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Monday, October 22, 2018

(Mass. Governor) Baker Approves Plan for Dyslexia Screening

From the Gloucester (MA) Daily Times

By Christian M. Wade
October 18, 2018

BOSTON — Most public schools in Massachusetts don't screen for dyslexia, despite research suggesting early intervention is key to treating the learning disability that affects 1 in 5 children in the state.

That will change under a proposal signed Friday by Governor Charlie Baker, which would require the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to come up with guidelines for screening of students with at least one indicator for dyslexia or another neurological learning disability.

Advocates, who have lobbied for years for early childhood screening, praised the move as a step in the right direction.

"The reality is that every school should be screening for dyslexia," said Nancy Duggan, executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of Decoding Dyslexia, a national advocacy group. "It's a huge problem here and nationally, and we know that identifying kids early means helping them before they fail."
Duggan said many children go undiagnosed because dyslexia isn't recognized as a disorder in Massachusetts and many other states.

Even when diagnosed, kids often don’t receive the services they need because there is no statewide framework for dealing with dyslexia, she said.

The bill, which combines proposals filed by Sen. Barbara L'Italien, D-Andover, and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, was approved last week by the House and Senate.

"No child should be sitting in a classroom struggling to keep pace and feeling frustrated or depressed because they have dyslexia that hasn't been properly identified and addressed," Tarr said. "Detection of dyslexia as early as possible in a student's educational career can prevent that from happening, and this bipartisan legislation will foster screening at a systemic, rather than episodic, level."
Training, Resources

Besides screening, the legislation will require school districts to train teachers on the learning disability, its signs and intervention strategies.

It also requires schools to adopt "evidence-based dyslexia remediation" programs.

Dyslexia is language-based learning disability. Individuals with dyslexia often have trouble organizing language, spelling and learning letters and their sounds.

Between 5 percent and 20% of the population have a reading disability; of those, 85% are believed to have dyslexia.

Under federal law, students with dyslexia qualify for special education services, but advocates are pushing Congress to provide more resources for early screening and intervention.

In Massachusetts, education officials say they treat dyslexia as a general learning disability and currently don't screen for it specifically.

The state does provide special education for students diagnosed with dyslexia. But services vary, and parents and districts often must pay for programs outside schools.

Cost Concerns

Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said his group didn't take a position on the proposal but is concerned about the financial impact. He noted it doesn't include additional state funding for screening or special education programs, which are already underfunded.

"We don't oppose it, but we've raised concerns about the cost implications of another unfunded mandate," he said. "It could place an additional financial burden on school districts."

The state's formula for funding school districts, known as the foundation budget, is based on an assumption that at least 15 percent of students will need special education services for at least a quarter of each school year. It anticipates a flat 3.75 percent increase in every district's expected costs each year.

While the plan was supposed to be recalculated every four years to reflect changes in costs, education advocates say that hasn't happened.

Three years ago, a report by a state commission set up to study the issue found the original formula underestimated costs by up to $2 billion per year. The report made a series of recommendations to overhaul the foundation budget.

Earlier this year, the House and Senate approved plans to increase funding but were unable to agree on a final plan before they recessed on July 31.

Baker has increased Chapter 70 education funding in recent years, but that hasn't changed how the pool of money is distributed.

Lisa Nelson, a Groton advocate whose daughter has dyslexia, argues that the proposal won't require additional funding but will go a long way to help identify children with the disability.

"The earlier you identify what is going on, the less of an impact it will have on a child's educational outcome," said Nelson, a co-founder of the state chapter of Decoding Dyslexia. "The longer you wait, the harder it becomes."

How Can We Improve Special Education Without Asking Uncomfortable Questions?

From Education Next

By Allison F. Gilmour
September 12, 2018

This piece is a response to an article by Laura A. Schifter and Thomas Hehir, available here, which was itself a response to Has Inclusion Gone Too Far?

Laura Schifter and Thomas Hehir share with me a desire to create better educational opportunities for students with disabilities. We agree that research should identify policies and practices that lead to effective instruction for all students. Their article, unfortunately, undermines efforts to conduct this necessary work.

By (1) continuing to focus on the location where students with disabilities are educated rather than the services they receive and (2) rejecting the need to study the intended and unintended consequences of special education policies, they tacitly accept the current state of educating students with disabilities.

