Obtaining Learning Disability Services for DYSLEXIA under IDEA in Texas  in 2022

In this post I am writing ONLY about children diagnosed with specific learning disabilities (including dyslexia and dysgraphia). These children ARE qualified for special education services if a “severe discrepancy” between present levels–academic achievement and intellectual ability (specific cognitive processing weaknesses such as auditory or visual processing have been identified by an educational diagnostician. SE services will not be provided under IDEA if the student demonstrated low achievement because of low ability (as measured by IQ testing). These students were formerly considered to be “slow learners who weren’t mentally retarded, but could not be expected to to keep up with average intelligence peers. LD students, by contrast, are students who don’t learn to read and write with the general education curriculum and methods but they are obviously neither slow learners nor or they mentally retarded. In today’s world, we frequently find the public schools quite erroneously classifying underachieving students as either ADHD (unable to focus) or behavior problems (emotionally disturbed).

  1. To differentiate between a academic deficit within an otherwise normal cognitive profile, and to determine the existence of a “severe discrepancy,” Texas generally administered standardized ability (IQ) tests and academic achievement tests, followed by a comparison of the standard scores of the tests. Texas schools, in recent years, used a cross battery assessment approach. If this comparison demonstrated that the student’s “achievement” was well below his or her “ability” in at least one academic area (such as oral expression, listening comprehension, reading fluency, reading comprehension, written expression, math concepts, math calculation), then the student became eligible to receive special education services under the category of “specific learning disability.”
  2. Dyslexia is the most common kind of specific learning disability in the area of reading fluency and/or reading comprehension. Dyslexia testing is mandated to analyze student skills in very specific areas.
  3. In determining eligibility for the school districts’ Dyslexia Programs administered through special education programs under the IDEA or under Section 504 students are assessed in the following areas: Reading real and nonsense words in isolation (decoding); Phonological awareness; Letter knowledge (name and associated sound); Rapid naming; Reading fluency (rate and accuracy); Reading comprehension; and Written spelling.
  4. In recent years, a new framework called Response to Intervention (RTI) has been initiated to eliminate the discrepancy model and ensure services for all students who struggle in academic settings. Proponents of RTI promote this system for its ability to provide help to a student by working with all students in a class, administering frequent assessments, and delivering interventions that are specific to an individual child’s needs. RTI, like any other educational program, only works if it is administered with fidelity.
  5. In the case of the Texas ISDs with which I am familiar, RTI has become a vehicle for denying needed services to children with dyslexia and dysgraphia. The most common verbiage used by ISD staff members is that the child doesn’t pay attention, likely has ADHD, and/or is a behavior problem related to parental over indulgence. Whatever the excuse used, the outcome is the same: the school is doing the best it can and the child isn’t learning due to bad behavior or an undiagnosed medical condition.
  6. Components of the RTI model require additional responsibilities for staff that are well beyond those of the SLD identification model that schools have used since the 1977 IDEA regulations were adopted. Schools are required to report to parents the exact interventions that were used with the child, the child’s response to specially designed instructional interventions, and the number of children in the child’s grade level who received RTI interventions and successfully learned the targeted reading or writing or math skill.
    Under no circumstances are schools to delay assessing for Special Education (provide a FIE) more than two grading periods if the child is not learning grade level curriculum using the alternate methods provided in the general education setting.
  7. At ECISD it is not uncommon to see a school convene 5 RTI meetings throughout an entire school year and ultimately pass the child to the next grade level without ever assessing for SLD. At the Atascosa McMullen Cooperative, none of the students whose records I have analyzed have contained any RTI documentation.
  8. From a theoretical standpoint, many aspects of Section 504 mirror the intent of IDEA. Section 504 provides additional protection to an individual whose impairment is not considered severe enough for special education services, but warrants physical, classroom, or testing accommodations. Very often, children with health conditions such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), asthma, diabetes, etc. are covered under Section 504 (as is a child with a broken limb). Section 504 requires a school to make reasonable accommodations for children with special needs or health conditions.
