Friday, July 31, 2015

A huge WARNING for parents when making public records request!

Next time you make a public records request (PRR) with the Seattle public schools know this:

Every PRR is recorded in the PRR log and according to Seattle public school's legal department the following rules apply to the PRR log.

The public records log is not an educational record that falls under the protection of FERPA. However, as a courtesy we can redact student names and other identifying information.

We are always looking to improve our practices, so thank you for bringing your concerns and feedback to our attention.  The two current Public Records Officers have both been employed here for less than a year, so we cannot provide detailed information or explanations about past practices. In reviewing past logs, at least five different Public Records Officers have made entries into the past PRR logs, and the standard practices appear to have changed over time.  Although the PRR log is not an educational record as defined and protected by FERPA, we do currently try to remove student identifying information that may be linked to education records from the log. It is possible that student names were overlooked when redactions were applied.

Regarding your question about a non-redacted version of the log: the answer is a bit complicated. As mentioned, the log entries have been made inconsistently over the years. In some cases, student names were entered, and in others initials or the words “redaction” or “FERPA” were entered. As such, no completely non-redacted versions of the logs exist. Because log entries have not been consistent over the years, we are currently reviewing our best practices for creating log entries. Moving forward, we will replace all student names with “student” (and replace other identifying information with generic terms), and we will work to review all past log entries to ensure they are compliant with this new best practice. This should eliminate the need for any redactions of student information to the log in the future. Again, note that this is a District protocol we have established as a courtesy to parents, not a requirement under FERPA.

In reviewing the PRR logs sent to me by SSD created over the past 2 years, I see it's very common for news agencies, bloggers, lawyers and parents to request a copy of the PRR logs. This means your students information could be AT RISK for publication and is not protected. All PRR log entries have a comment section where SSD staff can enter any information they like , including information identifying your student by name, SID or even SSN. You might want to check if your students information has been exposed. 


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Prioritize Integrated Employment

The Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities has issued DRAFT recommendations for consideration by the Secretary of Labor and Administration. These recommendations will impact, among other issues, the future of sheltered workshops and subminimum wages, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. COPAA has long called for fair wages for fair work, and systems that support individuals with significant disabilities to achieve integrated employment This committee needs to hear from individuals and organizations that support the recommendations because of push back.
Click here for more information to take action in support Fair Wages and Integrated Work Opportunities

NY COPAA, with The Center for Law and Education, The Advocacy Institute, and others sent a letter thanking the US Department of Education for it’s cogent response rejecting the New York State Education Department (NYSED) request for a waiver that would have allowed certain students with disabilities, who are not eligible to participate on the state’s alternate assessment, to be tested in a manner contrary to current law and differently from other struggling learners without disabilities. COPAA, along with our colleagues, shared with the Department our concerns that NYSED’s request to assess these students with disabilities based on their current “instructional level,” rather than their chronological age/appropriate grade level, would violate these students’ rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and their civil rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  We concur with the Department’s conclusion, clearly articulated in its June 5, 2015 letter to NYSED, stating that it is essential that the students in question be tested on grade level content so as to “ensure that teachers and parents of all students, including ELs and students with disabilities, have information on their students’ proficiency and progress in reading/language arts and mathematics.” We applaud your leadership and the clear voice with which the members of your staff spoke in uniformly rejecting the inappropriate and unjustified use of out‐of‐level testing.

What is true advocacy?

In my years of advocating for students with dyslexia, I've notice that people here in Seattle tend to only get involved with educational issues if they're directly effected. Seattleites will generously send money all over the world for various causes, but trying to get our city's residents to step up for special educational students is very difficult and at times impossible. There is a great social injustice happening right here in Seattle, but very few seem to care.
 ―Michael Christophersen  

“The weapon of the advocate is the sword of the soldier, not the dagger of the assassin.”
Alexander Cockburn

“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world...would do this, it would change the earth.”
William Faulkner

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Elie Wiesel

“..things are never as complicated as they seem. It is only our arrogance that prompts us to find unnecessarily complicated answers to simple problems.”
Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty

“I know you can't live on hope alone; but without hope, life is not worth living. So you, and you and you: you got to give them hope; you got to give them hope.”
Harvey Milk

“I spend half my time comforting the afflicated, and the other half afflicting the comfortable.”
Wess Stafford

“An idea is like a play. It needs a good producer and a good promoter even if it is a masterpiece. Otherwise the play may never open; or it may open but, for a lack of an audience, close after a week. Similarly, an idea will not move from the fringes to the mainstream simply because it is good; it must be skillfully marketed before it will actually shift people's perceptions and behavior.”
David Bornstein, How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

25 Years - The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law twenty-five years ago on July 26, 1990, to ensure the civil rights of people with disabilities. This legislation established a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities. 

Title II is part of the ADA’s “clear and comprehensive national mandate” to end discrimination against and ensure equality of opportunity for persons with disabilities.  42 U.S.C. § 12101(b)(1), (7).  At the time of the ADA’s enactment, Congress found that such discrimination persisted in virtually all aspects of American life, including in “education … and access to public services.”  See id. § 12101(a)(3).  Congress further found that the isolation and segregation of individuals with disabilities “continue[d] to be a serious and pervasive social problem.”  Id. § 12101(a)(2).  The directives of Title II, its regulations and guidance, in addition to relevant jurisprudence, demonstrate that Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against and unnecessary segregation of students with disabilities in educational settings.

To illustrate this point, a recent DOJ Letter of Findings, issued 7/15/2015, found that the State of Georgia violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by serving students with disabilities affecting behaviors in segregated schools and classrooms.  The letter states that Georgia unnecessarily segregated these students, most of whom could be served in general education settings with appropriate supports, and failed to provide them equal educational opportunities.  The students in segregated settings did not have access to curriculum incorporating state standards; were served in inferior physical facilities; and did not get to participate in extracurricular activities.

