Getting the Right Method!
G. Emerson Dickman, J.D.
Since 1982 [Hendrick Hudson District Bd. of Ed. v. Rowley, 458 US 176 (1982)] courts have been under a directive from the U.S. Supreme Court to “avoid imposing their view of preferable educational methods” (p 207). However, the same case opened the door to arguing in favor of a particular methodology by articulating a two prong test to determine if a school district is providing a free appropriate public education [FAPE]. The second prong of this test asks the question “is the individualized education program developed … reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits?” 458 US at 206. Therefore, the goal of the advocate for a particular methodology is to convince the district that the method proposed by the district “is not reasonably calculated to provide educational benefit” [Bend-Lapine Sch Dist. 23 IDELR 583, 586 (SEA Oregon, 1995)].
In Evans v. The Bd. of Educ. of the Rhinebeck Central School Dist., 24 IDELR 338 (S.D.N.Y. 1996) U.S. Dist. Court Southern Dist. of NY, 1996) the court distinguished its finding from the Rowley directive by holding that the facts demonstrated “that an integrated, multi-sensory, sequential method is a necessity rather than an optimum situation.” Evans at 348. Also, a pupil with dyslexia can show significant progress in content courses and still be found to have made progress that is only “de minimus in nature” if there has not been reasonable progress in reading, R.E. v. Jersey City Bd. of Ed.N.J. OAL DKT NO. EDS. 7018-97 ( 10-30-97). This court held that “reading is the foundation upon which all scholastic success depends.” R.E. at p6.
Once a child has been identified as dyslexic, it is of critical importance that a foundation for communications between the district and the parents be developed in order that both parties are aware of the motivations and rationale adopted by the other. Understanding the research is critical to establishing this foundation.
1. If children with dyslexia are not reached with effective instruction by the age of 8 or 8 1/2 research has shown that “seventy-four (74%) percent of them will remain disabled through high school.” Lyon and Chhabra (1996). The Current State of Science and the Future of Specific Reading Disability. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, pp.2-9, at p 6.)
2. “[W]e have gained enormous insight into factors that contribute to successful reading acquisition and explain failure.” (Bonita A. Blachman Ph.D., remarks to joint NIH/LDA conference, Washington D.C. May 12, 1997.) “[T]he knowledge children need to master in order to succeed at reading is well-documented, and the kinds of instructional methods that are effective have also been verified.” (Brady and Moats, 1997, Informed Instruction for Reading Success: Foundations for Teacher Preparation; A Position Paper of The International Dyslexia Association, at p1. Therefore, research has informed us (a) how children learn to read, (b) why some children have difficulty learning to read, and (c) the instructional methods that are effective with children that have difficulty learning to read.
3. “Teachers need to be knowledgeable about the research foundations of reading.” (Executive Summary of the Prepublication Copy of “Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children”, Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children, National Research Council (1998) National Academy of Sciences.)
4. “[M]ost teachers are not being given the content and depth of training needed to enable them to provide appropriate instruction.” (Brady and Moats at p1.)
5. Congress has found that, in the past, the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has been impeded by “an insufficient focus on applying replicable research on proven methods of teaching and learning for children with disabilities.” IDEA §601(c)(4). As a result the re-authorized IDEA (1997) requires that the “IEP Team” include “an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results” [§ 614(d)(1)(B)(v)] and that the IEP contain “a statement of … supports for school personnel that will be provided for the child’ [§614(d)(1)(A)(iii)].
The current state of the research clearly indicates “that children profit from instruction in reading that is explicit, systematic, and sequential,” (Brady and Moats at p9) and that stresses the awareness of the sound structure of words (Brady and Moats at p5). Those programs that adhere to the principals of what is commonly referred to as an Orton-Gillingham approach conform to these research findings, i.e., instruction that is direct and explicit, using a structure that is sequential, cumulative, and phonics based in a multi-sensory (including tactile/kinesthetic involvement) learning environment.
I would suggest that replicable research has informed us on “proven methods of teaching and learning” [IDEA §601 (c)(4)] that are “reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits” (458 U.S. at 206).
One caveat: when the school district says “Our reading teacher has been teaching reading for a long time – does what works – is certified by the State – individualizes according to the needs of each child – uses an eclectic approach”; remember, it is not enough to do what you know, it is necessary to know what you are doing. An informed (knowledgeable and trained) instructor is a prerequisite for informed instruction.