  9. Basic rights covered by Section 504:
    -No person with a disability shall be excluded from the participation in, or subjected to discrimination, under any program or activity receiving financial assistance from the federal government.
    -No person with a disability will be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of services or activities of a public entity.
    -The remedies, procedures and rights under ADA apply to Section 504. Any person alleging discrimination on the basis of disability is entitled to the same protection as stipulated in the ADA.
  10. To be eligible for protections under Section 504, children must have physical or mental impairments that substantially limit at least one major life activity such as walking, talking, seeing, breathing, hearing, learning, reading, writing, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks. Section 504 requires an evaluation be completed by many different sources.
  11. In the case of a child referred for dyslexia services, the ISDs have dyslexia assessment teams and an assessment model that they follow to determine if the student who has been unable to learn to read through general education services and through RTI services provided in the general education setting would benefit from an Orton-Gillingham reading program.
  12. Most O-G dyslexia programs such as MTA are designed to be completed in two or three years. Section 504 does not require that a meeting take place before a change in placement happens, thus many parents in Texas have been told that their child is getting dyslexia services but remain unaware that the O-G program they thought that the student was receiving is either not present at all in the SE or 504 setting, or if present, is not implemented with fidelity and therefore is unlikely to teach the child the skills that he or she needs to learn to become a competent, capable reader and writer.
  13. Unlike IDEA, Section 504 and ADA do not:
    -Ensure that a student with a disability will receive an individualized educational program (IEP) that is designed to meet the unique learning needs of a child with a disability
    -Have the same “procedural safeguards” that IEPs have such as a student with an IEP must receive a written notice before any change in placement occurs and a family has a right to an independent educational evaluation at public expense if there is disagreement with what the schools have determined the students’s disability to be.
  14. The IEP meeting, required by federal statute, is convened at least once a school year to plan an educational program that is tailored to the needs of each disabled student.
  15. The student’s “team” attends the meeting: teachers, therapists, parents, school administrators, and any other invited parties.
  16. These IEP procedural safeguards are key legal provisions that ensure that parents and students are informed of their legal rights and that certain steps, procedures, and timelines are followed from start to finish.
  17. Parents are equal members of the IEP team. Under the IDEA and Section 504, parents must be allowed to assist in identifying their child’s needs and in the selection of appropriate services (research-based materials and methods) and placement (setting in which services are provided).
  18. By working as equal members of the IEP team, parents can listen to teachers’, therapists’, and administrators’ ideas about what a child needs to become a functional independent adult by age 18.
  19. School staff are also required to listen to parents’ information and requests and if a ARD committee refuses services requested by parents, to provide the parents with Prior Written Notice explaining why parental requests are deemed to be inappropriate.
  20. At IEP team meetings, parents can also report on whether the skills that the school says are or are not being demonstrated at school are being used at home and across all appropriate community environments and settings.
  21. Skills that are not generalized across all settings are not functional skills and cannot be considered to be “mastered”.
  22. When a child has a significant learning disability or delay, it is usually preferable to have an IEP, because IDEA is the federal law (with some funding behind it) that mandates that schools comply with specific standards and processes in implementing an educational plan.
    Section 504 is a civil rights law that is easily interpreted with a great degree of disparity, and differs by state, county, and school district.
  23. In essence, there tends to be less accountability by districts for 504 plans.
    However, when it comes to medical conditions, allergies, or physical limitations, and where there are no significant learning issues involved, 504 plans are often recommended as available information suggests that the child is able to attain meaningful and significant benefit from the general education program as long as the medical condition is accommodated for.
  24. One key point to think about is the difference between the words ACCESS and EDUCATIONAL BENEFIT when trying to understand exactly what the school proposes to do to remediate a child’s specific learning disability.
  25. ISDs in Texas schools will tell you that the federal law requires that all students be “exposed” to general education curriculum. This is not true, nor do the words become true no matter how many times they are uttered.
  26. The IDEA and Section 504 require that the child be provided with the specially designed instruction needed to provide him with all of the academic and life skills that he or she is cognitively and physically capable of mastering.
