Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Why Parents Of Students With Dyslexia Say Indiana Schools Need To Rethink Reading

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Alex Stein, 9, practices spelling with her tutor, Joyce Prill. Stein gets tutored twice a week because she has dyslexia, a language-based learning disability that can make reading and learning difficult.

When Jackie Stein saw her daughter struggling to learn to read, she asked Alex’s first grade teacher how she could help. The teacher’s response surprised her: Alex was developmentally appropriate. If the Steins were worried, they could work more with their daughter at home.

So Jackie tried to help her daughter with reading. Alex continued to struggle, though. That’s when a family friend suggested Alex might have dyslexia, a language-based learning disability. So Jackie contacted the Dyslexia Institute of Indiana to get Alex tested.

“We didn’t just wait and see and wait and see and wait for things to get better,” says Jackie. “I don’t think they would have.”

How Specialized Tutoring Helps Students With Dyslexia

Now in third grade, Alex works with a tutor twice a week at the Fishers Public Library. They review letters and sounds and practice reading and spelling. One of the techniques that really helps Alex is finger spelling.

Most kids think about letters before they write a word. But not Alex.

“Dyslexia is when you have trouble reading, mostly, and it’s a little harder for you in school than other kids would.”
—Alex Stein, third grader

“So you’ll go like s-p-o-t with your fingers,” she says, tapping out the sounds instead.

People with dyslexia don’t process information the same way most people do … their brains may even be wired differently. When Alex reads, she often confuses b’s with d’s. Some people with dyslexia see n’s instead of r’s. To help people who don’t have dyslexia understand how frustrating it can be to decipher words and letters, tutors use simulations that mimic how a dyslexic brain views words. Here’s an example:

An old wom an dakeb some gin gerdreab. She hab some bough left ov er, so she mabe the sha be of a little man. She mape eyes, anoseand a smil ing mouth andpl aceq curra ntsbown his front to look like du ttons. Thenshe laib hi mon a qak ingtray and put himint he oven. After a while, som ething rattlebat theo ven boor. She ope nedit and out ju mped the littlegin gerdreab man. She triep to catch him duthes lippeb dast her, ca llingas he ran, “Run, run, as fast as you can. You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerdreab man!”

There’s no one way that a person with dyslexia sees words on a page, but there is one way to teach reading that seems to help. It’s a multi-sensory approach to learning letters and sounds that Alex practices twice a week with her tutor.

Jackie says the difference tutoring has had on her daughter is profound.

“I see her enjoying reading, I see her being able to comprehend what she has read,” says Jackie. “She now even reads with expression. Before, it was really laborious for her to get through a word and just wasn’t enjoyable.”

Why Statewide Standardized Tests Have Parents On Edge

But the extra help comes at a cost. Tutoring is expensive — about $50 per session, or more than $400 per month.

“It’s certainly something we think about when we’re making decisions about what to do, vacations to take, other activities to factor in. Not only is it the cost, but it’s the time commitment, too,” says Jackie, who drives her daughter twice a week to the library after school. While Alex works with her tutor, Jackie works on other schoolwork with her younger daughter, Avery.

Jackie says it’s worth it to make sure Alex gets the help she needs. Still, she wishes students with dyslexia received more support at school.

Alex’s teachers make some accommodations. She doesn’t get counted off for spelling mistakes when she’s writing in class, just when she takes a spelling test. And she gets extra time to take classroom tests.

But this spring, when it’s time to take statewide standardized tests, Alex won’t get extra time. That’s news to Alex, who’s used to having a few more minutes to use the techniques she learns in tutoring to sound out words and check her work. And it’s nerve-wracking for Jackie because students in Indiana have to pass the IREAD-3 before they move on to fourth grade.

“We don’t yet know what that’s going to be like, you know, how her learning disability is going to effect how she tests,” says Jackie.

Why Dyslexia Doesn’t Always Count As A Learning Disability

Most students with special needs can qualify for a good cause exemption that allows them to move onto fourth grade even if they don’t pass. But in Indiana, dyslexia isn’t an eligibility category for special education. Instead, it’s counted as a specific learning disability, and schools determine what interventions students need on a case-by-case basis.

“If you’re under the umbrella of special education, all services are available to you,” says Nicole Norvell, director of special education services.

So there’s help for students who struggle with language-based learning disabilities, but qualifying for services can be tricky.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

At the end of her tutoring session on Sept. 13, 2012, Alex Stein reads from 'The Boxcar Children.' Her mother, Jackie Stein, says her daughter is a more enthusiastic reader after a dyslexia diagnosis prompted the family to hire a tutor.

