(This is also published on the Dyslexic Houston page on Facebook of which I am the Admin.)
(I am located in Texas so this is a very Texas centric post.)
If you have a good school district who is open about their dyslexia services and invested in educating the parent while properly servicing the child, the following will be things they’re providing and doing.
If they’re not, these are what you can push your ISD to start doing.
Bear in mind, I’ve not personally heard of a good school district for dyslexic children, or any school district that does any or all of the below. In a perfect world, yes, but this needs to be our goal in dyslexia and educational advocacy.
Information on Dyslexia
Your ISD should provide you with helpful, generalized information on what dyslexia is and isn’t. The sources for this document should be well referenced and scientifically sound and contain none of the latest fads which are typically misleading in nature. The content should also be supported by the International Dyslexia Association.
All Adopted Remediation Methods and All Relevant Details
The district should provide you with a full and complete list of what remediation methods they have adopted in their district and why. Proof should be provided that a CALT supported the adoption of the program as only a CALT has the appropriate knowledge base to make the decision on what remediation tools are adopted by a district.
If your district does not provide this to you then you may have to do an open records request. Note that you will want all names associated with the committee that reviewed the materials and who voted for and against the adoption.
Bear in mind that a CALT may have sat on the committee, but if they voted against the curriculum, then one can argue that it is therefore not valid for use with a dyslexic. Why? The curriculum adopted should be based on the science of reading, be a structured literacy program that is Orton-Gillingham based, be evidence-based and have the proper data to show that the program is successful in remediating dyslexics (the evidence should show you this).
Who is Making the Decision?
If there are a variety of programs adopted by the district, it is critical to understand WHO exactly is making the decision on what program to use with your child and why. What are their qualifications? Why does the district believe they are well suited to make such a decision? These are CRITICAL questions that need real and factual answers.
So a big piece of a successful program is fidelity. This isn’t just a buzz word, it’s how the program works. A good program can fail your child if it’s not given to fidelity. Fidelity is a STATEMENT from the creators of the program of HOW OFTEN and FOR HOW LONG the program should be offered every week. Fidelity will also define the proper teacher to student ratio. Anything less than the defined duration per week and the proper ratio is NOT FIDELITY.
So when you clarify what program is being used with your child, the need to provide you with the fidelity statement. If they don’t go find it yourself, but again, a good district will give this to you.
Proof of Services
They need to have a log of all of the dates and for how long your child spent with their specific dyslexia teacher(s) (whether GenEd or SpEd) ready to be handed over to you at a moment’s notice. If 504 this is just good practice. If IEP then this is to fulfill their requirement to provide proof under the law.
You should be able to ask for this and have it handed to you, again, at a moment’s notice. If they’re unwilling to give it to you, then it’s probable it does not exist. If it doesn’t exist then what are they trying to hide?
Again, a good district will not want to hide anything from you, but be very open and transparent about what they’re providing and how they’re providing it to your child every single day.
Further, every Structured Literacy Program has training. What is that training exactly? How long is the training? Is it multi-layered? How much continuing education does that program require? Bear in mind that NOT ALL PROGRAMS ARE EQUAL! Just because they claim it’s Orton-Gillingham based does not mean that every program is alike! 3 days of training on a program (DIP) does not equal the 10 days per book that Neuhaus requires for its program. This is just an example. Know the facts, but bear in mind the district should WILLINGLY provide you with this information.
Proof of Teacher Training and Qualification
A good school district will readily provide to you the qualifications of your child’s teachers, all of them. If they’re the dyslexia teacher / specialist working with your child, then the school needs to provide proof of training, all ongoing and continuing education training and proof of any and all certifications. If they can’t provide this then what are they hiding?
Again, bear in mind, a good school district will willingly share this information with you.