  27. A child with dyslexia can learn to read and write as well as his same-age peers, however he or she will always have dyslexia which is based upon a neurological condition. Dyslexia is considered to be a congenital medical condition, therefore it is not going to be cured, although the symptoms (inability to decode words or comprehend written language) can be successfully remediated.
  28. Dyslexia services through public school may be provided through Special Education under the IDEA either as an Other Health Impairment or as a Specific Learning Disability.
  29. Dyslexia is NOT remediated through exposure to general education TEKS aligned curriculum. As a parent, please understand that you don’t want the school to give your child ACCESS to the general education curriculum; you want the school to provide your child with REAL EDUCATIONAL BENEFIT by teaching him to read and write on grade level. This means that when your dyslexic child is 18 and ready to graduate from the ISD high school, he or she should be reading and writing at 12th grade level. No exceptions IF the school has done their job.
  30. Children with dyslexia, in order to be qualified for a dyslexia Orton-Gillingham program, have average or above average cognitive skills. They need specialized READING instruction that is demonstrated through years of research to teach kids to read and write as well as the child sitting next to him or her in the classroom who does not have dyslexia.
  31. If the child needs an individualized educational program that includes special services such as speech-language or occupational therapies, or a specially designed curriculum that is research-based when it is implemented with consistency and fidelity (such as MTA—Orton-Gillingham programs for dyslexia and dysgraphia), then an IEP will serve as the legal document outlining these services. If a child only needs to be placed in the front of the classroom, or requires an allergy-free environment, but the general education curriculum remains the same, then a 504 plan is adequate to detail these environmental accommodations.
  32. Historically, Texas parents have kept their children out of special education programs and in O-G compliant programs known as dyslexia classes provided under Section 504 due to concerns about the curse of low expectations evidenced in special education programs observed or perceived to exist in their ISDs.
  33. Texas schools are under state mandate to provide information about the dyslexia programs implemented in each ISD.
  34. One Texas ISD’s Dyslexia Program Instruction Overview provided to parents includes the following information:
    -The Instructional Program used in grades K-12 is Multisensory Teaching Approach (MTA).
    -Frequency of Instruction: Students identified with dyslexia and receiving services in this ISD will attend MTA small group instructional class for a minimum of 4 days/week @ 45 minutes/session or 3 hours/week.
    -Duration of Instruction: This ISD does not “exit” students from the Dyslexia Program once the student completes and demonstrates mastery of the MTA Kit’s 1-7 levels. Once a student has demonstrated mastery of skills taught in MTA Kit’s 1-7 levels, the committee of knowledgeable persons (ARD committee or 504 committee) may decide to place the student on “Monitor” status, and the student will no longer attend MTA small group—unless at some point it is determined the student needs additional support/intervention.
  35. In ECISD, Amanda Real, the Director of Special Education, administers the dyslexia program. The district website describes dyslexia services: East Central ISD Dyslexia Services are designed to provide short-term reading intervention for children who meet district criteria. Services are offered to qualifying students in kindergarten through grade 12. These services provide students with the skills and strategies to “unlock” the code of reading and to improve reading fluency. Students are instructed utilizing the Orton-Gillingham based reading programs and/or multisensory structured language approaches. Dyslexia teachers work with groups of children on a weekly basis.
  36. Dyslexia services in the Atascosa-McMullen Cooperative provided in the schools served by the Co-Op are described in exactly the same words.
  37. In schools served within the Region 20 service area, 504 Dyslexia Programs have traditionally been based upon Orton-Gillingham curriculums such as the MTA curriculum or Take Flight. (used by the SA Scottish Rite Center). Four day a week 45-60 minute classes are taught by trained reading specialists or general or special education teachers who have received training and been certified as competent in the specific curriculum (such as MTA) reading program adopted by the ISD.
  38. Historically, the O-G reading therapy programs used in Texas 504 dyslexia classes are taught by specially trained teachers who generally have 6-8 students in each reading classroom that meets 4 days a week for two or three years. Most O-G curriculums for children are designed to be three year programs but based upon the composition of each group and the amount of parent involvement and support, many children are identified in 2nd grade and complete all modules of the dyslexia program in two years (3rd and 4th grade). Instruction is typically not provided in the summer and the student’s need for extended year services is not considered under 504 as extended year services are mandated to be considered each year under a special education IEP, but are not a consideration under 504.
