Jul 292014

Student Retention is one of the most popular practices for “helping” kids with dyslexia in schools. Unfortunately, student retention is a bad practice. It is NOT supported by research. Simply put, public schools commit gross failures to educate children with dyslexia, especially when student retention is one of their common practices.

Why do public schools, the very institutions who are supposed to know how to teach kids, do such a bad job of teaching kids with dyslexia?

I contend the failure of students with dyslexia is rooted in the educational establishment’s antiquated ignorance. They are stuck with stinking thinking, limiting mindsets, and antiquated practices. The beliefs and practices are passed down from one generation of educators to the next. It seems that no one examines what is proven to be best for the child.

People within the Educational Establishment can improve educational outcomes by reconsidering the use of any of the following reasons for student retention as a means to help a child:

1) ANTIQUATED IGNORANCE: There is a prevailing mindset that makes everyone want to “wait and see” if a child is just a “late bloomer.”

Do you know what longitudinal research shows regarding “late bloomers” and student retention?

The data from the studies are clear: Late bloomers are rare; skill deficits are almost always what prevent children from blooming as readers. This research may be counter-intuitive to elementary teachers who have seen late-bloomers in their own classes or heard about them from colleagues. But statistically speaking, such students are rare. Actually, there is nearly a 90 percent chance that a poor reader in first grade will remain a poor reader.” (American Educator)

Thus, every time a child is struggling and the parents, teachers, or administrators want to “wait and see,” there is a 90% chance the child will NOT outgrow reading struggles. The child may become a student retention statistic without ever learning to read. Therefore, there is a 90% chance the child is being harmed by letting the child fall further behind his or her peers while everyone is waiting to see if the child is “just a late bloomer.”

Statistically, student retention is highly unlikely to result in a child spontaneously blooming.  For 90% of the kids, withholding of corrective reading instruction using a “wait and see” approach amounts to educational neglect when the child clearly needs help now.

Providing help now will not harm a child who is in the lucky 10%, so why not just go ahead and provide specialized reading instruction to every child who is struggling?  That would be a much better educational practice!

2) STINKING THINKING: The Educational Establishment grossly neglects a child’s education when they take a “failure first” approach that requires a child to be 2-3 years behind BEFORE providing help.

This is one of the biggest detriments to children I see occurring at a very high rate of frequency within public schools. We’ve already established in #1 above that the vast majority of kids will NOT outgrow their difficulties with learning to read. So, why do we wait to provide a remedial reading program until after a child is already 2-3 years behind peers?

In the past, Administrators’ have told me they “Have to wait” before providing help to be SURE a child has a learning disability. They prefer student retention. They don’t want to evaluate the child or figure out what the child needs.

You don’t “Have to wait” : IDEA Makes that CLEAR. Student retention is NOT an alternative to identifying learning disabilities.

  1. IDEA makes it clear that A Response to Intervention Process Cannot be Used to Delay-Deny an Evaluation for Eligibility under IDEA (see the U.S. Gov Memorandum). Additionally, IDEA specifically states “Each State must ensure that FAPE is available to any individual child with a disability who needs special education and related services, even though the child has not failed or been retained in a course or grade, and is advancing from grade to grade.” (300.101(c); and
  1. A child does not have to be failing or 2-3 years behind before it can be determined if the child has a learning disability.  Learning disabilities can be identified and diagnosed by highly qualified neuropscychologists at the first signs of struggle. If there is not a school psychologist who is highly qualified to identify the root causes of a child’s learning problems, an evaluation with a neuropsychologist should be scheduled.

student retention help a child with learning disabilities“Failure First” thinking is similar to watching a child drowning in your backyard pool. You have a handy lifesaving ring available, so you stand there holding the ring while watching the child drown. You keep holding the life ring and watching. You’re just waiting to see if the child is going to completely drown before you throw the ring. Once the child goes under and doesn’t resurface for a minute, THEN you throw the ring because you can see that he is REALLY drowning.

Withholding a life ring may seem like a far-fetched scenario to you. However, educationally, that is exactly what the Educational Establishment is doing every time they see a child struggling with learning to read and they adopt the “The child is not two or three years behind yet” approach to providing assistance.

Once a child gets that far behind, you’ve already done irreparable educational harm to that child. Doing nothing while letting a child fall 2-3 years behind is like just like standing there watching a child drown. The purposeful withholding of needed remedial instruction amounts to educational neglect.

