Disabled or dis-taught?

In response to the special education discussions (here and here) on Jay Greene’s blog, reading researcher Reid Lyon expands the discussion. Many students labeled with learning disabilities are victims of poor teaching, he writes.

(A major goal of Response To Intervention) is to reduce referrals to special education by documenting that the student’s learning difficulties are not because of inadequate instruction in general education classrooms but because of a disability. Years ago, S. Allen Cohen provided us with a more interesting term for lousy teaching which he called “dyspedagogia” (I believe this was tongue in cheek).

But the fact is most kids identified for special education and labeled as having a Learning Disability (LD) are not LD but achieve poorly because of “dyspedagogia.” In fact, our research over the past 20 years has taught us that scientifically based early reading intervention provided through a tiered approach to instruction can reduce the percentage of LD from upwards of 22% to between 2% and 10% in some states and LEAs. This is a very good thing given that LD referrals and placements constitute about 50% of all referrals to special education, and reading disabilities comprise about 80% of kids identified with LD.

What are the barriers? I suggest you read the whole thing, but I’ll note that Lyon dreams of providing policymakers and educational leaders two free tattoos that read: (1) “Necessary but not sufficient,” and (2) “Great policy idea, but implementation is a bitch.”

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  1. My husband, a pediatrician, coined the term “teaching disabilities” with the multitude of students who were sent to him who couldn’t read in fourth grade. Or rather, they could only read selectively.

    They could read “meat”, for instance, but not “beat”. They had memorized the word meat, but didn’t know WHY it said meat because they’d never learned phonics. So they couldn’t use the same cues to read beat. It was ridiculous.

    But our school board is so dedicated to whole language that’s what you get it. They call it an “integrated phonics approach”, but they don’t actually teach phonics in any systematic way. And then they wonder why kids don’t read!

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  2. Margo/Mom says:

    Somewhere on the Wrighslaw web page is a discussion of why school psychologists never diagnose “dyspedagogia” or its equivalent when evaluating a child’s need for special services. Certainly it rocks the employment boat to suggest that teachers’ work has been insufficient or misguided. There would also be the inevitable argument that teachers are the experts in teaching–not psychologists (interesting, this never carries over to evaluating parenting–where is seems that everyone is the expert).

    Even doctors are reluctant to challenge the adequacy of another doctor’s work–even if they recommend another diagnosis or treatment.

    It seems as though RtI helps us to get around this particular barrier by allowing (requiring) a percentage of funds to be spent on pre-identification services in a systematic way. This serves a dual function of aiding in identification and preventing misidentification.