IEPs don't solve the problem

Updated: Feb 4

Although I've moved out of a classroom role, I like to tutor a handful of kids. I feel like this keeps me connected to kids and keeps my skills as a Reading Specialist refined.

Last week, the parent of one of my students presented me with a report done by a child psychologist. This report was diagnosing the student with a reading disorder and recommending specific programs for remediation.

I am not a doctor. Nor am I well versed in all of the types of assessments that were given. But as a professional educator, and someone who has extensively studied Reading development, my initial feelings in reading this report were: "This is wrong."

My first reason for feeling this way stemmed from the description of the child. As all of us that have read case studies are familiar, the format of this report was first narrating the information the doctor received from the parent. In his account, the doctor was under the impression that "despite regular attendence in school, in which high quality instruction was occuring..." this child was not progressing. "Despite working weekly with a tutor..." this child was not progressing. There are several issues with these statements that neither the doctor, nor the parent, are likely aware of.

  1. This child is in 2nd grade. Meaning they were still in Kindergarten in March of 2020 when all of our schools were suddenly closed. I KNOW that teachers were doing their best to reach students during the remainder of this year, but that does not mean that high quality, tier 1 instruction was occuring. We were trying to meet our kids SEL needs. We were trying to figure out how to teach remotely. What we were not doing, was providing the same level of instruction that had occured in years past.

  2. This child went through 1st grade (what I would argue is the most important year in terms of teaching kids to read) in a still unsteady environment. Classroom environments still sought to separate kids, and separate their materials. Typical centers activities were unavailable. Small groups and reading conferences were limited. Students were not able to see each others faces when they participated in collaborative activities, if they participated in them at all. Student learning was constantly disrupted through intermittent returns to virtual instruction and student and staff quarentines. Throughout this, parents still relied on the schools to be the primary place of instruction. Most parents in our community were not attempting to replace instruction at home, they were simply trying to support teachers and support the mental health of their kids.

  3. Now in 2nd grade, this child's parents recognized their child was not reading at a level they should be reading. However, their classroom instruction is STILL not at the same quality as it was pre pandemic. Even though we've brought back important classroom elements, students learning is consistently disrupted due to quarantine, bus driver shortages, teacher shortages, and overwhelmed teachers.

  4. Finally, even our tutoring sessions are still relatively new. Session one was simply an assessment, and we've only met 5 times after that. The work we have done is great. The student has already grown 2 reading levels. While it is still technically early to evaluate the effectivenss of this intervention, if I had to make a determination now I would say what we're doing is clearly working.

When the doctor generated their perception of this child's academic performance, these are factors that were simply unaccounted for. In his report, this narrative also outweighed the fact that the child tested within an average range on all tests, with the exception of the one test assessing phonics and phonemic awareness (which makes sense because that is the instruction she missed). His diagnoses of this child having a disability were based on the perception that there was strong tier 1 instruction and she simply didn't respond.

The implications of this are huge. This parent is now going to their school requesting an IEP. This parent now believes that her child has a disability, when in reaility her child just simply hasn't had the opportunity to learn to read yet.

Ultimately, the school makes the decision to move forward with an IEP... but will the school step back and evaluate the tier 1 instruction this child has received? Or will they look at the fact that they are in the red on MAP and reading more than a grade level behind according to F and P? Will this child be given access to high quality, differentiated instruction for the remainder of the year that allows her to grow? Or, will she continue to recieve "the best we can do under the circumstances"? Our ability to critically evaluate the quality of our instruction impacts our students long term academic progress and we owe it to them to sift through opportunity gaps versus disabilities.

If you are working with a student that is being considered for tier 2 instruction, check out this Tier 1 checklist. Has the Tier 1 criteria been met?

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