504 or IEP
Parents starting out on the journey tend to be shell shocked and there’s so much information (both real and sadly extraordinarily misleading and false) on dyslexia. In my opinion, a good district will be very up front with you and explain the differences between a 504 and an IEP to every parent. The information provided should be factual, based in law and concise. It should clearly explain a parent’s rights, their children’s rights and what will and will not happen under each program. http://www.Understood.org has an excellent document that explains the differences between the two and my preference, in order to keep it simple, would be that districts provide that to all parents.
However, you can also find the Understood.org comparison chart here:
Specifics on Special Education
As part of this conversation, the school should talk to you about the fact that Special Education is a service, not a place. The laws regarding special education have changed rather dynamically in the last 40 years. IDEA specifically has changed the landscape of Special Education. Yes, it used to be a place, and in some cases it still can be, but for our dyslexic children, it is a SERVICE, not a location in the school building. This misconception, this fear is genuinely held by a lot of parents, and a good school district is going to do all they can to assure the parents of what the difference really is and what Special Education will look like for your child.
Texas Dyslexia Handbook
At the review of the evaluation where the child is identified as dyslexic, whether the plan is 504 or an IEP, the school should HAND YOU or provide a link to, the Texas Dyslexia Handbook. This is your school’s actually and real responsibility per the handbook. They should hand you your very own bound and tabulated copy, or the link to where you may download and / or purchase it.
“Provide parents of children suspected to have dyslexia or a related disorder a copy or link to the Dyslexia Handbook (TAC §74.28(j))”
However, if you want to be proactive and download a printable copy or order a bound and tabulated copy, you can find it here:
Please note that the last time I checked 13 states had dyslexia handbooks so please check if one exists in your state and learn how it applies to your child.
Information on Accommodations
An educated parent is an informed parent. And, a good school district is one that truly wants to serve your child to the best of their ability and in that desire to do so, they will do all they can to educate the parent. This includes providing the parent with a full and complete list of possible accommodations that covers the gamut of need and subject. Parents shouldn’t have to go digging for this, but hey, they’re only human and may not know all of the possible accommodations available. If so, you can find our list here:
Assistive Technology (AT)
Jamie Martin is the dyslexia community’s guru on all things Assistive Technology or AT for short. If you have a dyslexic child, AT will be their best friend and saving grace during their school years. Your district has (should have) an AT representative. This person will need to do an AT Evaluation on your child, but in my opinion, you know your child best and what they need and how they need to use it will be voiced by you and your child as a team. However, the district AT person should be more than willing to do the evaluation and be readily available to speak about AT in general and how beneficial it can be. For more about Jamie Martin and the tools he recommends please follow this link:
And, yes, you must request an AT evaluation.
Reading on Grade Level
A key component of this journey is the importance of working to read on grade level. Statistically, children who cannot read on grade level by the end of 4th grade have a 40% probability of being on welfare at some point (Tim Conway). This statistic is both real and verifiable.
The concept of reading on grade level in the State of Texas for a dyslexic child is a foreign concept to some (read: most if not all) districts. A good remediation program, provided with fidelity, in the proper teacher to student ratio should yield reasonably dynamic results (note: NOT A CURE – THERE IS NO CURE, but significant progress).
While our children tend to be various ages at the time of their diagnoses, and the older a child is when they’re diagnosed, the more challenging it is to remediate (not impossible, just more challenging), your district should form a good plan with great tools and supports (and supportive teachers and administrators) to aid the student in attaining this goal. If your district cannot develop this plan, then, Houston, we have a problem!
I know the first time I asked for my school’s plan I was meet with a bunch of deer in headlights, and frankly that scared me quite a bit. Yet, a good structured literacy program implemented with fidelity in a proper environment will help your child get close to, if not attain this goal.
And, frankly speaking, their plan should aim to achieve this in 1 school year.
If goals are not hit in a single school year, the team needs to reform and realign on how to achieve this post haste.
To Goal or Not to Goal
So please bear in mind the use of the word “GOAL” is a very IEP thing to say. It’s part of the language of IDEA / IEPs in developing proper support for our children and how their remediations are going to work. That being said, you should have a plan with the 504. It will be informal, but the 504 team should have a plan of what they’re hoping to accomplish.
