FCPS Curriculum Casualties

“There is a huge amount of denial that has to be overcome before anything changes. I experienced it myself. No one wants to admit to themselves that we aren’t helping our children.” Parent of a 5th grade FCPS student and RWSR client

The recent American Public Media report Hard Words, addresses how high the stakes are when it comes to reading failure.  Dyslexia is the most common reason why people of all ages struggle with reading, spelling and writing.

Research shows that children who don’t learn to read by the end of third grade are likely to remain poor readers for the rest of their lives, and they’re likely to fall behind in other academic areas, too. People who struggle with reading are more likely to drop out of high school, to end up in the criminal justice system, and to live in poverty. 

How students with known or suspected dyslexia need to be taught to read and spell has been well established for years. It must be:

The right instruction, which means:

It is based on the research of Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham. As early as the 1920s, Dr. Orton brought together neuroscience with the principles of remediation and formulated a set of teaching principles and practices for children with the type of language-based processing difficulties now associated with dyslexia. Gillingham was a psychologist and educator who trained teachers and published instructional materials.

FCPS has several programs for struggling readers listed on its dyslexia web page.

Two of those programs, Fundations and Just Words, are NOT meant to be used as remediation for students with known dyslexia. In IEP meetings throughout the region, parents are being led to believe otherwise. Wasting time with ineffective, non research-based programs is harming students of all ages. Ken Pugh, PhD, Yale University, refers to these students as “curriculum casualties.”

Intensive: at least two one-hour sessions each week are necessary to produce results. More of the right type of instruction is always better. I advise all of my clients to at least increase their students’ tutoring by one session during the summer break. This is a great time to make faster progress in closing the gap.

Individualized: One-on-one instruction with a certified instructor is the gold standard. All dyslexic students need this, especially those with more significant challenges. From what I’ve heard, most small group pull-out instruction in FCPS is 5-7 students.

In addition, the pacing of the instruction must be based on a skilled tutor’s ability to gauge retention, application and mastery of the material being taught in a variety of reading and spelling tasks. It is the antithesis of SOL-style “teaching to the test.”

Taught by a trained instructor. This seems ridiculously obvious, and yet I recently interacted with a parent in Newport News whose son is in 8th grade and reading at a second grade level. This year, he will be working with a newly trained teacher who is NOT certified in the Just Words program she is teaching. To make matters worse, Just Words is not meant for students with known dyslexia. This is stated on the developers website. And yet, throughout Virginia, parents are being told the opposite.

It should go without saying that a school’s first mission should be to teach children how to read and spell. I haven’t met a parent yet who doesn’t have this basic expectation. When first confronted with the fact that our child is not mastering these critical skills, of course, we reach out to the teacher. That’s why I did and I heard:

February 1, 2013 -First Grade These are verbatim statements made by son’s former first and second grade teacher who has a master’s degree in literacy, almost ten years of experience, trains new teachers and who knew nothing about dyslexia.

“He is really good at using his strategies.”

“Sometimes it takes him a while to decode new words (he had NO idea how to decode at this point), so that affects his fluency. What is great is that he almost always gets the words through the strategies he tries.”  (This was guessing, using context clues, and luck.)

“I think it is just a matter of reading more (my emphasis). He needs to be reading the books I send home and other books at his level and this will greatly improve his fluency!”

I know many, if not all of my readers, have heard similar comments from teachers, but in my case, I DID NOT BELIEVE WHAT SHE SAID – in part because I had contacted Garrett’s fantastic preschool teacher who had him for two years when he was four and five years old about two months prior to the above email dialogue.  This is what she said:

November 26, 2012 

How old is Garrett?  Is he almost 8?  If so, then dyslexia is a legitimate concern.  Very smart kids, which I think Garrett is, can have dyslexia and compensate for it up to a certain point.  They fall apart about 3rd or 4th grade when the academic work load starts to get heavy.

How is he doing academically?  Is he on grade level or above?

It can be very difficult to get the school system to evaluate these kids because they appear to be doing OK academically.  The problem is that they are not doing anywhere near the work they would be capable of if the learning problem were addressed.  The kids often show behavior problems or seem to be angry and defiant because school is much more stressful than other people realize.  They also often develop a negative self-image, because they know they are working harder and not doing as well as they could, so they begin to think they are stupid.

You need to find a learning disability specialist or an educational psychologist to do testing.

Deep in my gut, I knew that Garrett wasn’t actually reading. He was guessing and memorizing, but he wasn’t sounding out words or decoding because at that time, he had no idea how to and no one at his school was adequately trained in the science of reading to teach him. No one.

It is my fervent wish that parents STOP believing what the classroom teacher, the special education teacher and all of those specialists who attend the IEP meetings are saying.  Take matters into your own hands; find someone qualified, who knows the science of reading and is committed to staying the course until your child has the necessary decoding and encoding (spelling) skills to develop fluency and greater ease with  print.

But please don’t stop there; share this information with the parent of another struggling reader, say DYSLEXIA, and strongly recommend that the parent seek guidance OUTSIDE of the school system.

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