Location Over Services

Schifter and Hehir comprehensively review the policies and court cases that have established the preference for educating students with disabilities in general education settings. The general education setting is the least restrictive environment for most students with disabilities, and the push for educating students with disabilities in their neighborhood schools and in general education classrooms is an important extension of the civil rights movement.

This history should not be ignored, and the hard work to enact policies that make schools and classrooms accessible to all students should be applauded.

At the same time, Schifter and Hehir conveniently ignore the requirement that students with disabilities receive an appropriate, and individualized, education. An appropriate education means that students are receiving the services and interventions that they need in order to make progress in the general education curriculum.

They note that reporting requirements under IDEA consider placement in a general education classroom for 80% or more of the day as a fully inclusive placement and contend that this placement allows for “sufficient time to provide the kinds of effective interventions” that I cited. However, they do not discuss that recent data and research both demonstrate that the interventions and services currently provided to students with disabilities are not widely successful.

The 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that students with disabilities are performing far below their peers in reading and math: 11% of fourth grade students with disabilities scored at or above proficient in reading compared to 40% of their peers, and 15% of fourth grade students with disabilities scored at or above proficient in math compared to 43% of their peers.

The low achievement of students with disabilities reflects the failure of these students to gain access to an appropriate education, that is the services and interventions they need to make progress, regardless of setting.
Indeed, observational studies of the instruction that students with disabilities receive typically find that students with disabilities are not educated using effective instructional approaches or interventions, independent of the setting in which they are educated.
While they acknowledge that settings and services are not the same, Schifter and Hehir continue to defend causal interpretations of the finding that students with disabilities have better outcomes when they spend more time in general education settings. They go so far as to compare these findings to research on smoking and lung cancer, correlational research that is accepted as causal.

For correlational evidence to be accepted as causal it must meet three conditions: temporal precedence (i.e., the independent variable, such as smoking, comes before the dependent variable, such as cancer), covariation of the independent and dependent variable (i.e., when one variable changes, the other variable changes), and ruling out alternative explanations (i.e., eliminating other variables that are related to changes in the independent variable and the dependent variable).

Research on tobacco use meets these conditions. Research regarding time spent in a general education classroom does not. As the authors point out, a myriad of contextual variables are associated with placement decisions. These same variables are often associated with students’ outcomes.

Thus, the condition of ruling out alternative explanations is not met. Policies and interventions aimed at increasing time in a general education classroom are unlikely to dramatically change the outcomes of students receiving special education services. Yet many researchers studying special education still use setting as an outcome and assume that changes in setting will translate into changes in outcomes.

Asking Uncomfortable Questions About Intended and Unintended Consequences

More problematic is Schifter and Hehir’s presumably unintentional attempt to dissuade researchers from examining both the intended and unintended results of special education policies. Policies often reflect societal values. Then the work of implementation is left to state and district policymakers, school leaders, and teachers.

As Schifter and Hehir point out with the example of identification rates in Texas, the implementation of a policy may break down in ways that do not align with the letter or the spirit of the law. In these situations, researchers must ask questions about the intended and unintended consequences of policies in order to improve policies and inform their implementation.
Examining if and how students with disabilities influence their peers and teachers, and if and how peers and teachers influence students with disabilities, is a necessary step to understanding the current state of inclusive education and what works, for whom, and under what conditions. This line of research may result in findings that make people uncomfortable, such as those linking students with emotional/behavioral disorders to teacher turnover or classmates’ absences.

Schifter and Hehir rightly worry that these findings could be used by critics of inclusion to undermine existing policies. The results could also be used to encourage decisions about services and placement that are not based on the individualized needs of students. Despite these concerns, such research is essential to drive implementation changes that help fulfill the intended goals of special education policies.

Improving Special Education and Inclusive Education

Improving existing systems is challenging work that involves questioning the status quo and acknowledging that those charged with implementing well-intentioned policies may need more support to realize the policies’ goals.

Descriptive research focusing on the current state of special education and the appropriateness of the education that students with disabilities receive informs future improvements to implementation. Experimental work builds on this knowledge to create effective classrooms.

For example, research by Erik Carter and his colleagues focuses on training paraprofessionals and students’ peers to increase the participation of students with significant disabilities in general education classrooms. Jade Wexler and her colleagues are studying a professional development program that trains general education and special education teachers to effectively provide literacy instruction embedded in general education content area classes to middle school students with reading disabilities.

These researchers and many others reject the assumption that current practices in inclusion are widely effective, and their work ultimately improves the implementation of special education policies.

