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Reading & Dyslexia

The following are past questions and answers from Matt Cohen on this topic.

My child is not on a diploma track because of his reading delays, but I feel that the school hasn't done their part to help him achieve. What do I do?

I have a 9th grade student with an IEP reading at a 4th grade level. His school in South Carolina has had him on a reading program in which he has not been qualified to move levels at all, but they have advanced him anyway. Now they are saying it is too late for him to go on a diploma track. At this point there is no way for him to graduate with his peers. Their suggestion is to give him a state diploma stating that he has gone through 12 years of school. I have researched the issue, and I have gone several times to the school with evidence on film and documents to prove that the school has not done their part in teaching this child since the 4th and 5th grade. Now he is in 9th grade, but none of the teachers, or the school district, wants to admit that they failed this child.

Some questions I have about this particular case that you might be able to help me with are as follows:

  • Who is the district level IEP caseworker that oversees the progress of students within the district?
  • How is the progress monitored at the district level from one school year to the next?
  • How is a student flagged for deeper review when the district office realizes that the student is not passing all IEP objectives and goals?
  • What happens when a school reports that a student didn't pass their IEP objectives/goals for that year?
  • Why isn't there a representative from the district at ALL IEP meetings?
  • How often is the school required to submit IEP evaluations and progress reports?
  • Is the present education levels recorded in the information that the district receives from the school? Where is this information found? There isn't any notification in the student's file that states the district received any notifications of progress.
  • How can I obtain a copy of all the district's notifications from the school?
  • How often does the district monitor progress? Who evaluates the progress?
  • If there isn't anyone in control or monitoring the progress of IEP students, what's the purpose of the IEP?
  • Why does the district assume the school is doing their job without following up?
  • How is Richland School District going to make sure that my child receives the education that every other student receives? He is currently in the 9th grade only reading at a 4th grade level. He has been in the school district from the beginning of his education, and I am very concerned.

You ask many important questions, but many of them are too specific to be answered in this format. I would strongly recommend that you seek legal advice from a knowledgeable special education attorney. I will try to answer some of your questions in a broader way:

  1. As a general matter, while a school system may have various ways of maintaining student records and often have records for a student located in a number of different places, there is only one official record. It would be a good idea to seek a copy of all your son's records, and I would write a request seeking a copy of the district records, school records, teacher records, related service provider records, etc.
  2. Ultimately, the school district is responsible for ensuring that all students in special education receive a free appropriate education. How they choose to organize their system is up to them, as long as it complies with state requirements. Schools have to submit their special education plan to the state for approval. That plan is a public record, and you should be able to get a copy of it from the school or from the state.
  3. If a student is not making progress, the school should review why the student is not making progress and whether there is a need to change the IEP, including exploring more intensive services, different strategies, different methodologies and even different settings. This should all be done through the IEP process. In addition, if the student is not making expected progress, it may suggest the need for further evaluation to determine why the student is not making the desired progress.
  4. Although the special education law itself does not specifically address this, if you were not informed that the track your son was on and the courses he was being assigned would prevent him from getting a regular education diploma, you may have a basis for complaint: 1) you were deprived of the chance for informed and full participation, and 2) you relied on inaccurate information in going along with the school's plan. This is one of the areas where legal advice would be needed to assess your position.
  5. Although your question indicates that there were no district representatives at your son's IEP meetings, the district can delegate this role to a member of the IEP team. They may not have done that or may have done it and simply failed to explain that to you. However, there is no requirement that a person from "the district" be present. Rather, there must be someone representing the district with the ability to make decisions and commit resources.
  6. Finally, if your son is as far behind as he is and has not received an appropriate education, he may be entitled to compensatory education for the period he has not gotten appropriate services. However, each state has a statute of limitations that defines how far in the past you can complain about. In addition, your son should have a transition plan as part of his IEP that can include additional services geared to prepare your son for life after high school.

What can I do if I've been denied SSI benefits for my daughter's physical disability? Should I get her tested for LD?

I have a 4 year old with hydrocephalus and a ventriculoperitoneal shunt. I've been submitting applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) but have been denied all three times.

I recently started to notice that my daughter writes words, numbers, and her name backwards. No matter how many times you show her correctly, she keeps doing it backwards. I have called hospitals to see if there are tests for her but all I've been getting is a call back three to six months later. I really need some advice or even a lead on where to go. Thank you.

Dear Aresenia:

You need to consult with a knowledgeable SSI disability appeals lawyer concerning the possibility of filing an appeal of the denial of benefits for your child.

