Special Education

Special Education

April 02, 2003 2 min read
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‘Invisible Dyslexics’

Needy minority students are less likely to be identified as having the reading disability dyslexia than other students, a recent study concludes.

Such students, absent critical reading intervention in their early years because of a missed diagnosis, may struggle their whole lives to read, the report says.

“The Invisible Dyslexics: How Public School Systems in Baltimore and Elsewhere Discriminate Against Poor Children in the Diagnosis and Treatment of Early Reading Difficulties,” is available from The Abell Foundation. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Because those students often fall below educators’ radar, the report, sponsored by the Abell Foundation in Baltimore, calls them “invisible dyslexics.” About 20 percent of students in large urban districts are likely to fit that category, says the report written by education consultant and former Baltimore school board member Kalman R. Hettleman.

With the right screening and early diagnosis, Mr. Hettleman estimates, the proportion would drop to 6 percent.

“Children who fall behind early rarely catch up,” he writes. “This invisible injustice can be overcome by concerted federal, state, and local action.”

Mr. Hettleman, in addition to doing a case study on the 95,000-student Baltimore city schools, analyzed research on early reading intervention. The problem, he concludes, is a nationwide crisis with the same causes. He calls for changes in how dyslexia is defined and diagnosed.

Under special education laws, children with reading difficulties are not entitled to special instruction unless there is a large discrepancy between their intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, and reading achievement. That discrepancy requirement has a “perverse impact,” the report says. High-IQ children with reading difficulties have bigger “discrepancies” than children with low IQs, and therefore receive early support.

The IQ test has long been accused of discriminating against poor and minority children who come from homes with less exposure to language and literature, the report notes.

Mr. Hettleman says that teachers’ lower expectations of minority students from low-income families sometimes exacerbate the problem.

The report recommends that districts screen for reading difficulties by kindergarten. Typically, it says, such children aren’t identified until age 9, after critical years are lost.

And the federal government should change the wording of the discrepancy requirement that impedes early diagnosis and intervention, the report argues.

—Lisa Fine Goldstein

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