Patty Murray
Read the Letter of Findings here.  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

City charters get $100M more for special ed than they spend; debate rages in Harrisburg

Philadelphia charter schools received more than $175 million last year to educate special education students, but spent only about $77 million for that purpose, according to a Notebook analysis of state documents.


Perverse incentives

As it relates to charter schools and special education, the current funding system is laden with perverse incentives and the potential for abuse.
Under state law, charters receive the same supplement for special education students regardless of the severity of the child’s disability, a sum that is usually two to three times higher than the payment for regular education students.
The amount is based on the average of what the host district spent in the prior year. For instance, in Philadelphia this year, charters got $8,419 for each regular education student and $22,312 for each special education student.
The law does not require charters to spend their special education allotment on services for those students.
“Now charter schools have an incentive to identify kids with the lowest level of service needs and avoid those with the highest level of service needs,” said Gobreski.
And that is what’s happening. An analysis by the Education Law Center showed that in 2011-12, charter and District schools had about the same percentage of special education students. But the charters had many more students, proportionately, in the least expensive disability category – speech and language impaired – and fewer in the categories that include more severe and expensive disabilities such as autism.
“If a student is labeled special education, we pay that per-pupil amount,” said District Chief Financial Officer Matthew Stanski. “We don’t know the kind of disability. The range of disabilities in special education requires different resources.”
This pattern was repeated in other heavily charterized districts, ELC found, including Chester-Upland. There, the state’s largest brick-and-mortar charter school is managed by the for-profit management firm of Gov. Corbett’s largest single campaign contributor four years ago, Vahan Gureghian.
In that year, Chester Community Charter School enrolled 42 percent of the students in the bankrupt district, but 46 percent of the special education students – and 80 percent of those were diagnosed with the mildest, least-expensive disability.
The per-student payment for a special education student in Chester is among the highest in the state: $35,000. Because CCCS drains the mildly disabled from the district, Chester-Upland is left with a concentration of the more expensive students. That drives up the district’s average special education cost, which is then used to determine the charter schools’ payments.
On a smaller scale, the same thing is happening in Philadelphia. Despite the District’s declining revenues, the charter tuition rate for special education students has increased by 19 percent since 2011-12, while the tuition rate for regular education students has declined by 8 percent.
“The current system for funding special education assumes that charters will proportionately serve all students regardless of the level of disability,” said ELC’s David Lapp. “What exists is that the charter system, taken as a whole, is disproportionately serving students with mild or low-cost disabilities.”

Why Does Special Education Have to Be Special?

Thanks to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act passed in 1975, students who have some kind of identifiable disability that gets in the way of keeping up with their able peers, get service from special education teachers in schools throughout the United States.
While practices vary from state to state, there is some similarity as to how these services are provided. The law is well intentioned, and there is no doubt that much of what special education teachers do is helpful. However,  we spend too much money and time on bureaucratic procedures that wastes funds that could be used to pay more teachers to give more help. For example the Seattle School district recently spent over $500,000 on the services of two consulting companies, the TIERS group and SENECA family of services. 

The process that a child has to go through to become classified and therefore eligible for service creates a barrier that favors students with strong parent advocates, at the same time it leaves some poor kids who aren't quite disabled enough out of luck. 

Unlike Finland where services are provided to about half of the students at some point before they fall too far behind, we limit these kind of services to roughly 12% of the student population, and often wait until students are far behind their peers before we provide it. As an elementary school principal where 90% of the students were poor, 25% were refugees, and 20% qualified for special education services, I've seen this process close up. I have great respect for the teachers involved, but found that we spent way too much time in meetings trying to determine if a given student was classifiable rather than just helping kids who seemed to need help.

If districts would adopt evidence based curriculum and engage learning disability experts focused on student results vs paper work compliance then there's a chance the educational needs of all students could be met without increases in cost.

How Schools Are Making Big Money On 'ADD/ADHD'