Schifter and Hehir seem to assume that my answer to the question posed by my article’s title—”Has Inclusion Gone too Far?”—is yes. This assumption is inaccurate.

Inclusion has gone too far only in that it is being implemented without attending to the reality that many schools and teachers struggle to deliver effective services to all students and that more research is needed to identify programs and interventions to support teachers in providing instruction to students with disabilities, regardless of setting.
Accepting the low achievement levels of students with disabilities leads to the replication of existing problems and inequalities that undermine diversity in classrooms and schools. Students with disabilities are not the problem. The problem is the failure to critically examine what works and what does not work in order to design educational systems that recognize students’ individual needs and result in success for all students.

Allison F. Gilmour is assistant professor of special education at Temple University.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Why 'High Functioning' Autism is So Challenging

From Very Well Health

By Lisa Jo Rudy
Reviewed by Joel Forman, MD

August 27, 2018

'High functioning' isn't synonymous with 'mild'.

At this point in history, there is disagreement about how many people on the autism spectrum are on the high or low end of the spectrum (or whether most people with autism are "somewhere in the middle").

It is clear, however, that the lion's share of media attention goes to folks at the high and the low ends of the spectrum—that is, the profoundly disabled and the very high functioning.

The fact is that life with severe autism is extraordinarily difficult. Logic would suggest that people on the high end of the spectrum have it easy—as do their families and teachers. After all, people with high functioning autism are often very bright and may have impressive talents. But the reality is quite different.

Myth: People with high functioning autism are unusually intelligent and successful.

If the media is to believed, the high end of the autism spectrum is peopled largely by eccentric geniuses—Bill Gates and Albert Einstein are often mentioned, along with Dan Aykroyd and Daryl Hannah—who by and large do very well indeed, though they march to the beat of their own drummer.

The reality, however, is that "high functioning autistic" and "genius," "business tycoon," and "Hollywood star" rarely go together.

In fact:
  • People with high functioning autism, while they may or may not be unusually intelligent, rarely have the kind of intense motivation for public success that sends a Bill Gates to find funders or an Einstein to find a publisher.
  • They may also have significant challenges which stand in the way of living a comfortable life, succeeding in work or romance, or achieving a sense of self-worth. Those issues are made more challenging, in part, because they surprise and upset others who don't anticipate odd behaviors or reactions from people who "pass for normal" in many situations.
  • While people with more severe autism are not generally expected to just suck it up and get through difficult moments, people on the higher end of the spectrum are expected to do just that.
  • Lastly, people with high functioning autism are, in general, very aware of their own difficulties and extremely sensitive to others' negative reactions.

Fact: high functioning autism is very challenging every day.

Here are just a few of the issues that get between people on the high end of the autism spectrum (including those diagnosed with the now-outdated Asperger syndrome) and personal success and happiness:

Extreme sensory issues. People at the higher end of the spectrum are just as susceptible as people in the middle or lower end of the spectrum to sensory dysfunctions. These include mild, moderate, or extreme sensitivity to noise, crowds, bright lights, strong tastes, smells, and touch.

This means that a person who is bright, verbal, and capable may be unable to walk into a crowded restaurant, attend a movie, or cope with the sensory assaults associated with malls, stadiums, or other venues.

Social "cluelessness." What's the difference between a civil greeting and a signal of romantic interest? How loud is too loud? When is okay to talk about your personal issues or interests? When is it important to stop doing what you enjoy in order to attend to another person's needs?

These are tough questions for anyone, but for a person on the high end of the autism spectrum they can become overwhelming obstacles to social connections, employment, and romance.

Anxiety and depression. Anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders are more common among people with high functioning autism than they are among the general population. We don't know whether the autism causes the mood disorders, or whether the disorders are the result of social rejection and frustration—but whatever their causes, mood disorders can be disabling in themselves.

Lack of executive planning skills. Executive functioning describes the skills we use to organize and plan our lives. They allow typical adults to plan schedules in advance, notice that the shampoo is running low, or create and follow a timeline in order to complete a long-term project.

Most people with high functioning autism have compromised executive functioning skills, making it very tough to plan and manage a household, cope with minor schedule changes at school or at work, and so forth.

Emotional disregulation. Contrary to popular opinion, people with autism have plenty of emotions. In fact, people with autism can become far too emotional in the wrong situations. Imagine a 16-year-old bursting into tears because of a change in plans, or a grown woman melting down completely because her car won't start.