Rosie Hickle is executive director for the Dyslexia Institute of Indiana. She’s been working with kids like Alex for 17 years. She says the signs of dyslexia — so easy for her to spot — often go unnoticed in mainstream classrooms.

“For the kids that have dyslexia, it’s not that what they’re doing in the schools is bad, it’s just that it’s confusing to them sometimes, and it goes too fast,” says Hickle.

Hickle says many kids with dyslexia are bright and engaging, so teachers don’t always notice when they start to fall behind. But oftentimes students with dyslexia aren’t learning the letters and sounds that become the building blocks of language. They’re just memorizing words … and eventually they hit a wall. They can’t read, they can’t spell, and they get frustrated.

Tutoring helps. But Jackie Stein says for parents of students with dyslexia, it’s a catch-22.

Alex doesn’t qualify for special education services because she isn’t struggling. She isn’t struggling because her parents pay for private tutoring each month.

Jackie says she sleeps better at night knowing her daughter is learning to read and keeping pace with her peers. But she also wants to see Indiana take notes from neighboring Ohio, where legislation passed last year recognizing dyslexia as a learning disability.

“Think of how it could impact test scores if they were able to look at all these kids individually and give them what they need to be able to test better, and if that includes extra time like in the case with Alex, that would be better, too,” says Jackie.

After all, she says the stakes this spring aren’t just high for her daughter … because of Indiana’s accountability rules, they’re high for Alex’s school as well.


  • Tara Tackett Bushong

    What an wesome and inspiring story. Jackie is a dear friend of mine and should be complemented for her dedication to her children. Alex and Noah are two peas in a pod. How exciting and refreshing for the Stein Family to know that they took charge of situation that could have been completely overlooked. This is what happens when you aspire for greatness rather than settle for just fine. Way to go Alex and Jackie. We are so proud of you.

  • Mark Kelley

    Dyslexia is REAL…don’t let anyone tell you otherwise…the public schools will do very little…Children need to be identified in the first week of first grade!!!!! test your child outside the system and get them help immediately..they will not outgrow it. Dyslexia is an LD. It is equally in boys and girls. 30% of the time ADHD is present as a comorbidity. Dyslexia is in 20% of the population and is on a continuum from mild to profound…Things get worse for these children by 3rd, 4th and 5th grade. Special Education Vouchers are the answer…read Overcoming Dyslexia written by Sally Shaywitz, MD Yale Medical School, 2002. It is the bible of dyslexia.. Many general education public school teachers have no clue about dyslexia…they are not trained to spot it…Best of luck to everyone. Signed, San Francisco, CA BTW, CA has no law to screen chlldren for dyslexia…several about 10 states now do this….

    • candy

      Hi, just reading your comments on Dyslexia. I live in CA and have been doing a lot of research at the moment as I have just found out my 9 year old is Dyslexic. He is in the public school system and has an IEP. Since Kinder we knew he was slow but the school said he would catch up. I originally come form the UK and my older boys were tested at first grade, this is standard. I am annoyed at myself because I just assumed that if there was clause for concern they would have done the same. I thought the IEP was suffice. I really felt he wasn’t progressing so took him out of school to have him tested. I went to the school & made them aware of the results and asked what they would do to help him. He is pulled out all day long in school, yet none of what they are doing is teaching him the basic skills he needs. They are just putting a band aid on and helping him through the curriculum. I now have him privately tutored and its costing me $1,000 per month, don’t get me wrong we do anything for our children but feel that are not doing their job. I have purchase a really good Orton Gilllingham that I work through with my son. I ask him if he does anything like this at school and he tells me no. I sits on the computer and does the Read Naturally program! Anyway I am not taking this lightly and have a meeting tomorrow with the school. I feel bad for all the other kids that are in the same situation and completely unaware. I can see how for my son middle school will be difficult. I now have 3 years as he is in 4th grade to get him up to par. Really frustrating.