"The so-called learning disorders have, sadly, become a way for
financially strapped schools to make ends meet." 
Testimony of Patti Johnson Colorado State Board of Education member 2nd Congressional District before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing entitled "Behavioral Drugs in Schools: Questions and Concerns" September 29, 2000
I have been a member of the Colorado State Board of Education for the last six years. One of my platforms when I ran for office was to empower parents in their right to direct the upbringing and education of their children.
Over the years I was contacted by a number of parents who had been pressured to put their children on various psychotropic drugs for a variety of so-called learning disorders, the most common of which was Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In some cases they were told their child would not be allowed to attend school if he did not begin taking psychotropic drugs. 
One parent who was given the option of placing her son on a stimulant drug or removing him from school elected to home school her son. She told me that it just didn t make sense that a straight A student would be labeled "learning disabled." A Douglas County parent I spoke with said she was told her son had ADHD.
What she was being told about the behavior her son supposedly exhibited and what she observed were not consistent. She investigated the matter and the school s special education director eventually admitted that she had coaxed the teacher to answer the questions of the checklist used to determine if the child had ADHD in a certain manner so her son "would get the help he needed." This infuriated her so badly she removed her son from the school.
A Jefferson County parent who contacted me said he at first complied with the school s direction to have his son take a stimulant drug. The drug caused his son to become violent, he began taking steak knives out of the kitchen and stabbing his stuffed animals. When the parent took him off the drug, the principal of the school began pressuring him to resume the stimulant -- so much pressure that the matter is now in court and the father could forfeit parental rights if he disagrees with the decision of the court on whether or not to place his child on Ritalin. Many more examples exist.
When I investigated the issue I realized that the so-called psychiatric learning disorders are an effort to "medicalize" failures in instruction and discipline at the expense of the child s well being and the rights of the parent. Some of the learning disorders listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) illustrate this point.
For example, the fourth edition lists number "315.1, Mathematics Disorder." The diagnostic criteria for this is "Mathematical ability, as measured by individually administered standardized tests, is substantially below that expected given the person s chronological age, measured intelligence, and age-appropriate education." Likewise, the diagnostic criteria for "315.2, Disorder of Written Expression" labels the child with this disorder if he scores low on written tests.
The label of ADHD is assigned if the child exhibits such symptoms as not listening when spoken to, is forgetful, fails to finish homework, fidgets, talks excessively, etc. -- the typical behavior of a normal child. Parents of children said to have these disorders are generally told that it is a neurological disorder or a chemical imbalance in the brain. Yet, at a Consensus Development Panel conducted by the National Institutes of Health on ADHD in November 1998, it was reported that "We do not have an independent, valid test for ADHD, and there are no data to indicate that ADHD is due to a brain malfunction. Further research to establish the validity of the disorder continues to be a problem. This is not unique to ADHD, but applies as well to most psychiatric disorders..."
Educators are not allowed by law to practice medicine. Yet, the adjudication a child has one of these "disorders" and should be placed on "medication" and into special education is often done by a team which includes the parent, a teacher, a social worker, a special education teacher and the principal. The above factors led me to introduce a resolution before the Colorado State Board of Education entitled "Promoting the use of academic solutions to resolve problems with behavior, attention and learning." It reminded educators that their role was to teach and urged them to refrain from advising parents on medical matters. This was passed by a vote of 6 to 1 by the Board in November 1999.
Unfortunately, financial incentives exist for schools to label children with learning disorders. Understanding these incentives requires a brief review of the laws that affect special education.
The legislation which is now the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was originally the Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975. The intent of this legislation was to ensure that children with actual physical handicaps -- sight impairment, hearing loss, etc. -- were given the public education they are entitled to. This law was reauthorized in 1990 and the name changed to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. There were few procedural changes but the term "handicapped" was changed to "disabilities." The following year a memo was issued by the US Dept. of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services which stated a child could qualify for special education if he was determined to have ADHD.
At this time, the IDEA legislation provided schools with an additional $400 per year for each child in special education. There followed a dramatic spike in the amount of methylphenidate consumed in the US. According to the DEA, the production and use of methylphenidate increased almost 6 fold between 1990 and 1995.
In IDEA as passed in 1999, the impairment category of "emotional disturbance." is defined in part to say the child has "An inability to learn that can not be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors." There is no mention of the fact that this may be due to a failure to instruct properly.
In December 1999, the Los Angeles Times reported that tens of thousands of California s special education students were placed there not because they have a serious mental or emotional handicap, but because they were never taught to read properly. Reid Lyon, head of the federal government s research efforts into reading and writing told the Times, "It is where children who weren't taught well go in many cases."
The intent of the original law, the Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975, was to ensure those with physical disabilities received a free and appropriate public education. These children are now being shortchanged because such a large percentage of special education funds are being diverted to vague psychiatric diagnoses. In 1998, 51.1 percent of special education children were in the category of "specific learning disabilities." These are the psychiatric diagnoses such as Mathematics Disorder, Disorder of Written expression and ADHD. Other disability categories also include psychiatric diagnoses. IDEA legislation also contains a "child find" provision which requires states to actively seek out any children who may qualify for special education in order to receive federal special education funds. The child find program starts at birth in Colorado. This, of course, serves to push up the numbers of children labeled with ADHD.
The so-called learning disorders have, sadly, become a way for financially strapped schools to make ends meet. In many states, schools have become authorized Medicaid providers and funds can be collected in behalf of a child labeled with one of the learning or behavior disorders. This can be such a lucrative cash cow that in a letter dated October 8, 1996, the Illinois State Board of Education strongly encouraged the superintendent of one of its districts to participate in Medicaid incentives. The letter stated that Illinois had received $72,500,000 in federal Medicaid money in 1996 and that Medicaid dollars have been used for a variety of non-medical purposes and that "the potential for the dollars is limitless."
To assist schools in identifying children to label with "learning disorders," a number of checklists are made available to schools through the ERIC (Educational Resource and Information Center) database, which is a federal clearing house for educational materials. Yet, despite the expense created by such actions, these children are not receiving the education they are entitled to. Though the standards set for special education children are often lower, their graduation rate in the 1995 -1996 year was only 28.9 percent!
To the degree educators are expected to diagnose children, they are being distracted from their main duty which is to provide our children a quality education. Our schools are the only institution entrusted to attend to the academic needs of our children and their mission must not be diluted. I urge this committee to do everything in its power to get schools out of the business of labeling children and back to the job of teaching.
Thank you. Patti Johnson Colorado State Board of Education Second Congressional District

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Grandview School District pays $1 million settlement to deaf student

Jul 7, 2015
STRITMATTER, KESSLER, WHELAN LAW FIRM NEWS RELEASE-- A school district that blamed a hearing-impaired student for not being able to learn, has settled the resulting Federal civil rights lawsuit for $1 Million.

The Grandview School District in Yakima, WA first claimed that José Garcia was at fault for not using effective hearing aids. Later the District claimed the child could not learn because he suffered a birth injury that affected his intellectual status. The District used these excuses to argue that they were not responsible for failing to educate José for the 14 years he attended classes in its schools.
But tests revealed that José had a completely normal I.Q. His hearing loss was profound and could not be cured simply through the use of hearing aids.

The District made the decision not to teach sign language to José starting in preschool. This decision was based upon the philosophy that all students should be “as oral as possible.”
The District was provided with substantial funding to fully cover José’s special education needs. But instead of using those finances to provide instruction, the District essentially warehoused José. From Kindergarten to high school, José was educated in a self-contained classroom serving students too disabled to access education in a less restrictive setting with accommodations. This meant that his classmates included nonverbal children with Downs Syndrome and Intellectual Disability.
Carol Carrothers, State Coordinator of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services for the Washington Sensory Disability Services, testified she saw no disability-based reason why José would have required a self-contained classroom at any point in his academic career.