These are the types of issues that can arise for people with high functioning autism, who are capable of doing a great many things ONLY when the situation is predictable, and no obstacles arise.

Difficulty with transitions and change. Lots of people have a hard time with change, but people with high functioning autism take the issue to a whole new level. Once a pattern is established and comfortable, people with autism (by and large) want to maintain that pattern forever.

If a group of friends goes out on Wednesdays for nachos, the idea of going out on Thursdays for chicken wings can throw an autistic adult into a state of anxiety or even anger.

Difficulty with following verbal communication. A person with high functioning autism may be more than capable of doing a task—but unable to follow the spoken instructions provided. In other words, if a policeman says "stay in your car and give me your license and registration," the person with autism may process only "stay in your car," or only "give me your license."

The same goes for instructions given, say, at a ballroom dance class, at the doctor's office, or by a manager in an office setting. As you can imagine, this can cause any number of issues, ranging from serious problems with the police to inadvertent mistakes at work.

As you can see, the term "high functioning" does mean what it says. But high functioning autism is not an easy or simple diagnosis to live with. For those caring for, employing, teaching, or working with people on the higher end of the spectrum, it's important to remember that autism is autism.

Cumulative Sub-Concussive Impacts in a Single Season of Youth Football

From Nationwide Children's Hospital
via ScienceDaily

October 15, 2018

In an investigation of head impact burden and change in neurocognitive function during a season of youth football, researchers find that sub-concussive impacts are not correlated with worsening performance in neurocognitive function.

Each year, more than 3 million children in primary and high school play tackle football in the United States. Growing concern about the possible negative effects of repetitive sub-concussive head impacts led to an increased number of physicians and parents who counsel against youth participation in full-contact sports.

A research team, led by Sean Rose, M.D., pediatric sports neurologist and co-director of the Complex Concussion Clinic at Nationwide Children's Hospital, followed 112 youth football players age 9-18 during the 2016 season in a prospective study.

"When trying to determine the chronic effects of repetitive sub-concussive head impacts, prospective outcomes studies are an important complement to the existing retrospective studies," says Dr. Rose.

"In this study of primary school and high school football players, a battery of neurocognitive tests did not detect any worsening of performance associated with cumulative head impacts."

The pre- and post-season assessments used to measure outcomes included:
  • Neuropsychological testing
  • Symptoms assessment
  • Vestibular and ocular-motor screening
  • Balance testing
  • Parent-reported ADHD symptoms
  • Self-reported behavioral adjustment

Sensors placed in the helmets recorded sub-concussive head impacts during practices and games. Researchers added the impact g-forces to yield a cumulative impact measure. According to the study, cumulative impact did not predict changes (from pre-season to post-season) in any of the outcome measures.

Additionally, Dr. Rose notes, having sustained one or more concussions prior to entering the study was not associated with worse pre-season testing.

In their secondary analysis, they found that younger age and reported history of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) predicted score changes on several cognitive testing measures and parent-reported ADHD symptoms. Additionally, a reported history of anxiety or depression predicted changes in scores of symptom reporting.

"We expected repetitive impacts to correlate with worsening neurocognitive function, but we found that sub-concussive head impacts sustained over the course of a single season were not associated with neurocognitive functional outcomes. And also surprising, sustaining isolated high g-force impacts was also not associated with worse outcome," says Dr. Rose.

"The lack of a significant association may reflect the need for longer follow up -- so we are continuing to follow kids across multiple seasons."

This publication is the first analysis in a four-year prospective cohort study. Dr. Rose will be presenting data from the second year of the study at the upcoming Child Neurology Society meeting in mid-October. The team is currently collecting data for a third year.

Journal Reference
  • Rose SC, Yeates KO, Fuerst DR, Ercole PM, Nguyen JT, Pizzimenti NM. Head impact burden and change in neurocognitive function during a season of youth football. The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, 2018

Saturday, October 20, 2018

An Upside of Having ADHD? 'Outside the Box' Thinking

From the University of Michigan
via Futurity

By Jared Wadley
October 10, 2018

People often believe those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder face challenges that could hinder future employment, but a new study finds that adults with ADHD feel empowered doing creative tasks, which could help them on the job.

The tendency of individuals with ADHD—a mental disorder commonly diagnosed at childhood—to resist conformity and ignore typical information may be an asset in fields that value innovative and nontraditional approaches, such as marketing, product design, technology, and computer engineering, says study author Holly White, a researcher in the psychology department at the University of Michigan.

