You Asked! Question 11

Q11:  I am a teacher and suspect one of my students may be displaying signs of dyslexia. What should I do?  Is it okay to alert the parents as to my concerns?

A:  Teachers see student performance in the educational environment directly. You are a critical source of information to parents and the special education team, who depend on your expertise and experience. It is important to understand that early identification and appropriate intervention with students who show the warning signs of dyslexia are essential for better outcomes later on.  If you have any reason at all to suspect that a student may have a disability that may be interfering with learning (not simply “academics”), you are legally obligated to refer the student for evaluation under the “Child Find” obligation of the special education law ((20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(3)(A); 34 C.F.R. § 300.111(a); Ed. Code, §§ 56171, 56300 et seq.). Child Find does not prevent you from discussing your concerns with a parent—in general, such discussions are a regular part of a teacher’s job. The parent also has the right to make a referral for special education assessment. However, Child Find is not based on action or inaction of a parent- once an educator has a reason to suspect that a child may have a disability, your legal obligation is triggered to refer the student for assessment, at which point the special education team should provide the parents with an assessment plan for consent to assess. Getting a decision in writing allows parents to use their rights under the law—including the right to refuse evaluation, or the right to challenge the district’s refusal.

Be aware that the threshold for suspecting that a child has a disability and referring for evaluation is relatively low. The question is whether the child should be referred for an evaluation, not whether the child actually qualifies for services.  After all, we can’t know the answer to that question until we have assessment data. The student should not have to fail a course or be retained in a grade in order to be considered for assessment.  The fact that a student is making adequate educational progress is not a valid reason not to assess.

“Child find” duty requires children to be identified and evaluated “within a reasonable time after school officials are on notice of behavior that is likely to indicate a disability”. A state or LEA “shall be deemed to have knowledge that a child is a child with a disability if [among other things] … the behavior or performance of the child demonstrates the need for such services”.

(Source:  Department of Education State of Hawaii v. Cari Rae S., 2001, 158 F. Supp. 2d 1190; 71 Fed. Reg. 46580 (Aug. 14, 2006))

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You Asked! Question 3

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Q3: Student has below average scores in phonological processing. School states this is an “auditory processing” deficit and will not specify as a “phonological processing” deficit. Why is it important to be specific as to the area(s) of deficit?

Auditory processing is an extremely broad umbrella term that includes phonological processing. A student might have both a significant strength (e.g., listening comprehension) and a significant weakness (e.g., phoneme segmentation) under the broad category of auditory processing. Therefore, listing the broad term, auditory processing, as the processing deficit underlying a learning disability is not specific enough to inform choices for appropriate intervention to remediate the academic achievement deficits that are the result of the learning disability.

Phonological processing, under the category of auditory processing, can be divided into three components: phonological memory, phonological awareness, and naming speed (Wagner, Torgesen, Rashotte, 1999).

In summary, the broad term, auditory processing, is not precise enough to inform planning of appropriate recommendations for instructional strategies to remediate the academic skill deficits that are the result of a deficit in any one or more of the components of phonological processing: phonological awareness, phonological memory, or naming speed. Therefore, use of the broad term, auditory processing, to label a measured deficit in phonological processing, is not in compliance with CA Education code section 56334.

(Source:  Nancy Cushen White, Ed.D. Clinical Professor—Pediatrics-Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine-UCSF /UCSF Dyslexia Research Center)

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