The District has a history of not fully informing parents of their child’s academic status. Even after José’s case was brought to light, the District continued these improper practices. A state Citizen’s Complaint was filed in 2013 by the teacher’s union on behalf of numerous disabled students.
José was a quiet and shy 17 year old junior, when he was first told that he would not graduate with his class. Neither he nor his mother, who is illiterate, understood that the passing “grades” he had received on his report cards over the years, had no bearing on his actual educational achievement. Instead, his reading, writing and math skills were at the second or third grade level.
In the fall of 2009, Ms. Carrothers advised the District that she had tutored José over the summer and that he was functioning at a very low academic level. She told the District that José needed both specialized instruction and appropriate assistive technology. The District did not act on that information.

That same year, the Yakima Hearing and Speech Clinic, referred José’s mother to a non-attorney parent advocate, Sherry Mashburn. The advocate arranged a meeting with all of José’s teachers. At least one of the teachers admitted that she did not even know that José was hearing impaired. This same teacher had humiliated José by tearing his work up in front of his classmates and throwing it in the trash.

José’s plight was championed by Richland lawyer Kerri Feeney, who devotes a large part of her practice to education cases. After a three week hearing held in 2010, the administrative law judge, in a scathing opinion, found against the District and ordered it to provide six years of remedial education to José.

The District appealed this decision and a second hearing was held in Yakima County Superior Court. Judge Robert Lawrence-Berry also found that José had suffered “significant educational deprivation…over a period of several years.”

The judge upheld the administrative law order, except he reduced the remedial education from six years to four. This is believed to be the largest amount of remedial education ever ordered to be provided against a school district in this state.

Both judges condemned the District’s behavior. Not only did it fail to provide an education to José, but its staff and administrators lied in an effort to cover up its actions.

The judges determined the District withheld information from the parent in violation of federal law. The District failed to attend or conduct mandatory IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings with the parent, then attempted to cover up the failure by deliberately testifying falsely. The District’s actions were described as “cavalier.” Staff often signed IEPs as if they had participated when they did not, a clear violation of state and federal law.

The Director of Special Programs for the District, Diann Zavala, admitted in deposition that the District engaged in substantial violations of state and federal law and that even she had improperly signed off on an IEP that she had not attended.

The District appealed the Superior Court order. The Court of Appeals rejected the appeal and upheld all findings against the District.

By 2011, the District through its superintendent, Kevin Chase, still had refused to comply with the order to provide a remedial education program to José. A Citizen’s Complaint was filed with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) which determined the District was in violation of state law and issued a corrective action notice. OSPI warned the District that its federal special education funding would be withheld unless it complied. Only then did the District start to fund the remedial education program. By that time, José had lost another full year of educational opportunity.
The Courts agreed with Attorney Feeney that the District should not be entrusted to educate Jose. Instead it appointed a program manager, Dr. Wendy Marlowe PhD., who assembled a team of educators and other professionals. The District was required to pay for this rigorous program which cost approximately $250,000 for each of the four years.

The head of the school board, Paul Jepson, testified that he had never seen the orders from the administrative proceeding, the superior court proceeding, or the OSPI decision and corrective action plan. What he knew about the case he learned from the newspapers. When asked how the board ensured the District was operating in compliance with federal and state law, Mr. Jepson said he didn’t know.

The Federal Civil Rights case was filed in December 2010 by the Stritmatter law firm. Five and a half years later, the matter was settled before trial. Karen Koehler, the lead attorney says:
The District thought it could get away with what it did to José Garcia. Then, when he began to fight for his rights, they blamed him and lied to the courts in an attempt to cover up their violations of the law. This District is broken. It is shameful. It needs a complete overhaul. José has fought not only for himself, but for all of the other children who are being neglected by the District.

While the legal battle raged, José worked hard with in his intensive remedial education program. He is now in his last year and has completely disproven the District’s claim that he could not learn because of a birth injury. José now has reading, writing and math skills at a high school proficiency level. He has also learned sign language. José plans to attend trade school after obtaining his high school degree in November 2015.

1. Amended Federal Court Complaint
2. Declaration of Karen Koehler of July 2014 and all exhibits
3. Motion for summary judgment of claims for denial of benefits, discrimination and civil rights
4. Photo of José Garcia taken at his graduation ceremony in June 2015 (he was allowed to walk in the ceremony but will officially graduate at the end of his remedial program in November 2015).
This release is submitted by:
Karen Koehler
Stritmatter Kessler

Monday, July 13, 2015

Something to think about...

We do not propose to say that there shall be no rich men. We do not ask to divide the wealth. We only propose that, when one man gets more than he and his children and children's children can spend or use in their lifetimes, that then we shall say that such person has his share. That means that a few million dollars is the limit to what any one man can own."

— Huey Long, Share Our Wealth radio address, February 23, 1934

I'm for the poor man — all poor men, black and white, they all gotta have a chance.
They gotta have a home, a job, and a decent education for their children. 'Every man a king' — that's my slogan." — Huey Long (T. Harry Williams, Huey Long, p. 706

They've got a set of Republican waiters on one side and a set of Democratic waiters on the other side, but no matter which set of waiters brings you the dish, the legislative grub is all prepared in the same Wall Street kitchen."

— Huey Long, campaign speech for the re-election of Senator Hattie Caraway (D-AR), 1932 (Williams p. 589)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

5000 page views ...WOW

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to view the information I post. It means you care. Now we need to get all theses great ideas implemented. You can help by spreading the word, or link to this blog. 

More great information coming soon.

The "Write Stuff" For Preventing and Treating Disabilities

By Virginia Berninger Professor of Educational Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle

 Written language disabilities are extremely prevalent in the population of children with learning disabilities. Reading disabilities might be identified sooner than writing disabilities in many children, but writing disabilities are more persistent. Public concern and public awareness are on the rise. Now that states are expected to be accountable for students learning, and many have instituted a statewide assessment of writing competence, both educators and parents are concerned about the large number of children whose writing skills are below standard. In this educational climate, students with writing disabilities are much more likely to be noticed.