  39. In Texas, by state law, dyslexia reading programs are theoretically available for any student that exhibits reading difficulty, has not responded to intensive reading instruction, and through evaluation, meets state and district criteria for a student who exhibits the characteristics of dyslexia.
  40. Special needs students who receive specially designed instruction under 504 are not provided with a Full Individual Evaluation and an IEP under special education and schools are not required to involve parents when they change the methods and materials they are using to teach the children.
  41. Presently most Bexar County public schools appear to have adopted a SE dyslexia service model that waters down the research based reading programs such as MTA to the point where students no longer are actually attaining any meaningful and significant benefit from them. Reading programs for students identified as dyslexic in at least two ISDs (ECISD and Atascosa McMullen SE Cooperative) include unspecified modifications in the general education curriculum and setting and one visit per week for the student with a reading teacher who presents O-G interventions.
  42. At present, LSSPs and Educational Diagnosticians across the region are testing children for dyslexia at a rapid pace and ARD committees then approve a reading intervention program for children who qualify as dyslexic.
  43. Dyslexia programs are required to include the following components of reading:
    • Phonemic awareness which that enables students to detect, segment, blend, and manipulate sounds in spoken language;
    • Graphophonemic knowledge (phonics) that takes advantage of the letter/sound plan in which words that carry meaning are made of sounds and sounds are written with letters in the right order. Students with this understanding can blend sounds associated with letters into words and can separate words into component sounds for spelling and writing;
    • Language structure that encompasses morphology (the study of meaningful units of language such as prefixes, suffixes, and roots), semantics (ways that language conveys meaning), syntax (sentence structure), and pragmatics (how to use language in a particular context);
    • Linguistic instruction directed toward proficiency and fluency with the patterns of language so that words and sentences are the carriers of meaning;
  44. Dyslexia programs are mandated to provide: Strategy-oriented instruction in the strategies students use for decoding, encoding, word recognition, fluency, and comprehension that students need to become independent readers.
  45. The instructional approach in O-G dyslexia programs is explicit, direct instruction is systematic (structured), sequential, and cumulative.
  46. Dyslexia Instruction is organized and presented in a way that follows a logical sequential plan, fits the nature of language (alphabetic principle) with no assumption of prior skills or language knowledge, and maximizes student engagement.
  47. Dyslexia instruction proceeds at a rate commensurate with students’ needs, ability levels, and demonstration of progress.
  48. None of the reading/dyslexia programs through SE in the two aforementioned ISDs are consistent with Orton-Gillingham methods and materials, level of teacher training, or duration of services.
  49. SE reading classrooms are described in Texas ARD meetings as TEKS modified general education curriculum and do NOT specify a specific research-based program such as MTA. SE Directors in ECISD and Atascosa-McMullen tell parents and advocates that districts are NOT required to specify methods or materials and that ISDs are state-mandated to remediate dyslexia and dysgraphia with materials and methods that conform to TEKS guidelines. This practice is not consistent with TEA’s most recent Dyslexia Handbook.
  50. From chapter 2 of TEA’s 2020 Dyslexia Handbook: Federal Requirements Child Find Update
    In addition to state and local requirements to screen and identify students who may be at risk for dyslexia, there are also overarching federal laws and regulations to identify students with disabilities, commonly referred to as Child Find. Child Find is a provision in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law that requires the state to have policies and procedures in place to ensure that every student in the state who needs special education and related services is located, identified, and evaluated. The purpose of the IDEA is to ensure that students with disabilities are offered a free and appropriate public education (20 U.S.C. §1400(d); 34 C.F.R. §300.1). Because a student suspected of having dyslexia may be a student with a disability under the IDEA, the Child Find mandate includes these students. Therefore, when referring and evaluating students suspected of having dyslexia, LEAs must follow procedures for conducting a full individual and initial evaluation (FIIE) under the IDEA. Another federal law that applies to students with disabilities in public school is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, commonly referred to as Section 504. Under Section 504, public schools must annually attempt to identify and locate every qualified student with a disability residing in its jurisdiction and notify them and/or their parents of the requirements of Section 504.