White studied a group of college students with and without ADHD and compared how they performed in lab tasks of creativity. The imagination task allowed a person to invent a new example of a common category that is different from existing examples.

In the “alien fruit” invention task, a person must create an example of a fictional fruit that might exist on another planet but is different from a fruit known to exist on Earth.

"Individuals with ADHD may be less prone to design fixation, which is the tendency to get stuck in a rut or stick closely to what already exists when creating a new product."

In doing this creative task, non-ADHD participants often modeled their creations after specific common fruits—such as an apple or strawberry. Those creations were less innovative, White says. But in this study, participants with ADHD created “alien fruits” that differed more from typical Earth fruit and were more original, compared to non-ADHD participants.

The second creative task required participants to invent labels for new products in three categories without copying the examples provided. The ADHD group created labels that were more unique and less similar to the examples provided, compared to the non-ADHD group.

White says the results suggest that individuals with ADHD may be more flexible in tasks that require creating something new, and less likely to rely on examples and previous knowledge.

“As a result, the creative products of individuals with ADHD may be more innovative, relative to creations of non-ADHD peers,” she says. Individuals with ADHD may be less prone to design fixation, which is the tendency to get stuck in a rut or stick closely to what already exists when creating a new product, White said.

“This has implications for creative design and problem-solving in the real world, when the goal is to create or invent something new without being overly constrained by old models or ways of doing things,” she said.

The findings appear in the Journal of Creative Behavior.

Original Study DOI: 10.1002/jocb.382

Journal Retracts 16-Year-Old Paper Based on Debunked Autism-Vaccine Study

From Retraction Watch

By Ivan Oransky
October 16, 2018

Better late than never? Or too little too late? Those are two different ways to look at a recent retraction.

Eight years after one of the most infamous retractions in science — that of the 1998 paper in The Lancet in which Andrew Wakefield and colleagues in the UK claimed a link between vaccines and autism — the journal Lab Medicine is retracting a paper that relied heavily on the now-discredited work.

The paper, by Bernard Rimland and Woody McGinnis, of the Autism Research Institute, in San Diego, California, begins:

"Vaccinations may be one of the triggers for autism. Substantial data demonstrate immune abnormality in many autistic children consistent with impaired resistance to infection, activation of inflammatory response, and autoimmunity. Impaired resistance may predispose to vaccine injury in autism."

Rimland died in 2006. McGinnis has not responded to a request for comment.

As Roger L. Bertholf, the editor-in-chief of Lab Medicine, and Pietro Ghezzi — neither of whom had anything to do with the acceptance or publication of the 2002 paper — write in an editorial announcing the move:

"[F]lawed studies that remain in the literature can be harmful when these studies are used by non-scientists to support conclusions that have long since been discredited by subsequent studies. We have learned that this is the case with an article by Rimland and McGinnis that was published in Lab Medicine in 2002. The paper proposed a mechanism linking vaccinations with autism, and its conclusions were substantially based on a 1998 paper by Wakefield, published in The Lancet, that first suggested this association. In 2010, after thorough investigation, The Lancet withdrew the Wakefield paper, explaining that several elements of the study it reported had been determined to be incorrect.

An overwhelming amount of data in the literature show that vaccination, which has existed for more than 2 centuries, is a beneficial preventative measure against infectious diseases. A single article that suggests a risk of autism associated with vaccination might not be expected to cause great harm; however, a recent study reported that the 2002 Rimland and McGinnis paper is frequently accessed and cited to support the position of those who oppose vaccination on the mistaken belief that it is a risk factor for autism.

One of us (P.G.) was the senior author of that study. Therefore, following the course taken by The Lancet, Lab Medicine has decided to withdraw the 2002 article by Rimland and McGinnis. The article will no longer be available in the Lab Medicine digital archives, and a statement that the article has been withdrawn will appear in any PubMed search that produces the citation."

We asked Bertholf, why now? The paper has been cited just a handful of times by other scientific papers. Bertholf said that he was,

"…aware of the paper’s existence when I took over as Editor-in-Chief in 2012, but didn’t give any thought to retraction until I saw Dr. Ghezzi’s study, which revealed that the Rimland and McGinnis paper was prominently displayed in search engine result pages. This caused me some concern that the paper would be used to advance an anti-vaccine agenda, and I did not want the American Society for Clinical Pathology, which publishes Lab Medicine and is a leader in promoting global health, to be viewed as endorsing a paper on vaccination that has a false and potentially dangerous premise based on the flawed paper retracted by The Lancet.