There are several organizations that represent lawyers that handle SSI cases. You can do a Google search or contact the American Bar Association Mental and Physical Disability Law/Bazelon Center Web site for a list of lawyers that do disability cases.

With regard to child having trouble with reversing letters and numbers, this is often reflective of the presence of a learning disability. You may want to consult with a clinical psychologist or neuropsychologist for evaluation of your child's reading and writing to determine if there is a problem with the way her brain processes information.

Many hospitals, especially children's hospitals and hospitals with medical school affiliations, have clinics that conduct psycho-educational evaluations. However, you should be forewarned that many hospital clinics may use medical criteria that are different than the eligibility criteria used by the schools. Therefore, it is important to make sure that the evaluator is familiar with the special education criteria for LD, as well as the clinical criteria.

The school said it will take 30 weeks to start providing special education services. Should they help pay for tutoring in the interim?

My child has severe dyslexia, as determined by a private evaluator. We are trying to get his school to provide services; however, this could take 30 weeks (losing an entire school year). I have been looking everywhere in my county for tutors, etc. to help him in the interim as long as I can afford it, but am finding nothing. Do you have any recommendations on where to turn? I live in Palm Beach County, Florida.

Dear Michelle,

Although in reality, getting a child determined eligible for special education can sometimes take a long time — even 30 weeks — but by law, this should not occur. You should check your state's special education regulations for the specific timeframes from date of referral to completion of consent to completion of the evaluation.

In any event, if you decide you need to secure tutoring services in the interim, you may consider providing the school with a "unilateral placement" letter, notifying them that you are obtaining the private services due to their failure to provide appropriate (or any) special education services and that you want them to pay for the private services. Giving this letter does not obligate them to pay, but may give you a basis for pursuing reimbursement from them.

As to tutoring services in Florida, I suggest you contact the Learning Disability Assn. of Florida, as well as the federally funded Parent Training Center in your area for ideas for sources of tutoring. You can find the closest parent training center to you at www.taalliance.org.

Can my son who attends private school have access to an IEP and LD reading resources at the local public school?

Can my son who attends private school have access to an IEP and LD reading resources at the public school in our district?

Dear Laurie,

Voluntarily enrolled private students have the right to be evaluated by the public school to determine if they have a disability. If so, the school may offer them a "service plan," though the public school has lots of discretion about what services they offer to private school students.

If you wish to have an IEP to be implemented by the public school at the public school on a part time basis, you may request this, but the public school is not obligated to accommodate the scheduling and other issues that may be most workable for your student in relation to their participation at the private school.

How can I help an employee who exhibits signs of dyslexia but does not have a diagnosis?

One of our employees appears to have dyslexia, which manifests itself in the inability of this employee to correctly alphabetize and therefore file cases where they belong.

She is not approachable about this topic and has not been diagnosed with LD; however, I would like to be able to assist her in filing alphabetically. Any suggestions or tools to achieve this goal would be appreciated.

Dear Diana,

You should consult court administration regarding any formal action in relation to a perceived disability.

However, there are various strategies that could be suggested to assist the employee with the filing, including providing some form of alphabet grid for her to have available as a reference.

There may also be hand-held computer devices that have the capability to help to organize things in alphabetical order. Although it might involve extra work, you could implement a symbol or number system to correspond to the case names to allow for sorting that isn't dependent on spelling.

She may benefit from formal evaluation for a learning disability. If you are her supervisor, you would need to handle this in an appropriate manner, with help from the human resources staff.

How can an adult with LD get accommodations on the ACT?

I have a daughter with LD. She is 31 years old and is trying to get an associates degree. What is keeping her back from continuing her education is not being able to pass the ACT reading and writing tests. The tests are given online and do not allow you to go back to correct or complete a page.

Is there a way that she can get the paper form of the test? Or is there a different kind of grading for adults with LD? She has 40 credits, so she is able to pass some of the courses but she is at a standstill now because of this test.

I have tried to get in touch with the National Center for Learning Disabilities here in New York to no avail. I would appreciate any help that you can give me concerning this matter.

Thanking you in advance,


Dear Jennifer:

If a person has a documented disability that requires accommodation in how testing is administered, he/she should request accommodation to the test agency. The individual will be expected to provide clinical documentation of the existence of the disability, the impact of the disability, the need for the accommodation, and the relationship of the disability to the requested accommodation.

Alternative test formats are often used to accommodate people with various types of disabilities. However, the request for accommodation must be reasonable. If the testing is all done online, some investigation would be needed as to how alternative testing could be done under appropriate, controlled conditions that would still accommodate her needs.

Further, there would need to be clinical documentation of why the particular accommodation in relation to the test format was necessary as a result of her disability.