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We have a third grader at Northrop. He’s had reading difficulties since first grade. We finally got him tested at Groves this summer and is now paying a private tutor to fill in all the foundational gaps using Orton Gillingham. And it’s working. But our family has been very frustrated with how our very smart kid cannot read at grade level. We know we are in a very fortunate situation that we can afford to pay for services to help our son. And we know how to look for help. But many families cannot. Another thing that’s frustrating for us is that our son can manage well enough that he will not likely qualify for school-based services. So he will just kind of fall through the crack unless us parents advocate for him. He now has a 504 plan for his reading difficulties and ADHD. But we feel like we cannot rely on the school to help get his reading level up. We have to go the private route. It feels conflicting because most of his teachers have been wonderful. But they only have so much time for all the 25-27 kids in the classroom. We’ve been very surprised there’s not more reading aids in each classroom to provide small group, differentiated help.
"He'll catch up" they said.
Our son attends a SW Mpls elementary school that most people say is "great." Yet when I say, "not so much, we had to pay thousands of dollars to teach him to read," then other parents chime in with their stories. In conversation after conversation, it's the same pattern. The child isn't reading at level, the teacher (or multiple teachers in successive grades) says not to worry, a volunteer comes in to spend extra time with the child and ... nothing! So parents talk to other parents, go online, find resources, and if they can afford it, then their child will learn to read. In our case, it's not dyslexia, it was simply a processing issue. Through phonics-based, basic exercises at Lindamood-Bell, he learned to read. We are not an isolated case and the solution wasn't anything fancy. Why did we have to go outside the school to find basic phonics instruction?
My son is now in 8th grade at [a SW middle school]. When he was in elementary school at Lyndale, he almost immediately fell behind in reading right out of the gate. It was suggested to me that he needed more practice and possibly had ADHD. He worked with a reading specialist in third grade and was typically with a reading corp student also. During all of this, his reading never improved and he was frequently getting in trouble for classroom behavior. Not one person suggested dyslexia. We took him to Frasier in 4th grade to have him evaluated for ADHD and they diagnosed dyslexia.
I was floored but when I researched it, it made perfect sense. He started working with a private OG tutor and that helped immensely. After he was diagnosed, my husband and I met with the principal at the time and asked what they are doing for other kids. For our son to go through that many years of struggling and not have a single person suggest dyslexia was frustrating.
What about the other kids who were undiagnosed and not getting the right support? Kids who were just getting flagged as "troublemakers" in class because they couldn't keep up with the reading assignments. I realize how fortunate we are that I could pay to get him diagnosed and pay for a tutor. What about the kids who can't have that? Having a 504 and the OG support has been huge in his success in middle school. It saddens and frustrates me to think of all the kids who are struggling with this without support.
I am the parent of 3 MPS students, including a son with dyslexia and dysgraphia. I am a volunteer at and have served on numerous committees at Burroughs Elementary and North High School.
In 6 years as an MPS parent and volunteer, watching 3 children be taught to read, I’ve been struck by the differences and disparities in how literacy is approached and taught. My 3 children had vastly different classroom experiences, highlighting the implementation problems with the current literacy curriculum. My son struggled from day one to identify letter names and sounds, and to memorize and recognize “sight words”. He went to the first day of kindergarten excited and eager; but within weeks, he cried every single day at drop off. When I raised concerns about his letter skills in his fall conference, I was basically told to “chill out”. When I voiced concern at his spring conference about his lack of progress, the conversation drifted to my son’s struggles to stay engaged in class. These two things were obviously and inextricably linked. My son entered first grade reading at a beginning kindergarten level, but the “cueing” he’d learned helped him “fake it”. Kids like my son, with specific learning challenges, are so smart and so incredibly savvy. My son faked his way through 1st grade while I continued asking his teacher if she thought everything was ok. She assured me he was – “all kids learn to read at their own speed”. But my son watched, perceptive as always, as his peers developed skills he couldn’t mimic or fake. The first time my son said to me “Mommy, I think I’m stupid” was after school on a snowy December day in 2018. My son entered 2nd grade still reading at a beginning kindergarten level. Finally in his fall conference, his teacher – who will always have a special place in our family’s hearts – said what I’d been waiting, practically pleading to hear: something was wrong. She highlighted the vast discrepancy between my son’s scores in the Math portion of his FAST test and the reading portion (a more than 85 point gap). She said she thought J was dyslexic and explained his struggles to identify letters and letter sounds. She recommended we seek a private assessment for J – “It will take too long for MPS to assess him, and they wont diagnose the problem, so you’ll have to do it privately”. My heart immediately sank when I heard this – my time at North H.S. has given me a glimpse into the absolute horrors that occur in our public schools when parent wealth isn’t available to bail kids out. Our son was diagnosed in Dec. 2019 and started OG tutoring in January 2020. He has made incredible progress. But just as importantly, Jack had a “story” to tell himself other than that he was stupid. I saw how the knowledge that his brain simply works differently empowered him. I saw him find the words to tell his teacher when something didn’t make sense, and to ask for help with things like reading instructions aloud. I saw him go from a 2nd grader who begged every single day not to go to school, to a 3rd grader with confidence. But this growth was enabled purely by privilege – privilege too many kids in MPS don’t enjoy. J has been given the tools to fight his fight, and he’s doing it with grit and grace. I’m writing this letter, I’m making good trouble around MPS’s “balanced literacy” curriculum, and asking hard questions related to the implementation plans for the State’s dyslexia screening requirement, for all the other “J”s being left behind by public schools that can and should do better. MPS has the opportunity and the obligation to provide better tools for everyone involved: students, teachers, caregivers will benefit if we can return to a literacy curriculum grounded in the science of reading, better identify struggling readers, and give those with a specific learning disability a different “story” to explain their struggles and a proven, effective path forward. Not all struggling readers are dyslexic, but the curriculum piece, and other improvements to core literacy instruction, will benefit every single student in our classrooms. I’ve seen the overwhelming data highlighting “the problem” – it goes far beyond identifying students who potentially have dyslexia. And I hope MPS will approach this with the sense of urgency it deserves.
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