I should point out that Lab Medicine has absolute editorial independence from the ASCP, and this decision was not driven by its leadership. It was the perception of endorsement, however, that concerned me."

We also asked Bertholf why the journal was making the paper disappear, instead of leaving it published but watermarking it, as per Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) guidelines. He said that was an error:

"[Y]ou are correct that COPE recommends watermarking, but not removing, retracted papers. This was a miscommunication between me and our publisher, Oxford University Press, when we discussed the procedure for retraction of a paper (a procedure that was entirely new to me). We will correct the error and make the paper available with a watermark, as recommended by COPE. I appreciate your pointing that out. I also intend to publish a correction to clarify the statement in the editorial that the paper will not be available."

Friday, October 19, 2018

Classroom Observations for the Dyslexic Student

From Smart Kid, Can't Read

By Lorna Kaufman, Ph.D.
October 10, 2018

The purpose of a classroom observation is to determine whether your child’s instruction meets his or her needs. A good observation of a dyslexic student will focus on instruction in reading and language arts.

It will help you make effective educational decisions by giving you information about: 1) reading curriculum being used, 2) teacher expertise, 3) peer grouping, 4) frequency of instruction, 5) level of instruction, and 6) educational placement.
  • A classroom observation is an important part of any reading evaluation. It provides the evaluator with first hand knowledge about the learning environment and what might help to improve your child’s reading skills.
  • Observations should be made whenever making decisions about a change of placement to help you determine whether the proposed placement meets the needs of your child. If, for example, your school has proposed placement in a self contained language-based classroom, it’s important to observe that classroom to determine whether it’s appropriate for your child.
  • There are times when it is important to complete an observation to gain insight as to why a student is not making progress or to determine if the reading instruction is being implemented as outlined in the IEP.

I always prefer to undertake a classroom observation after testing. This allows me to first understand the child’s needs so that I can focus on whether those needs are – or could potentially be – met in that educational placement.

I always explain to the child that I will be visiting his classroom and that only his teacher will know who I am. I assure him that none of his classmates will know why I am there. I also assure him that I will not speak to him or acknowledge him unless he first speaks to me. I explain that I will only be watching and taking notes.

Other evaluators may approach classroom observations differently; just make certain that you have a professional who understands how to complete an observation and who can properly evaluate reading curricula. While there are always exceptions, I don’t often recommend that parents do their own observation.


Note-taking during any observation is essential. I always take notes on a minute-by-minute basis. I note where the observed student sits and who they were grouped with. I note exact times when students changed tasks, change behavior, change locations in the room, when others enter and leave the room etc.

I am looking for behavioral responses to different activities, environmental conditions, and teacher interactions. I want to see if there was any cause and effect between student behavior, teacher behavior, time allocated to instruction, physical groupings, types of tasks worked on, instructional content, and the child’s ability to learn.

I average 8-12 handwritten pages of notes per hour of observation. I include a summary of those notes in the final report. (Visit for the summary sheet of a classroom observation used by our graduate students. Click on Free Downloads).

It’s important to quietly circulate among the students and periodically observe their seat-work to assess any discrepancies between the target student’s work and the work of the rest of the class.

Coordination of Instruction

Visit the classroom during reading/language arts instruction. When a child receives reading instruction in settings other than the classroom make sure you observe in all settings where he receives reading instruction (for example, in the classroom and in a pull-out small group setting). Yes, you can observe instruction during 1:1 tutorials.

Make certain that you ask to see his work folders. Observe student performance, the curriculum being used, student groupings, and teacher expertise.

Find out if instruction in different settings is coordinated. Continuity of instruction is essential for a child’s success. Children need to practice the same routines to establish a skill set. Are remedial reading services coordinated with classroom instruction in reading, spelling, and written language?

If a child is receiving speech and language therapy, that should also be part of this coordination. It is common to observe that there is little or no coordination of instruction from one setting to another. For example, a child might be learning to read the words station, invention, and combination with one teacher, while working on words like stop, club, lock, and brick with another. These word groups represent two very different levels of skill development.

This just confuses a struggling reader and interferes with his ability to master the content.

(Hint: Always remember to include teacher coordination time in your child’s IEP to ensure that it takes place).

