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Why I pulled my dyslexic son out of Fairfax County Public Schools

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by Kimberly Downey

Here I recount my story of removing my dyslexic son from the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) system at the end of 2nd grade and making the move to homeschool. This decision ultimately led me here, becoming a certified Barton tutor. Deciding to homeschool Garrett was absolutely the best choice for my son who is now a competent and avid reader.


In July 2013, I hired a dyslexia specialist, who is also a certified elementary / special education teacher with 16 years of experience, to screen Garrett for dyslexia after he completed first grade. I had serious concerns about his poor spelling and how reading exhausted him.

Although my husband and I met with our son’s teacher before he started 2nd grade, the results of Garrett’s private screening, which clearly showed weakness in phonological awareness, were ignored. Garrett was not doing poorly enough and because the DRA showed him supposedly reading at grade level, there was NOTHING that would be done. In fact, the principal told me that it was very unlikely that a committee hearing would be granted based on his grades and scores.

Emails from the school…


There are no official fall benchmarks.  I actually just DRAed a bunch of kids today.  Garrett did well.  He passed the 14.  16 is end of first grade benchmark.  He is really good at using his strategies.  He tries different ones which is awesome.  Where he struggles a little is with his fluency.  Sometimes it takes him  a while to decode new words, so that affects his fluency.  What is great is that he almost always gets the words through the strategies he tries.  I tried the level 16 with him and he could not pass the fluency portion due to the length it is taking him to decode.  He and I talked about this because he has a lot of great strategies.  I think it is just a matter of reading more.  He needs to be reading the books I send home and other books at his level and this will greatly improve his fluency!


As for the DRA…Mrs ——, the reading teacher administered it.  Garrett passed the 20 with only 2 errors and gave a great retell.  He went on to pass the level 24.  The next level is 28 which is end of second grade benchmark, so he is well above that now.  He is really doing great in reading and writing!


And…G has been bringing Diary of a Whimpy Kid to school.  While he is doing awesome in reading, this book is not Just Right for him.  It is a DRA level 40.  He is a level 24/28. So if you could make sure he doesn’t bring it to school it will be one less battle for me!  He has started reading Magic Tree house, which I think he will really like!

My son had many challenges in a traditional classroom and was pegged a behavior problem from kindergarten on. The teacher, who he had for TWO CONSECUTIVE years (first & second grade), and has a Masters degree in reading, but no experience with recognizing the warning signs of dyslexia, didn’t believe there was an issue. When presented with the screening results, she simply shrugged her shoulders and then questioned the specialist’s credentials!

My request to pull him out of FLES, so that I could tutor him for 45 minutes in a multi-sensory, Orton-Gillingham influenced phonics program, and then have him return to class to finish his school day, was DENIED. There is much credible data that shows if a student struggles in his native language, learning to read and write in a foreign language is an exercise in futility.

Considering that the foundational research for multisensory structured language teaching was developed in the late 1930s and has been proven highly effective, it is shocking that the 10th largest system in the US is woefully underserving the needs of 20% of its dyslexic student population.

2014 – 2017

Garrett began homeschooling in third grade in September 2014, after he had been working with me for one year with the Barton Reading & Spelling system. He completed all 10 Barton levels in November 2017. I am certain, this WOULD NOT have been the case if I kept him in our neighborhood school.

I began tutoring other students alongside Garrett in 2014. At that point, when I checked the list of FCPS-approved tutors to find out who else might be providing this type of instruction, of 36 pages of names, only two individuals wrote in the comments field that they were trained in multi-sensory reading and spelling approaches. 

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