Third-Grader with Reading Difficulties

A parent is frustrated that her child's teachers can't explain the exact nature of her child's LD and how it is impacting her ability to learn to read.
My daughter is going to be nine this summer and is going into the third grade. We are having a difficult time with reading and I'm not satisfied with what she learns at school. In kindergarten I noticed a problem with her and they told me not to hold her back because I would not get any help for her. In first grade her teacher and I both noticed a problem, but instead of testing her they asked me to hold her back, (and I did). Well, then second grade came and now she is where she was in kindergarten, lost. They did manage to test her and she is just below by two points. I did allow them to put her in a reading class (LD), but she is not responding. As a VERY CONCERNED parent, what can I do at home to help her, so in third grade she is not fighting so hard?

This is a sad story. Let's turn it around. Ask the teachers to tell you if the testing shows that your daughter has a learning disability (which must be the case, since they put her in a special reading class). If she in fact does, then ask them to tell you the exact nature of the learning disability and how it is impacting on your daughter's ability to learn to read. If they can't do this, then tell them you want to have her evaluated by someone who CAN tell you. If they don't have anyone else in the school, then call the nearest children's hospital and ask them if they have an LD assessment program or clinic, or call the state office of the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) for a referral. Tell the people at this clinic what you're looking for and ask them if they can provide you with an answer. (The school should pay for this, since they can't provide what you need.)

If the school can tell you the nature of your daughter's LD and the impact on learning, ask them to tell you what the research says about the approach they are using to teach her to read. If they do not know the answer to this question, ask them to tell you how they made the decision to use this approach. If the answer is something like: "This is the program we have for kids with LD," then ask them what the success rate is and how long they think it will take for her to learn to read better.

If they can't answer this, then ask them to track her progress on a weekly basis (looking at her acquisition and retention of very specific skills), so that you can see whether she is improving, staying the same, or getting worse. If she has not made gains after three months in the special reading program, then demand that the school increase the amount of time they work with her. Even if it means she misses some of her regular coursework. Research shows that it's the intensity of the intervention (more than the type of specialized program) that makes the difference. If your little girl does not show gains after six months in this program, then it is probably not the right program.

At this point, tell the school you want your daughter to be evaluated by a specialist outside the school. Tell them (you notice I'm not using the word ask) that if they cannot provide an intensive program of the type that the specialist recommends, you want them to find such a program, and pay for your daughter's involvement in it. Since it's the end of the school year, I would suggest finding such a program now and enrolling your daughter three to five days a week for an hour each day of intensive reading instruction, using an approach that has been shown to be effective for children with learning disabilities. This is a critically important time to do some very intense work with her. Do not wait until the fall of next year. I hope that these suggestions put your daughter on the road to success.

Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.

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