 The University of Washington research program on writing disabilities, which has been funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development since 1989, has discovered two kinds of writing disabilities. One group has initial trouble learning to read; the children respond well to instruction, but have persistent problems with writing. One of these children commented to this author, "OK, so now you cured my dyslexia; now what are you going to do about my dysgraphia?" For many other children, writing problems develop even though they learned to read quite easily. Educators or parents may mistakenly attribute specific writing disabilities to lack of motivation or effort. However, appropriate assessment often reveals one of several reasons for writing difficulty:

 a) underdeveloped spelling, handwriting or composing skills, singly or in combination;

 b) processing problems related to handwriting, spelling and composition to included orthographic or phonological coding, fine motor planning, automatic letter retrieval and production, working memory, and so forth; or,

c) attention deficit disorder. In addition, some children have simply not had a program of coordinated, explicit instruction in all the component skills needed to develop a functional writing system.

 The University of Washington research program is being conducted in three phases. In the first phase, we designed a large-scale assessment to validate the components of writing disabilities and the processes that are functionally related to each of these components. This work has provided the conceptual foundation for the Process Assessment for the Learner (PAL) test, which the Psychological Corporation is developing and norming on the same sample as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children and the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test. The PAL diagnostic will be available, along with the WIAT-II, in 2001. It will provide an improved assessment system for conducting research and doing clinical evaluations of writing disabilities.

 In the second phase of the research, we focused on early intervention to prevent writing difficulties and long-term intervention to treat serious writing disabilities. A hallmark of this phase of the research is that intervention is aimed at both low-level and high-level cognitive and linguistic skills in the same instructional session to create a functional writing system. For example, whenever handwriting or spelling is taught, children compose in the same instructional session.

 When time permits, instruction is aimed at all levels of language in the same instructional session: the subword level (phonological awareness, letter formation and orthographic awareness): the word level (multiple strategies for connecting spoken and written words while spelling); and, text level (constructing sentences and discourse). The guide recently written for parents and educators with these instructional strategies is Process Assessment for the Learner (PAL); Guides for Intervention (Berninger, 1998).

 In the third phase, we continue to evaluate instructional interventions. However, we have added projects in our Multidisciplinary Learning Disabilities Center, also funded by NICHD, that a) evaluate the effectiveness of teacher training on student learning outcomes, b) investigate the genetics of subtypes of writing disabilities, and c) image the brains of students with and without writing disabilities. The following is a brief summary of our findings to date.

 Handwriting Automaticity 

Once children have been introduced to letter formation, they must learn to retrieve and produce letters automatically. Handwriting automaticity, which is assessed by the number of letters written correctly within a brief time limit, is a strong predictor of the quality of composition in normally developing and disabled writers. If letter production is automatic, memory space is freed up for higher level composing processes, such as deciding what to write about, what to say and how to say it. Although many people believe that writing is primarily a motor process, our research supports a different point of view: writing is a written language process. The intactness of fine motor skills alone does not account for handwriting problems as much as the ability to code an identified language symbol (letter) in memory.

 To help struggling writers put letter retrieval and production on automatic pilot, we ask them to study a model letter with numbered arrow cues and then to follow those cues as they write the letter. We then ask children to write letters from memory to help them create retrieval routines. We gradually increase the time interval between when the child looks at the letter and when she tries to write it from memory. During each teaching trial, we name the letters at least three times: when children are asked to study the numbered arrow cues, when they are asked to cover each letter and when they are asked to write each letter from memory. In contrast to the practice of asking children to write similar letters over and over, we ask children to study and write all 26 letters of the alphabet in each instructional session. To avoid brain habituation, which is common when tasks do not vary sufficiently, children are usually asked to write each of the 26 letters only once in a practice session. Recycling through the alphabet might be done a second or third time, but never more than that.


 Spelling is harder to remediate than handwriting automaticity or composition. Our genetic studies have found two abilities that are most likely to be inherited are written spelling and repetition of spoken pseudo-words. When written spelling has improved significantly in children, associated improvement in pseudo-word repetition also has occurred, suggesting that the ability to process the sound structure of spoken words is common to both tasks. Several traditional approaches to word study were not sufficient for improving the spelling of children with learning difficulties, including the method of looking at the word, memorizing the letter sequence, covering the word and writing it from memory. Learning to spell requires linking the spoken word to the written word, not simply visual memorization. The following instructional strategies have resulted in significant gains in the children we study:

 1. Children need to understand that the sound structure of words is related to the structure of written words, although not always in a perfect way. Phonological awareness training should be part of spelling instruction. For one-syllable words, children can play games in which they delete or substitute sounds in words. For words with more than one syllable, students can hold up a finger for each syllable and then use colored tokens to represent phonemes in each syllable. In cases in which syllable boundaries in the spoken word vary or are ambiguous, the teacher should tell the students that the relationship between speech and print can be "messy." Students may need to be reminded that the number of phonemes is often not the same as the number of letters, because we use letter groups and patterns to represent sounds.

 2. Children need to understand that letters and letter combinations are used to translate units in the spoken word to units in the written word. Functional spelling units are usually one or two letters in size (ph, oa and ng are two-letter functional units; A Talking Letters Pictionary helps children learn the sound-letter correspondences). Consonant and vowel correspondences are taught separately, organized by the syllable types. Phoneme-spelling correspondences differ in degree of predictability (number of possibilities for the same sound) and children are taught that spelling is predictable even though the correspondences vary. Children who learned the associations for the two-letter spelling units made the most progress learning to spell and recognize words. Two other strategies were helpful: a) saying the names of the letters in the word and then saying the whole word; and, b) pairing the sounds and spellings of the onset of a syllable with the sounds and spellings of the rime part of the syllable (e.g., thr + ill).