  • Jeannie H. Van Allen

    As a parent of two dyslexic children, I struggled to understand why the school district denied testing for the first, and misinterpreted the test results for the second. Our second dyslexic student was first denied services because her testing indicated she was simply on the “lower end of average”; we didn’t understand what that term meant until we hired a private examiner to evaluate her results. We were told the test didn’t measure anything below the lower end of average, therefore, our child’s results placed her at the very bottom of the test’s possible results – which still did not qualify her for services. Over the years, my husband and I learned how to deal with the system and how to choose which battle to fight. Along the way we met some lovely people – from MSDWT, from the Dyslexia Institute, from Camp Delafield, from Wrights Law, and so forth. We empowered ourselves with knowledge, we hired private tutors, AND we plotted our daughter’s testing results (every three years) on a bell curve. It’s always helpful when you’re able to bring a visual to an annual IEP review – and our visual spoke volumes. Our second dyslexic student was approved for reading services, but not for any other services. The bell curve showed progress – great progress – in the language based testing, but not in other testing. I would advise any parent who feels their child has been slighted by the school system to request (or demand, as appropriate) the private testing allowable by law, and empower themselves to understand the content and results. There are countless free resources in our state, easily identifiable by a simple google search, to assist parents in becoming advocates for their dyslexic child(ren).

  • Objective Hoosier

    Dyslexia is a challenge that affects many children in our
    society. It appears that public schools have “dropped the ball”
    in regards to correctly educating these children. My question is this: what
    have private schools done to educate our dyslexic students? The conservative politicians
    who control education in Indiana believe that private schools are far superior
    to public schools. If they are correct then the private (ie religious schools)
    should be leading the way in providing the education that these students need.
    Would someone please inform me as to which private schools are doing so?

  • Mark Kelley

    To Objective Hoosier, Special Education Vouchers would enable parents to place their children in private schools that better serve their children’s needs. For example, a smaller school with smaller class sizes is extremely helpful for children with dyslexia. (IMHO, this is not a conservative/liberal debate….It has nothing to do with politics.) Children with learning differences need highly structured classrooms, were the information is repeated, appropriately paced and where the teachers check for understanding. Children with dyslexia need to be taught reading with either Barton Method, LInda-mood Bell, Orton-Gillingham or Wison Reading Method. The public schools in CA use non of these methods. Public schools work very well for 80% of the chlldren it is the other 20% that need different options. BTW, special education vouchers will cut down on costly litigation fees..Every state should have them. Right now the children in CA are left to fail. Both my sons are dyslexic and they are enrolled in private school for children with dyslexia. We pay for the tuition ourselves. Costs $32,500 per year per child. We are lucky there is only one school like this in the Bay Area and it is in our town Belmont, CA. This is a living nightmare for families and it is not fair that only the people who can afford to can get their children help. Special Ed Vouchers will help all families especially those who need it the most.

    • Karynb9

      Vouchers only help when a private school agrees to admit the student. I don’t know about California law, but private schools in Indiana who receive vouchers are still allowed to (and frequently do) deny admission to students based on special education status.

      • Mark Kelley

        What you are saying is true. However, if Special Education Vouchers were available….new private schools would start up..specifically private schools that specialize in teaching dyslexic learners. This is a hug crisis in every state. Unfortunately, you need to go outside the public school system to get any help. What they give you in public school is minimal…many offer 30 minutes twice per week…that is not enough… starting in first grade you need 2 hours per day, five days per week, 10 months per year. This effects writing as well as spelling….Indiana should follow Ohio’s lead. California does nothing and these kids fail by fifth grade…they are now full of anxiety and depression. There is no money in CA and the state is broke. Nothing will change here. I encourage you to fight for your state!!

        • Karynb9

          Vouchers in Indiana ARE currently available — whether you’re a special ed or general ed student. However, schools that agree to admit voucher students must also agree to be subject to accountability rules the state has that are based on standardized test scores. That’s enough of a “con” to keep most schools that would exist solely for special education students from opening in the first place.

  • Mark Kelley

    BTW, our local public schools dropped the ball completely. We paid for testing luckily our insurance covered it….The public schools were completely negligent and did nothing. They only act when there is an absolute crisis.

  • dyslexiamom

    Federal law recognizes dyslexia so you should not have a problem obtaining services. Failing grades are not required to show need. If she is tutored to keep up with her classmates, there is need and the tutoring should be received in school. A good advocate or attorney can make it happen. Knowing the federal law is the key.

    • Karynb9

      In Indiana, a student cannot be diagnosed with a specific learning disability unless he/she would be considered to be a “struggling student.” When Article 7 changed a few years ago as RTI became a new route to identification, it included a definition of “specific learning disability” as one that “manifests itself when the student does not achieve adequately for for the student’s age or to meet grade level standards.” If a student is performing on grade level, a diagnosis of specific learning disability is not to be made according to the state’s definition. Districts are not required to accept private evaluations. In order to get help for a child from the school district, you have to get your kid to fail first. Nice, eh?

