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Hello and thank you for such a wonderful resource! I am a former teacher and school psychologist. I’m currently providing supplemental reading instruction and trying to advocate for my second grade niece.

She has a long history typical of a child with a specific learning disability or dyslexia. Her language development was slow, particularly with regard to articulation. Letter and number recognition was difficult and her general phonemic awareness still has not been mastered in spite of consistent and systematic reading instruction for the past six months. She has trouble expressing herself with the appropriate vocabulary and word sequence.

When she reads, besides the usual misread words, she still confuses b and d and she often substitutes synonyms for words (i.e. house for home, mom for mother, dumb for stupid, etc.). Independent homework completion is impossible because she cannot read the directions accurately.

She was retained in kindergarten and now is receiving extra small-group reading instruction at school three times a week. Even so, the school has yet to initiate communication or collaboration with her mother or me. The only reason we knew about the extra reading group was because it was mentioned during parent/teacher conferences.

When her mother asked if it might be time to refer her for a special education evaluation, they said she could request it but probably wouldn’t get it because her daughter’s problems aren’t that bad. I’m concerned that all the help my neice has received will ultimately prevent her from qualifying for special education because the school only uses the discrepancy model (and she may be too young to show a significant discrepancy).

Is it enough that a student’s mother and advocate suspect the presence of a disability to get the special education evaluation? I’ve worked in three different states and never heard of a school denying a parent request for an initial evaluation.

Also, can I, as her advocate, make the case from the vantage point of Response to Intervention that she has a learning disability? Or should we stop helping her and let her fall further behind in order to access the services she needs at school? We cannot afford a private evaluation and because I’m not currently employed, I don’t think they are going to take my opinion too seriously. I hope you can help!

First, please do not stop helping her. She should not have to experience any more pain than she is experiencing already. I suspect that she is in a school system that waits until the child fails third grade before they do any testing. Why? As you mentioned, they use a discrepancy formula to determine if a student has a learning disability. And, the student has to have failed third grade before he/she is far enough behind to meet this discrepancy. I hate this “wait until you fail before we will evaluate or formally help” you strategy.

Have her parents send a formal letter to the principal requesting a meeting to discuss their daughter’s academic difficulties. This request must be in writing. The principal must schedule the meeting within 30 calendar days. The principal, appropriate school professionals, the teacher, and parents should attend this meeting. (You can come as well.) At this meeting, her parents should formally request testing to find out why their daughter is struggling. If the school agrees - great. These studies will be done and then shared with the parents.

If they do not agree to do testing at this time, have the parents say, “This decision is not acceptable to us. We wish to have the minutes of the meeting reflect that we do not agree. And, we would like to be informed of our right to appeal this decision.” The school must comply with these requests. Prior to seeing someone within the appeal process, seek help from a private educational consultant on what to say.

Good luck. Your niece is very lucky to have you for her aunt.

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