 3. Children need repeated practice writing specific words to dictation. Exclusive reliance on incidental instruction during the "teachable moment" or use of personal dictionaries with entries for the words most commonly used in compositions is not sufficient for children at risk. A minimum of 24 practice trials, distributed over a two-month period, was needed for at-risk second graders to achieve short-term mastery of spelling specific words.

 4. Training also needs to be given for words that contain permissible alternative spelling units for a given sound that depend on a specific word context and for schwa syllables (indistinct, unaccented syllables that need to be memorized because they cannot be sounded out, such as the a's in Philadelphia).


 Self-directed journal writing is ineffective with students who lack skills for text generation. Because planning is difficult for beginning writers in general, and especially so for students with writing problems, many children need guided assistance in the form of prompts. Three kinds of prompts make planning easier: a) composition starters, b) teacher queries such as, "What else can you think of?" and, c) prompts for eliciting one of the 21 self-instruction cues we teach children that will help them generate the next sentence. Graphic organizers for both narratives and exposition are useful to help struggling writers plan what to write. Also helpful is explicit modeling of composition in which the teacher thinks aloud, using a chart or overhead transparency, while planning, generating and revising the text produced.

Children also benefit from being taught specific self-regulations strategies. Two are especially helpful. The first was suggested by Jenifer Katahira, a master teacher who specializes in integrated reading and writing instruction. Students are taught to say, "What I think I can say, what I say I can write." The teacher models this process using sound-keyword-spelling cards (Talking Letters in our program) to translate what I can say into what I can write. The students then apply the strategy on their own. The second strategy is PWRR: plan, write, review, revise, which are steps that are constantly rehearsed and reinforced. All of our composition instruction emphasizes writing for a real audience; therefore, compositions are shared with either the tutor or peers in small groups.

 Coordinating the Components of the Functional Writing System

 Many component processes need to be coordinated to write a composition, just as many instruments in the orchestra need to be synchronized to produce a symphony. We begin each lesson with a warm-up to practice handwriting and\or spelling. We liken this warm-up to the athlete who stretches before running or the musician who tunes and plays scales before performing. Handwriting and spelling are presented as tools for communicating ideas. Kris Begay, one of our tutors, puts it this way: "Training transcription skills is like giving an artist a box of paints; he needs the tools for creative work." We then focus on planning, generating, reviewing, and revising text. Our children have improved significantly in handwriting, spelling and composition when low-level transcription is transferred seamlessly to high-level composing within the same lessons.

 Much work remains to be done to ensure that writing disabilities are appropriately identified, diagnosed and treated. Our work to date suggests that writing disabilities, like reading disabilities, are to large to extent preventable, although some may require life-long treatment and accommodation.


This research has been supported by Grant Nos. 25858-09 and P50 33812-03 from NICHD. My co-investigator for the last decade has been Robert D. Abbott. The numerous other faculty and graduate students at the University of Washington and colleagues elsewhere who have contributed to this work are acknowledged in the PAL Intervention Guides (Berninger, 1998).

 About the Author: 

 Virginia Berninger is professor of educational psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA; principal investigator of NICHD grants on writing intervention, and director of a multidisciplinary learning disabilities center on biological and educational links to learning disabilities.


Berninger, V., 1998. Process Assessment for the Learner: Guides for Intervention. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation. 1-800-211-8378. (Intervention Kit contains Handwriting Automaticity Program with Composition Starters and Talking Letter teacher guide and student cards). Berninger, V., 1998. Assessment, Prevention, and Intervention for Specific Reading and Writing Disabilities in Young Children. Learning About Learning Disabilities, 2nd Edition In B. Wong, ed., New York: Academic Press, pp. 529-555. Harris, K. & Graham, S., 1992. Helping Young Writers Master the Craft: Strategy Instruction and Self-Regulation in the Writing Process. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books. Moats, L.C., 1995. Spelling: Development, Disability, and Instruction. Baltimore, MD: York Press. © Copyright 1999, The International Dyslexia Association (IDA). IDA encourages the reproduction and distribution of this article, if proper credit is given in the following manner: Reprinted with permission from The International Dyslexia Association quarterly newsletter, Perspectives, date/issue number/author. Articles must be copied/reprinted in their entirety (no edits), unless specific permission has been granted. Articles cannot be reprinted for the purpose of resale. - See more at:

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Settlement in Dyslexia Discrimination Case Shows the System at Work

June 26th 2015 By law, employers can’t discriminate against workers with disabilities. That includes learning disabilities. This May, two companies in Connecticut got the message—in the form of a lawsuit. Kevin Lebowitz has worked as a carpenter for 15 years. He has a clean safety record. And he has many safety certifications. Lebowitz also has dyslexia, which makes it very difficult for him to read printed text. In 2012, Lebowitz reported for a new construction job, he says. McPhee Electric, Ltd. was the general contractor for the job. Bond Bros., Inc. was the subcontractor. When Lebowitz arrived, he was given a packet of safety information. A safety officer from McPhee asked Lebowitz to review and sign the packet. Lebowitz told the officer he had dyslexia. He said he would need help reviewing the packet. And he offered to take it home to review. That’s when a Bond Bros. superintendent told Lebowitz that he couldn’t be hired. Why? He was told he’d be a safety hazard since he couldn’t read the safety packet. (Neither company offered him any reading accommodations.) Soon after, Lebowitz filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is the federal agency that enforces laws against workplace discrimination. That includes the Americans with Disabilities Act. The EEOC looked into Lebowitz’s claim. And it decided he had been discriminated against. So the agency filed a lawsuit against the companies in federal court. “By all accounts, Mr. Leibowitz is a skilled carpenter,” says Catherine Wan, the EEOC attorney on the case. “Dyslexia had no impact on his ability to work safely. So this was really a misconception about people with disabilities.” Lebowitz is not alone in his experience. “Complaints of workplace discrimination based on learning disabilities like dyslexia are not uncommon,” adds Justine S. Lisser, an EEOC spokesperson. According to EEOC records, there were 408 of these complaints in 2014. Lisser points to cases against companies that demoted or fired employees because of their dyslexia. In Lebowitz’s case, the result was a settlement. This May, the two companies agreed to pay him $120,000 in damages. They also promised to make changes at the companies. One major change: Providing training about discrimination and reasonable accommodations for new and current employees. The companies also agreed to post related information at worksites. And they’ll change their employee handbooks. The two companies declined to comment to Understood about the settlement. “We are pleased that McPhee and Bond worked with us to resolve this lawsuit,” says Wan. “Trainings, notices and other measures—we think these will be effective in raising awareness. Disability discrimination violates the law.”