      • Mary

        totally agree and am totally frustrated – it is a catch-22 – I helped and she worked her ass off to not fail and in doing so Indiana gets to just ignore the issue

    • Mark Kelley

      Federal Law does NOT require testing for dyslexia in kindergarten and first grade. THAT IS A FACT. It is up to the states in how they deal with it. Several states do screen for it and have special education vouchers. My state CA does absolutely nothing. These kids end up dropping out of high school or barely passing high school. Very sad, because they are of average or above average intelligence and some are gifted. Called twice exceptional or the double gift. My nephew in NYC is twice exceptional…IQ of 147, dyslexc and ADHD…He is the top student in 8th grade at an extremely famous private school in suburban CT. INDIANA fight like hell for you children with dyslexia…that is my advice…turn to Ohio for guidance…you are way ahead of us in California…signed San Francisco

  • Franchisee777

    Mark, enjoyed your post. I also live in CA and am writing a paper on what’s being done to help dyslexics in this nation. CA offers Return to Intervention, and like Indiana, we classify students with specific learning disabilities rather than test for dyslexia. Thanks for the tip on Ohio. I’m going to see what they are doing. I learned that Texas has mandated testing for dyslexia for non-readers and a mandated intervention. I’ll tell you more if you want.

    • Mom and Volunteer

      Yes, Texas law is clear on this BUT it is not implemented on the district level, districts and campus’s can make their own decisions on what constitutes appropriate interventions. Our kids are still left far behind. Until federal education policy becomes firm on what is acceptable and tied to federal money, not even well intended state laws make much difference, I can assure you. In Texas the lowest performing subgroup of all state test takers are dyslexics. This is a national issue and epidemic of failure.

  • Franchisee777

    Mark, what states require testing for dyslexia, do you know?

  • Mary

    My daughter despite my frequent pleadings to the schools has never received help from the school. Even after a family friend suggested that she may have dyslexia and I had her tested at my own expense the schools refused help and accommodations because she receives good grades – she works hard and gets tutored from the time she gets home from school until bedtime every night (she is now a senior in high school) – also I had a psychologist test her and not an MD – tired of fighting them but the state has to change and recognize this disability – and the only thing I wanted was a little extra time for standardized tests . . .
    Thank you for the Scottish Rite Masons who have tutoring programs for this special children – in one year she improved her reading level from Kindergarten to ninth grade. So sad she struggled for all those years before we found out about their great program.

  • Christie

    My son has ADD, dyslexia with a LD in comprehension. I found this article today and found it interesting. I have been begging school for help since my kids were in kindergarten, it has been a struggle. We live in Noblesville and Childrens resource group has been great for testing our kids.
    If you, as a parent, feel that your child would suffer
    unnecessary emotional stress from this testing, or would not test well, you can opt out—exempting your
    child from participating, by writing a letter to the principal. Send a copy to his
    teacher(s) and any involved resource specialist(s).

    In the letter, just state that you do NOT want your child to
    participate in the state standardized testing program. Tell the principal that
    you will either pick up your child from school during the testing times, or
    that you’ll work with your child on homework in the library.
    You do not need to
    state your reason.
    Any parent can write a letter to exempt their child from
    testing—whether or not the child has an IEP or a 504 plan.
    In most states, a school cannot test a child if a parent
    objects—in advance, and in writing.

    Write that letter today. The testing will begin very soon

  • dyslexic

    I realize I’m commenting to an older article. I’ve just learned my dyslexic son will not have his IEP requirements put into place for the ISTEP test. He will have to read the entire test himself. They tell me this is the normal for 6th grade and up. Since he is still behind three years I expect him to fail.

  • Ia Arrowood

    My daughter is 10 yrs old and she is dyslexic and she has an iep which we thought was helping her but it is doing nothing and neither are her teachers. She is in the special needs program at school and she is constantly being pulled out for other classes. She is doing second grade work right now but for the schools appearance she is classified as being in the third grade. Her school is wanting to put her in regular 4th grade classes next year with no preparation for what she will be doing. She is a very intelligent girl she just struggles with her work and her teachers are doing nothing to help. She is behind bc they do just enough to get by. We live in indiana and I am desperate for any advice on how to help my child. Can anyone help me?

    • Aaaaa

      You should take this up with the school board. I know your daughter Ia and I totally agree that school is so messed up!

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