Again, this is a problem easily avoided by starting remedial instruction as soon as a learning problem is noticed instead of using student retention for a bandage.

3) LIMITING MINDSETS: The traditional Educational Establishment has limited thinking when it comes to providing assistive technology to children with dyslexia.

I’ve had parents and teachers alike balk at the idea of allowing a child to have an audiobook version of a textbook or to use a calculator for math. I’ve had them say, “That wouldn’t be fair to the other kids” or  “That’s cheating!”

If you think providing audiobooks or calculators to children with learning disabilities is cheating or unfair, let me ask you–“What is the purpose of education?”

Isn’t the goal of providing an education for the child to LEARN?  If the goal is learning, and we can provide tools to enable a child’s learning, how can it possibly be “cheating” or unfair to provide learning accessibility to a child? Isn’t it unfair to the individual child to withhold accessible instruction?

There is a pervasive mindset among many educators that it is somehow “unfair” to provide a child with an audiobook. A child with dyslexia is perfectly capable of understanding science concepts, learning about history, or enjoying the language in great literature. Thus, providing that child with audiobooks enables the child to have access to science, history, and great literature, which other kids readily have through their reading abilities.

Why would you want to withhold education or BLOCK a child from learning science, history, or great literature simply because the child is incapable of reading (yet)? Sure, the inability to read is a roadblock for kids with dyslexia, but audiobooks are a way around the reading disability. Audiobooks allow a child who can’t (yet) read to learn the same higher-level content as other children.

Similarly, for children who have dyscalculia or cannot remember their math facts, a calculator can provide accessibility to higher-level math. A child can understand math concepts without the ability to recall every math fact from memory. Where memory or recall of math facts is an issue, providing a calculator is a detour around the math fact memorization roadblock.

For children with written expression disabilities (dysgraphia), using speech-to-text dictation software can provide the child with a much more effective way to express themselves in writing.  Any kind of assistive technology that is available and can enhance the learning experience of children with learning disabilities should be used.

Using assistive technology is an easy way to enhance a child’s ability to remain on grade level in content-based coursework.

4) ANTIQUATED PRACTICE: The Old Practice of Student Retention, which is proven to provide NO meaningful benefit to children who are retained.

Research-wise and statistically, student retention is not an effective approach to helping a child overcome academic struggles. As we’ve established earlier, 90% of children do NOT outgrow learning difficulties. The entire practice of Retention is based upon the assumption that “another year” will allow the child to “mature” and the presumption is that the child will then be able to learn as well as the other kids.

Research shows that children who are advanced to the next grade actually perform better both academically and socially. Retention is very hard on a child socially and academically. You might find it helpful to read the research and meta-analysis of retention as a practice educationally.

Repeating a grade seldom makes a meaningful difference in the educational achievement of a child. Sure, the child may do better the second year in a grade than he did the first time through, but when he is advanced to the next grade, the child will again struggle with new content.

It may appear that student retention works on the surface as the child appears to do better in the short-run, but longitudinal research shows it is an ineffective practice that does not serve the purpose for which it is intended–to let kids “catch up”.  Without meaningful educational intervention, retention does little more than delay the provisioning of needed help.

Again, 10% of the kids may benefit from this practice as they mature, but they likely would have matured anyway without being retained.  And, retention harms 90% of the kids when the help they need is delayed for an entire school year.

What children need is to have their individual education needs identified and met as SOON as a problem with learning is noted.

Let the kids advance from grade-to-grade, and begin to provide meaningful educational help immediately.

What can we all do to save kids with dyslexia from educational neglect in public schools?

If you’re a parent, educate ignorant teachers or administrators about the research.  Print off the referenced study data and educate them about why the practices they propose are poor practices. Be nice about it. They probably truly don’t know–I don’t know why they don’t know, but if they don’t know, someone needs to tell them. If they won’t listen to you, then you may have to escalate to due process to get your child an appropriate education, but at least you tried to educate the educators about the ignorant ways of the Educational Establishment’s status quo. You may find it helpful to access our Special Education Guidebook for Parents of Children with LDs and follow the steps to help your child receive the help he or she deserves.

