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The next chapter: How Barton helped my dyslexic son go back to school

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by Kimberly Downey

Although homeschooling was never in my plan, when I confronted the reality of how my son’s public school was failing its dyslexic students, I was clear that was going to be the best choice.

Garrett has never gone through a full neuropsychological evaluation. My main concern was why he was having so many difficulties with reading and spelling. Even though his teacher and the school said he was reading at grade level, frankly, I didn’t believe them. I also wasn’t willing to wait and see what happened. Research shows it is better to remediate early, ideally before third grade since it is the most consequential year in a student’s academic career. We worked with a certified academic language therapist right after he turned eight at the end of July 2013, I got my answer, and then went to work teaching my son in the manner that his school could not provide.

Since a regular language arts class is not effective instruction for students with dyslexia and the school wouldn’t even acknowledge he was dyslexic, remaining in a traditional classroom simply didn’t make sense. To make matters worse, I could not get an exemption for Spanish.

It is possible for dyslexic students to learn to speak a foreign language, but being required to read and spell in it is a disaster and, frankly, a waste of mental effort that is better spent on other pursuits. Garrett began homeschooling in third grade in September 2014, after he had been working with me for one year with the Barton system.

He completed all 10 levels of the Barton Reading & Spelling System in November 2017. Soon after, I realized that homeschooling would no longer be so ‘easy’ as there was no more dyslexia remediation that I could provide. Recently, I started to consider other options for his upcoming 7th grade year. I talked to a parent affiliated with Decoding Dyslexia VA about transitioning back to FCPS for middle school before the stakes become higher in high school. Due to the extreme emphasis on the SOLs, the foreign language requirement and large class size, I opted against this choice. The question still remained: what school would acknowledge his learning differences, yet challenge him, so that he could fully develop his cognitive potential?

Although the efficacy of the Barton System is well established (and I could see how much of a better reader he had become), I wanted objective data about his progress now, about four years after we began. Parents who may be considering this method of instruction for their child or whose child is still in the early stages of remediation, may be wondering the very same thing. As a result I had Garrett evaluated by an educational consultant since he would be attending a private school. (His evaluation results are below, and they are excellent.)

My starting assumption for homeschooling was that remediating his reading and spelling difficulties was the primary goal. We could put the other subjects into place as needed, but I treated this instruction like my son’s life depended upon it — because it does. Some may think that this is a hyperbolic statement, but it’s how I tutored Garrett and how I tutor all of my clients’ children. For dyslexic learners, this instruction alters their view of their ability to learn and be successful in school.

The assessment was broken into two main parts: a qualitative reading inventory (QRI), which involved reading leveled word lists and oral reading of a social studies passage and spelling.

Word Lists:
  • Grade 6 100% correct with all but one word automatic
  • Upper Middle School 90% correct with 85% automatic, 1 incorrect, 1 mispronounced,
  • 1 sounded out
Passage Reading:
  • Level 6 Oral, untimed, Social Studies Expository ‘The Lifeline of The Nile’


I did not time Garrett, but he read fluently. He may have read a bit too fast, affecting his ability to answer questions from memory.

Accuracy 99.6% accurate. Garrett needed me to tell him the word papyrus. He made 6 errors which he immediately self-corrected.

For spelling, the consultant dictated words and also used them in a sentence. Garrett had to spell the word on paper. As someone who always liked spelling and excelled at it, I also wanted to know how much Garrett had improved in this area. Although there were several errors, these multi-syllabic words were complex, and it was immediately apparent to me the difference Barton has made. For example, many of the words were off by only one letter. Considering how difficult spelling is for dyslexic students, this is a massive improvement. When he heard /shun/ as in the word section and institution, he knew it was spelled -tion, which is taught in Level 5. He nailed the word laborious. I teach in Level 6, that when one hears /us/ at the end of a word it is a suffix that is always spelled -ous.

Garrett now had a strong facility with reading and spelling. He was interested and willing to return to a regular classroom because he knew, without a doubt, that he had the tools he needed to be successful. A dyslexic student should always have accommodations. A person will always be dyslexic and as such, there will be challenges that neurotypical learners don’t face. Homeschooling may not be the right choice for every family, but dyslexic students should have the opportunity to learn to read and spell in the manner that works best for their brain.

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