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 8

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Q8:  IEP Team states they don’t use the terms “dyslexia”, “dysgraphia” or “dyscalculia” in student’s IEP.  What can I do?

A:  IDEA requires that the IEP Team tailor specially designed instruction to specifically meet the individual needs of the student.  As Specific Learning Disability is an umbrella term, the IEP Team needs to carefully document all areas of deficits.  If the student exhibits characteristics of dyslexia, dysgraphia, or dyscalculia it is important that these areas of need are specified in the IEP.

The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) encourages States to review their policies, procedures and practices to ensure that they do not prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia in evaluations, eligibility, and IEP documents.  Finally, in ensuring the provision of Free and Appropriate Public Education, USDOE stressed the importance of addressing the unique educational needs of children with specific learning disabilities resulting from dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia during IEP meetings and other meetings with parents under IDEA (Source: OSERS Dear Colleague Letter October 23rd, 2015).  To download a complete copy of this letter, click HERE.

In addition, under the California Education Code Section 56334, deficits in phonological processing need to be identified as part of special education eligibility requirements. A deficit in phonological awareness is viewed as the hallmark of reading disability or dyslexia (Source: The Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing 2nd Edition Examiners Manual by Richard K. Wagner et al. page 37). It is critical that the IEP team note deficits in phonological processing in the IEP in order to determine the individualized intervention for the student.

Please also see California Department of Education’s PowerPoint page 10 that it is okay for school districts to use the term dyslexia.

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