If you’re a teacher, I have empathy for you. Most of the time, I find teachers have these mindsets because they’ve been told these things by authoritative administrators or older teachers who didn’t know any better in an older generation. Now that you know though, it’s time to start changing the culture in your school by sharing the FACTS with other teachers and with your administration. It puts you in a tough political position if your administrators won’t acknowledge the facts, but you must try for the sake of the kids.  Where administrators won’t listen to the facts, if you can help the parents know the facts and their child’s rights, perhaps we can join forces to get the antiquated ways of thinking out of our schools and save future generations from these ongoing failures. Do what you can to be part of the solution!

And lastly, if you’re an administrator: You have authority to change the ways of your school beginning TODAY. Once you know the facts, there is no real excuse for continuing down the path of educational neglect within the schools. We’ve known for decades how to teach children with dyslexia to read. It is NOT rocket science.. I did it as a mom, I’ve known plenty of other moms who have done it. There really is no reason trained teachers in a school can’t teach children with dyslexia to read given remediation starts as soon as a problem is noted and given the child receives the required intensity of instruction.

As a short aside for school administrators:

The needed level of intensity for direct instruction using a PROVEN Orton-Gillingham program is what is usually missing in schools when you have all of the RIGHT practices above.

Schools often THINK they are providing great programs in Reading Resource classes. However, student retention statistics often tell a different story. If your kids are not making wonderful progress, you may have an eye-opening experience if you perform a minute-by-minute observation of the reading resource time in your child’s classes.

You are highly likely to find the amount of intense direct instruction received by each individual child in the room is not nearly as intense as you thought. The amount of time each child spends directly practicing skills often amounts to less than 10 minutes per day.

Between arrival greetings, gathering belongings to depart, and other general classroom procedures, a 50 minute class period can easily be whittled down to 30-40 minutes of instructional time for the teacher. The level of direct instruction with practice for each individual child is usually closer to 10 minutes or less, even if there are only two or three kids in the room. If there are more than three kids in the class, the amount of time an individual child spends practicing can be less than 5 minutes!

You may want to check it out in your own reading resource classes! Schedule an observation and pay specific attention to the amount of instruction each individual, struggling child is receiving.

The easiest way to make notations for an hour observation is to make a circular pie chart with 12 slices–one for every five minutes in the classroom. Every five minutes or less, observe and jot down what is occurring in the classroom. Just make notes of specific activities for individual children (it helps if you focus on just one child) throughout the class period. When you leave your observation, tally up the number of minutes the child spent directly practicing reading skills. An observation like this can be eye-opening as to why children are NOT progressing in spite of daily reading instruction.

I truly hope this article is eye-opening to everyone involved in educating children with dyslexia.

In this day and age, there truly is no reason for children with dyslexia to fall so far behind and never catch up to peers. If homeschooling moms can help their kids at home by providing an hour or two of direct instruction in reading a home, surely schools can do the same if they jump on board and start addressing reading problems as soon as they are detected.

Why wait for the late-bloomer that is likely never to bloom or retain him without remediation?

Why wait for a child to be two to three years behind before providing help?

Why withhold assistive technology when it will keep your kids on grade-level in content-based subjects?

We CAN do better as a nation if we start eliminating limited or antiquated ways of thinking and base our educational provisioning upon research and reason instead.  We need to clear out the old ways of thinking. If schools go with proven educational practices, they can improve student retention stats by having less of it!

Please Share this post with any parent, teacher, or school administrator you think will learn from it!

  2 Responses to “Student Retention and School Neglect Practices for Kids with Dyslexia”

  1. My granddaughter has just been diagnosed with dyslexia. She is in first grade and is really struggling with reading. The psychologist has suggested the Orton Gillingham Reading program and I am in awe of what you have written about it. My granddaughter will be starting a school in the fall that teaches reading using this reading program. It is hard to find qualified tutors that know about this program. Do you have a suggestion of how to find tutors in specific geographic areas? If so, we live near Greensboro, North Carolina.

    • Hi Lou Anne, You should be able to find a tutor in your area by searching for “greensboro, NC orton-gillingham tutor.” Orton-Gillingham is a teaching method, not really a program, so it’s important for the person you select to have familiarity with the Orton-Gillingham Method. There are a variety of reading programs that use the Orton-Gillingham method. I have several Orton-Gillingham based programs listed at Orton Gillingham Reading Programs.

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