  51. From TEA’s Dyslexia Handbook 2021: Critical Evidence-Based Components of Dyslexia Instruction: Providers of Dyslexia Instruction
    In order to provide effective intervention, school districts are encouraged to employ highly trained individuals to deliver dyslexia instruction. Teachers, such as reading specialists, master reading teachers, general education classroom teachers, or special education teachers, who provide dyslexia intervention for students are not required to hold a specific license or certification. However, these educators must at a minimum have additional documented dyslexia training aligned to 19 TAC §74.28(c) and must deliver the instruction with fidelity. This includes training in critical, evidence-based components of dyslexia instruction such as phonological awareness, sound-symbol association, syllabication, orthography, morphology, syntax, reading comprehension, and reading fluency. In addition, they must deliver multisensory instruction that simultaneously uses all learning pathways to the brain, is systematic and cumulative, is explicitly taught, uses diagnostic teaching to automaticity, and includes both analytic and synthetic approaches. See pages 39 – 41 of Texas Dyslexia Handbook for a description of these components of instruction and delivery. A provider of dyslexia instruction does not have to be certified as a special educator when serving a student who also receives special education and related services if that provider is the most appropriate person to offer dyslexia instruction.
  52. ECISD Special Education Services are described: The East Central ISD Special Education Services supports students with disabilities in gaining college and career readiness, and independent living skills through active engagement in grade level curriculum. These services are provided in general education or special education settings with accommodations, modifications, special education supports, supplementary aids, and other arrangements.The special education team identifies and provides an appropriate education for all individuals from ages 3 to 21 who qualify for the district’s special education services.The team also supports the East Central ISD mission of ensuring children who receive special education services are provided with access to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) in order to receive a quality education that enables them to participate in future social, economic, and educational opportunities. Neither ECISD’s dyslexia or special education programs make any mention of specially designed instruction individualized to the child’s unique circumstances or reference providing meaningful and significant educational benefit to the handicapped student.
  53. The Atascosa-McMullen Cooperative serves students in Pleasanton ISD, Potent ISD, Jourdanton ISD, Charlotte ISD, and McMullen County ISD. No information about SE programing or 504 programing for students diagnosed with dyslexia is available on its website. Each of the schools appears to have a SE coordinator.


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2 Responses to Obtaining Learning Disability Services for DYSLEXIA under IDEA in Texas  in 2022

  1. Gale Anderson says:

    Thank you for this information! I am a dyslexia teacher in an Austin area ISD. Our school has been evaluating students through FIIE. When students are identified having an SLD with the condition of dyslexia; our ARD team is dismissing them to 504 without full disclosure to parents about staying in SPED and at times without having a dyslexia teacher at these ARD committee meetings. The students that this has happened to are often reading 2 years below grade level but are being provided the district program (which is OG based instruction) 45 minutes 4-5 days a week. I am concerned we are not allowing parents the option to have their student remain in SPED services as often secondary issues in reading comprehension begin to emerge and only their fluency is being remediated. Is there a way to have students remain in SPED services rather than be dismissed to 504?

    • Janis Arnold Janis Arnold says:

      Yes, under the IDEA, children have the right to services through both 504 dyslexia programs and special education programs. My personal experience has been that special education programs have degenerated into a one size fits all program that is designed to make sure children pass the STARR test, and special education services generally do more harm than good these days. For the parents who consult me, I observe the programs that are available and determine if the classroom settings, teachers, and instructional materials and methods that the public school has to offer services that hold out prospects of providing any meaningful and significant benefit to the student. For at least the past two years, none of the children that I help have remained in the public school setting in any capacity. In San Antonio, I am seeing some excellent private, charter, and homeschool programs. That being said, I only hear from parents who are desperately concerned about their children. Perhaps many children with learning disabilities are being helped in the public schools, but I am not aware of them.

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