Thursday, July 2, 2015

dyslexia and depression the hidden sorrow

 (Except from 'Dyslexia and Depression: The Hidden Sorrow)

According to The National Institute of Mental Health (2008b) Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that some people develop after seeing or living through an event that caused or threatened serious harm or death. Symptoms include flashbacks or bad dreams, emotional numbness, intense guilt or worry, angry outbursts, feeling “on edge,” or avoiding thoughts and situations that remind them of the trauma. In PTSD, these symptoms last at least one month and can be a contributing condition to depression. The DSM-IV diagnostic criteria are indicated in Figure 15.

The ‘stressor’ from the traumatic event consists of two parts, both of which must apply for a diagnosis of PTSD. The first requires that ‘the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others. The second requires that ‘the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror.’ According to The UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists (2005) many people with PTSD feel grief-stricken, depressed, anxious, guilty and angry after a traumatic experience. As well as these understandable emotional reactions, there are three main types of symptoms or manifestations produced by such an experience as indicated in Figure 16.

The advantages of using a biographical study such as this, is the ability to ask adults about their childhood and their long-term reactions. PTSD is one such expression of reactions and denotes emotional responses to feared stimulus. In this study, school and returning to school for ones child’s education is the feared stimulus and suggests that such a fear is a long-term effect of trauma from their own time at school, from trauma delivered by teachers, especially in mainstream education.

Table 37 investigated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) amongst this sample. Overall 65% of the sample felt they experienced symptoms of PTSD, with males experiencing these feelings more than females (64% to 56%) and depressives more than non-depressives (64% to 43%). There was no difference to the frequency of PTSD amongst depressives with and without a degree (64%), however there were gender differences with higher PTSD amongst depressive males to females (71% to 60%) and higher PTSD amongst non-depressive males to females (50% to 33%).

The study found that PTSD was triggered by four main types of stimuli (smell, pictures, small chairs and shouting) and there were two main manifestations (anxiety and feeling helpless).

Of the four stimuli, smell was overall the highest cause of PTSD at 23% which was higher amongst males to females (36% to 11%) and higher amongst depressives to non-depressives (23% to 14%) and degree educated depressives (27% to 18%). Smell was a much higher stimuli with depressives males to females (43% to 13%) and non-depressives males to females (25% to 0%).

Smell is one of the main senses to humans and is a powerful source of data to the human brain. The smell of school can vary from the strong sickly floor cleaner used, plastercine and to the aroma of lunch that drifted through open plan schools. Fro the interview evidence, the smell triggered anxiety and caused them apprehension.

The second emotive stimuli was seeing small chairs used in school, this was felt by 15% in the overall sample to trigger PTSD. Males tended to be triggered more than females (18% to 11%) with depressives and non-depressives scoring to similar levels (14%), however it was much higher amongst degree educated depressives to those without a degree (27% to 0%). With the gender data, chairs triggered PTSD more in depressive males to females (14% to 13%) and non-depressive males to females (25% to 0%).

From the interview data one understands that the vision of the small chairs at school triggers not only feelings of being small, but triggers inferior feelings and feelings of being victimised by others especially teachers. Being small, weak and vulnerable, describes how many dyslexics view their primary school. They were vulnerable to humiliation and were powerless or helpless to change the fact or to advocate for themselves.

The third stimuli is the sight of pictures and paintings put up into wall, overall only 8% said that this triggered PTSD, with this being higher amongst males to females (18% to 0%), higher in depressives over non-depressives (9% to 0%) and higher amongst degree-educated depressives to those without a degree (18% to 0%). The gender data suggests that this is very much a depressive male stimuli, with higher depressive male to female frequencies (29% to 0%).

The interview evidence suggests that pictures on the walls of the classroom and hallways of the school triggers PTSD reactions of inferiority and public comparison with peers. Malcolm noted in his interview  that his teachers faked his work and didn’t display the real work as it was rubbish in the eyes of the teacher and would have reflected badly on the school. Others like Norman noted that pictures triggered PTSD because their work was never worthy of display.

Of the manifestations were found (in Figure 00) the highest was ‘anxiety’ with 54% of the whole sample noting this, with higher anxiety amongst males to females (55% to 44%), higher amongst depressives to non-depressives (50% to 43%) and higher amongst degree educated to non-degree educated depressives (64% to 36%). Again higher male frequencies were found amongst depressive males to females (57% to 47%) and non-depressive males to females (50% to 33%). Anxiety seems to be very much a depressive male manifestation.

The second manifestation is ‘feeling a child again’, explained as feeling small, weak and helpless. 46% of the whole sample experienced this going back into schools, with higher manifestations amongst females to males (50% to 27%), higher with depressives to non-depressives (46% to 29%) and higher with non-degree educated to degree-educated depressives (55% to 36%). With the gender data, higher frequencies were found for depressive females to males (60% to 14%) and for non-depressive males to females (50% to 0%).

