing letters, numbers and words on a line or page.
If a child is exhibiting symptoms of dysgraphia it is important to request an OT assessment. Remember that schools are required to assess all areas of suspected disability and often times that include Occupational Therapy.
OG – Orton-Gillingham
Last but certainly not least, Orton-Gillingham, more commonly referred to as OG. This term should always be heard at any IEP meeting for a student with dyslexia. OG is a structured, multisensory, sequential, and explicit approach to teaching reading. It is uncommon for a public school to have an OG trained teacher (although it does happen). So, if the school insists they have a trained teacher you must ask which program they were trained in and which curriculum they propose to use. Many schools will claim their curriculum fits the bill, but most often the curriculum they use is not explicit or multisensory and yes, those are important components.
Hopefully, you or whomever you share this article with (teachers could also benefit from this information), are starting to feel like you can attend an IEP meeting and participate in a meaningful way without feeling guilty about not taking those second language classes in high school seriously. When all else fails, always feel comfortable stopping any meeting and asking for clarification – it’s your right and you should not need a translator.
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