Teacher Interviews

Interviews of all teachers who teach reading/language arts to your child is an essential component of the observation. It’s important to understand the teacher’s perspective of your child’s struggle with reading. (Visit for the full Teacher Interview questionnaire- click on Free Downloads.) There is always valuable information to be gained from teacher interviews. Don’t skip this step.

I never actually sit with the questionnaire and ask questions. This questionnaire provides an overview of the topics I wish to cover in a less structured conversation with the teacher after completing the observation. Always include other topics that are more specific to your child. It’s important to individualize these interviews for each child and the observation that was just completed.

Reading Instruction

Is the reading instruction your child is receiving appropriate to meet his needs as a dyslexic student? An independent evaluation of your child will provide you with information about what your child needs. This observation will provide you with information about the reading instruction that is taking place in this specific educational environment.

The observer needs to know what to look for so she can assess the reading/language arts curriculum in that environment relative to your child’s needs. What are your child’s cognitive, academic and behavioral needs? What type of reading and language arts curriculum would meet those needs?

The professional you have chosen must understand how to distinguish among different types of reading programs, especially when observing specialized pull-out reading instruction. Programs are not all created equal.

Is your child receiving instruction in a remedial reading program such as Reading Recovery or with one of the multi-sensory structured literacy programs? Is the teacher using the classroom curriculum but just at a slower rate? Is the teacher using a mixture of many different programs? Is special education intervention being used to only help your child keep up with classroom assignments without providing instruction in reading or written language?

The professional must know how to assess a teacher’s expertise in teaching reading programs. If the observer knows what a Wilson lesson should look like, what an Orton Gillingham lesson should look like, or what a Lindamood Bell lesson should look like, it is easy to determine the teacher’s level of expertise with that program.

And, yes, you can ask whether a teacher has been certified in the reading program they are using.

There have been times when I have changed my thoughts about a reading program based on what I saw during the observation. For example, in a few instances after observing a highly qualified teacher teaching a reading program that was not my first choice for the student; I decided that it was more important to work with her. She knew what she was doing and we should not walk away from that. Never underestimate the value of teacher expertise!

It’s not only important to determine what type of reading program is best for a student but the observer must also consider if the level is appropriate for his skills. It is not appropriate for a child to be struggling through a 4thgrade book on dinosaurs when he doesn’t yet have basic phonological skills.

The observation must assess the issue of classroom accommodations and modifications. Are they appropriate to your child’s needs? Is he receiving accommodations and modifications to the curriculum that will enhance his understanding of the content while he receives instruction to increase his reading skills? Or is he merely receiving accommodations and modifications to replace his need for learning to read and write? Are there modifications or accommodations that could be helpful that are not in place?

One of the most common questions surrounding a request for an observation is whether the child is receiving enough help with reading so that he is able to achieve mastery? It’s so easy to over-estimate instructional time.

I recall observing a 6thgrader who was receiving small group reading instruction in a group of four students for 30 minutes twice per week. I timed this carefully: it took the students several minutes to walk to the tutor’s room and get their materials ready to work. There were 16 minutes of actual instruction time! Not even close to what he needed.

Your observer needs to understand the essential elements of reading instruction in order to make accurate assessments.

Instructional Environment

What type of educational environment does your child require to learn? Again, the answer to that question will come from your child’s independent evaluation and is based on the severity of his reading problem and the level of his reading delay. For example, some children require a structured small group learning environment while others can manage whole class instruction in a larger classroom.

Is your child able get the reading help he needs in an inclusion classroom? Or does he need more individualized instruction in a pull-out model? Will small group instruction work or does he require 1:1 reading instruction? Does he need a self-contained language based classroom?

Placement issues must be assessed when completing a classroom observation. The observation will provide you with information about a particular placement and whether or not it is appropriate for your child. The observer needs to determine whether your child is able to make progress in this specific placement.

It is also necessary to assess the peer group in a proposed placement or in your child’s current placement. Is the intellectual or behavioral level of the peer group appropriate for your child? All too often I have observed placements that the school system proposed for a dyslexic child, only to find that these were classrooms for children with severe behavioral challenges or children with intellectual challenges.

In nearly every one of the hundreds of observations that I have completed, I’ve seen other children of equal or greater need who were not receiving the help they needed because their parents were not advocating for them. It is so important to get involved and advocate for your child.

Lorna Kaufman, Ph.D. is a developmental psychologist specializing in reading problems. She is author of Smart Kid, Can’t Read, a book that provides parents of dyslexic children with an advocacy plan for getting help in public schools.