The interview evidence suggests that many dyslexics go into child mode whenever they are around teachers, as one noted that it was as if the last twenty years had never happened, they transformed back to a child even though they were an adult with a degree. Even Lara who teaches in schools, feels a little girl again, withdrawn and in detention whenever she needs to sit outside the headmasters office before meetings and she has been teaching for years in various schools. As Rachel notes she has these same belittling feelings with doctors and another medical staff, a feeling of not being worthy and that others are more intelligent than she is.

‘Post-traumatic stress disorder’ (PTSD) in dyslexics can come from various factors, these include: the sudden exclusion from their peer group; intense anger from a teacher or parent, physical bullying at school; realisation that something unrecognisable is wrong (maybe realising that they are not normal or do not learn normally, being called stupid, lazy etc). There are two forms of PTSD, which Scott (2004) suggest dyslexics suffer. The first is Type 1 (an acute, single-impact traumatic event) and Type 2 or complex PTSD (a series of traumatic events or prolonged exposure to a stress or stressor), both are listed in the DSM-IV (APA, 1994). PTSD is a widely researched aspect of psychology (see Rose, 2002; Stallard, Karwit and Wasik, 1999 for reviews). PTSD is categorised by being the sudden and irrevocable perceptive change of the world from one that is safe and predictable to one that is dangerous and random. Individuals are as traumatised as if they had been in a major car crash. The behavioural effects of PTSD come from repetitive and intrusive thoughts and can be triggered by vision, sound and smell (as noted by Miles and Varma, 1995; Riddick et al, 1999). Yule, Bolton, Udwin, Boyle, O’Ryan and Nurrish (2000) found only 25% of PTSD sufferers had recovered after five years, 33% after eight years and 59% warranted a lifetime diagnosis.

Whilst Perrin, Smith and Yule (2000) note correlations between a sufferer with PTSD with concentration, memory and reading problems, it is unclear if the PTSD caused such difficulties or whether they were there before, a ‘chicken and egg scenario’. Tsui (1990) suggests that PTSD is related to academic performance and that the PTSD was the cause. Scott (2004) suggests this is not clear cut and that the PTSD might have been caused by the secondary effects of having dyslexia, a view this author supports.

The second theory presented by Scott (2004, p.164) is that of ‘daily hassles’, an opposite concept of PTSD, in that the stress of daily inconveniences are ‘even more perilous in the stress lexicon than major life events’. As noted by Lu (1991), Lazaraus (1984), Chamberlain and Zika (1990) the risk of persistent hassles that are endlessly present in the sufferers life are a powerful predictor of psychological distress and has been likened to ‘living permanently in a cloud of small, biting mosquitoes’ (Scott, 2004 p 164). Morgan and Klein (2000) observed that even adults with minor dyslexic symptoms are placed under extra stress from the constant effort needed to perform ordinary, daily tasks such as reading instructions to understanding conversations. To support such a concept, Winkley (1996) asked dyslexics at junior school to rank the most stressful things that they can think of, 12 of the 16 stressors mentioned are related to the experience of being dyslexic (getting lost, being left alone, being ridiculed in class, tests and examinations, breaking or losing things, being different, performing in public). Harrison (1995, p. 116) herself a dyslexic, suffered high levels of stress in her own life, in work with a group of PTSD sufferers she noticed ‘the similarities struck me; although I realise they are not as extreme for me. The social dysfunctionality also is, in them exaggerated, but nevertheless comparable to my own experiences and those I have known with other dyslexics’.

TAKE Action NOW to Support Strong Accountability for Students

Chairman Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Murray (D-WA) have been working to craft a bi-partisan bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  The Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177) was approved by the HELP Committee in late April.  The bill contains significant improvements for students with disabilities from the original draft partisan draft that was released in January.  These include maintaining the 1% cap on the use of alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, annual assessments of all students in grades 3-8 and once in high school in reading and math, prohibition on states developing additional alternate or modified standards for students with disabilities, and requiring that students with disabilities are involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum so that they have a better chance to graduate with a regular diploma.
However, the current reauthorization of the Senate ESEA bill, the Every Child Achieves Act, betrays the law’s rich civil rights legacy and would actually weaken protections for the students it’s intended to serve. And the House’s proposal is abhorrent and would be an unmitigated disaster for vulnerable students.
We know that the Every Child Achieves Act can be improved on the Senate floor with four fixes that would expand opportunities, resources, and outcomes for all students. 
As Senators head home for the 4th of July holiday (June 29-July 6), drop by their offices and share your concerns with them about the education bill. Give them our letter urging the U.S Senate to include four key fixes (see below) to the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA – S. 1177).
Or Call 202-224-3121 and ask for your Senators and urge them to support the subgroup accountability amendment.
Talking Points you Can Use
To ensure equal opportunity in education for all children, the Every Child Achieves Act must be fixed by: 
  • Strengthening accountability for student outcomes; including requiring action when groups of students,including students with disabilities, are not meeting state standards.

  • Providing additional data on student subgroups and requiring action if they lag behind or fail to meet state standards. The current Senate proposal lets schools and districts off the hook from narrowing the massive gaps in opportunity and achievement for students of color, students with disabilities, Native students, low-income students, and English learners. Ensuring a level playing field in education should be America’s number one priority to ensure a strong and vibrant future.

  •  Addressing disparities in resources - ESEA must require states to intervene to correct the massive resource disparities that plague our nation’s schools. Districts that predominately serve students of color receive approximately $2,000 less per student than districts that predominately serve White students. This leads to our students being taught in substandard facilities by underqualified teachers using old textbooks and outdated technology.

  • Providing a more meaningful federal role in education. The Senate proposal strips the Department of Education of its authority to hold states and districts accountable for the federal money they receive. There must be accountability to make sure that funds serve the students who most need it and that the law is executed consistent with Congress’ intent.

Please take action now. As early as the week of July 6, the U.S. Senate could consider this bill to update – or reauthorize – the ESEA. It’s up to us to ensure that the Senate protects equal educational opportunities for all children by passing a reauthorized ESEA with these four important fixes.