Read The Label

Read The Label

We buy milk because it has vitamin D and calcium. When we shop for our children, we want to know if the product is warm enough, nutritious enough, and safe enough. All too often at an IEP meeting, parents are expected to accept a product on faith with no label listing the ingredients.

Parents are not in the habit of blindly accepting the claims of advertisers when it comes to the welfare of their children.  However, when it comes to providing services to a child found eligible for special education, parents are often told that they have no right to influence which remedial program the school chooses to implement or to receive information as to the specific qualifications of the instructor chosen to implement the program. The message is “trust us, we know what we are doing (even if you don’t know what we are doing).” Unfortunately, an uninformed parent is a dissatisfied parent.

To be successful, a program intended to remediate reading difficulties needs to be informed on the

following three levels:

  1. The method chosen must be scientifically research-based and have a track record of success.
  2. The instructor must have sufficient training, experience, and knowledge to deliver the chosen method of instruction as intended, with fidelity to design.
  3. The method must be delivered by the instructor in an environment that considers such elements as intensity and duration of instruction, homogeneity of grouping, group size, location, and opportunities to infuse and integrate reinforcement of skills.

Depending on the method of instruction, the qualifications of the instructor differ. For instance, highly scripted programs require a relatively short period of training, together with a commitment to deliver the program as intended. Other methods require significantly more intensive training to insure that the program is implemented with integrity to its design. There are also instructors who have a sufficient depth of knowledge to design a program that is individualized to meet the needs of a particular child or group of children. This depth of knowledge can be acquired through training programs accredited by organizations, such as the International Multisensory Structured

Language Education Council (IMSLEC) and the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators  (AOGPE).

Parents do have the right to read the label. This is how it needs to be done:

  1. With regard to the specific remedial methodology chosen by the school district, it “is an integral part of what is ‘individualized’ about a student’s education and, in those circumstances will need to be discussed at the IEP meeting and incorporated into the student’s IEP.” [1] So it is reasonable for a parent to ask, “Where can I learn more about this program?” and “Does it have a track record of success?”
  2. Parents do not have a specific right to be informed of an instructor’s qualifications. “If, however, an IEP team determines that it is necessary for the [instructor] . . . to have specific training, experience and/or knowledge . . . then it would be appropriate for the team to include those specifications in the child’s IEP.” [2] The key is to precede any question regarding specific instructor qualifications by inquiring whether the program identified recommends or requires related training. Some compromise is often required. For instance, when no trained staff is available (you can’t get blood from a stone), I have often found it acceptable for the student I am representing to be the practicum student for an instructor involved in a supervised training experience.

Any child who is not learning to read using the school district’s regular instructional method is entitled to a properly trained instructor. The level of training required is a function of the design of the instructional strategy chosen. Even the best research-validated practice is of no value if it is not delivered with fidelity to design by a knowledgeable instructor. “Teachers must have the knowledge base to be effective before they are given the freedom to be creative. . . . Properly certified, improperly prepared . . . Even the most gifted teachers cannot be expected to teach what they do not know.” [3]

When I write something like this it sounds like a chapter in Sun Tzu’s Art of War. This is not what I intend. Schools and parents are expected to be collaborators not adversaries; both share the same goal. “The very language of special education erects barriers between parents and professionals.” [4] When parents are not confident that they have been a meaningful part of the process, it is human nature for them to distrust the school district’s motives. As Alexander Hamilton said, “Men often oppose a thing merely because they have had no agency in planning it . . . ” Partnership is gained when trust and sharing allow for the unique strengths of separate interests to work together to achieve a common goal.

Source: Dickman, G.E., (2007). Read the Label! Perspectives on Language and Literacy, 33, 5 at p. 5  1 Special Education; Rules, 64 Fed. Reg. 12,552 (March 12, 1999)2 Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), Letter to G. Emerson Dickman, Esq., 37 IDELR 284 (April 2, 2002).

[3] Dickman, Georgette. (Summer, 2003). Newsletter of the New Jersey Branch of the International Dyslexia Association (NJIDA).

[4] Reid, D. K., & Valle, J. W. (2004). The discursive practice of learning disability: Implications for instruction and parent-school relations, Journal of Learning Disabilities, 37(6), 466–481.