Blog dyslexia Special Education

Are We Really Still Having This Conversation?

Why are schools still not using evidence based reading instruction for initial instruction and for intervention? And why are parents still calling me to say their school insists on using these programs even when they ask for something different? Even when years of use hasn’t helped? Good question.  

We see case after case where it takes an education lawyer’s intervention to get evidence based reading instruction. Gettin’ pretty sick of hearing that schools are insisting on reading instruction and intervention that has been disproven, especially for students with dyslexia, people. This should not require legal intervention, but it still does, and it’s really a shame. 

Reading intervention should be “evidence based,” right? The language used by the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) says yes– that special education services should be based on “peer reviewed research.”  20 U.S.C 1414 and 34 U.S.C. 300.320(a)(4)

In 2004, new language was even added defining “peer reviewed research” as research that is “reviewed by qualified and independent reviewers to ensure that the quality of the information meets the standards of the field.” Federal Register, page 46664. Seems like common sense, right? Use methods that have been proven to work to teach children with disabilities? 

In Maryland, the State Department of Education (MSDE) goes further, specifically naming Structured Literacy in its discussion of instruction for students with specific learning disabilities (specific learning disability by IDEA definition includes dyslexia). MSDE says “Students with persistent reading disabilities, such as dyslexia, may require evidence-based interventions alongside specially designed instruction. One highly recommended approach is structured literacy instruction, which emphasizes the structure of language, including the speech sounds and the writing systems. To be effective, such instruction must be explicit, systematic, cumulative, and diagnostic (International Dyslexia Association, 2015). Structured literacy is marked by several elements, including: phonology; sound-symbol association; syllable instruction; morphology; syntax; and semantics.” 16-03 MSDE Specific Learning Disability and Supplement, page 11

Not-so-recent evidence (seriously, this has been known for years), shows that “balanced literacy,” “whole language,” and “three-cueing” methods DO NOT WORK for many children, and they especially do not work for children with dyslexia. Ok, so we’ve known this for years, right? 

Why am I still talking about this? Really, the question should be, why are schools still using these methods, both for initial instruction and for intervention, even for children with dyslexia? And why are parents still calling education attorneys to say their school insists on using these programs as an “intervention” for their child with a specific learning disability/dyslexia even when they ask for something different? Even when years of use hasn’t helped? Good question.  

Let’s take Fountas and Pinnnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLi). It is not evidence based reading instruction for dyslexic children. It is not effective for teaching basic phonics. It is not effective for most early readers. I said that we have known for years that these kinds of programs aren’t working. Want more recent research that they aren’t a good idea for your dyslexic child? Sure! That’s available, too. Here you go:

And here:

And the beloved “What Works Clearinghouse,” ALSO says that LLi– and here’s the catch, because you have to both scroll down through the report AND know special terminology– to see from the report that Leveled Literacy Intervention has “no discernible effects on alphabetics for beginning readers.”

What the heck is “alphbetics”? It is the understanding that there are systematic and predictable relationships between written letters and spoken sounds. It’s PHONICS! Systematic instruction is without a doubt what dyslexic learners need (remember MSDE’s statement about this above?).

Here’s another thing to consider– who did the studies on this and similar programs to show effectiveness in certain sub-categories cited in What Works Clearinghouse? Was it the publisher of the program? Was it paid for by the publisher of the program? Hint on this one: yes. That’s a problem, and that’s just what you get with many statements and counter-arguments saying these programs are “effective.” So you also have to ask: what aspect of reading is the program “effective” in teaching, exactly? To which children? And, who did the peer reviewed research to prove it? 

Fountas and Pinnell and LLi don’t teach many beginning readers in the way that they need (some kids will learn to read if you leave a book under their pillow, but we aren’t talking about them) and they don’t work for children with dyslexia.

Teaching explicit, systematic phonics has been shown to improve reading for all– so ask your school for the “peer-reviewed research” that shows that the program they use in the general education classroom, and the program they use for “intervention” is effective in the area (phonics? fluency? morphology?) YOUR child needs. And then make sure that research wasn’t done by the folks who sold the school system the program.