If, however, your child is not progressing, is NOT reading on grade level after one school year in services and is no where close to it, consider that 504 is the wrong solution and that protecting your child under IDEA and developing an IEP is the way to go.
And frankly, a good school district will point this out to you and make the transition before your child falls even farther behind.
Each program has a detailed list of lessons. Sort of think of a list that has a number running down one column on the left with the lesson name or subject next to it, sort of like a table of contents, or better yet a curriculum description.
How do you KNOW for a fact where your child is in the program the school is using? You don’t? Why not?
The course description and list of lessons for the program(s) they are going to use on the child should be provided to you with each grading period, with their report card (and if you’re child is on the IEP their goals report). The lessons completed need to be marked off, i.e. if a program has 40 lessons, you need to know through which lesson the child has progressed.
(Please note a lesson can take multiple sessions to complete.)
If a program has a description of needing to be completed in 2 years by it’s definition if followed to fidelity, you need to see adequate progress as notated by the teacher, and this should align to the log the teacher is keeping on your child, which again, you should be able to receive on demand.
Show Me the Policy
In advocating for your dyslexic child, you will ask for several things, call them concessions if you will from your school. These concessions can range from documenting that recess will never be taken away as a form of punishment or any of the accommodations or AT tools you know that your child needs to ensure their success.
A good school district will provide to your child everything that child needs to flourish without issue, but just in case there’s any push back, your automatic response should always be, “Show me where it says that in the district policy.”
You can vary this question to, show me where it says that in IDEA or the American with Disabilities Act, but a good school district would be well informed and never go against those federal laws, right?
Also, be aware, most districts have two sets of policies, the general district policies and the board policies. You must always reference both. As a public institution these policies are not allowed to be secret, but are to be published and accessible to all tax paying citizens within the jurisdiction of that district whether or not your child attends a school within that district.
So just bear this in mind.
Document and Record Everything
If it’s not in writing it does not exist.
Say it until you memorize it.
If it’s not in writing it does not exist.
Take a plethora of notes. Do all of your communication via email. Follow up on all phone calls, meetings and conversations in writing to outline action items, understanding, etc.
If it’s not in writing it does not exist.
Oh, and the most important thing. Texas is a one party state. That means that you DO NOT require anyone’s permission to record a meeting or phone call, only your own permission, therefore record every meeting. We recommend Otter as it both records and transcribes at the same time. It’s not free but it is amazing. Oh, and Jamie Martin recommends it as an AT tool for your children so there’s that.
For those outside of Texas, please check your state laws on recording devices and follow what the law says.
Websites and Books:
Sites you need to be aware of:
These sites are you information friends.
We recommend the attached reading list:
Also, bear in mind, the a good school district will be telling you about these.
If SpEd, Who Can Teach Your Child?
FYI, if you have an IEP for your child, be aware that IDEA does NOT differentiate WHO can teach your child, just that services must be provided and in what capacity. WHO can teach your child can be decided by you. Trust me, I hung my whole hat on that fact when negotiating my son’s IEP. So if your child prefers the GenEd dyslexia teacher, you can opt to keep her, so long as she is available for fidelity.
Remember that she’s GenEd staff and may not have that luxury of time, but a good school district will ensure even their GenEd dyslexia teachers are offering programs to their GenEd 504 dyslexia students, to fidelity.
Tidbits and Extras
In my opinion, a good school district will find a way for parents to be involved and talk about how parents can support their children in the school environment. This can take many forms. Maybe it’s a dyslexia support group, or a booster club or ask for volunteers in some capacity. Some schools will hide behind FERPA and claim they can’t do this, but a good school district will want an informed and empowered parent as that parent is able to support their child to their fullest extent possible, and that’s a win win for everyone, especially the school district but most especially the child, and that’s what everyone wants right?
Bear in mind, all of this is just to start. The information they provide to you should be free flowing, factual and informative, if they’re a good school district.