My child is a struggling reader. Should I get him tested to rule out learning disabilities?

Dear Teacher,

My child is in second grade and reading has always been difficult for him. He was barely on grade level in kindergarten and first grade and now is below in reading, despite all the support he is receiving. His teacher is differentiating in the classroom, and I also work with him at home.  His school uses MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support) and he is currently receiving a Tier II intervention. I am well aware of the academic areas being addressed, the specific interventions and how progress is being monitored. Nothing has changed.  He is still barely keeping his head above water, and now I feel he’s starting to sink fast. As a parent, I have worked collaboratively with his teachers on this issue since he started school, but my child continues to struggle. By the way, I am not blaming any of his teachers.  They have all been exceptional, and he is lucky to have them.  I just feel he needs more.   At this point, I’m thinking about hiring a tutor. If you were me what would you do?

Dear Parent,

If I were you, I would request (in writing) to have my child tested to rule out learning disabilities.  I would also hire a tutor.  Based on your letter it sounds like your child is being served within a specific framework to help students who are struggling academically.  This educational model is called (MTSS) Multi-Tiered System of Support.  MTSS involves three tiers.  The first tier involves instruction and support for all students.  The second tier serves students who need additional support, and the last tier is for students who require intensive support.  The support your child has been receiving has probably helped him stay on grade level up until this point.  Unfortunately, even with the best parents, teachers and interventions, some students continue to struggle. I am a firm believer in early intervention, and regardless of all the positive factors associated with MTSS, I don’t believe a child should struggle for a prolonged period of time in order to be formally tested.  Of course, nothing is set in stone, and there are many arguments that can be made on both sides of this issue. Hiring a tutor would also be beneficial.  Working one on one will allow for individualized instruction to an even greater degree.  A qualified tutor will be able to reinforce strategies, skills, confidence and ultimately build a strong academic foundation that will help your child succeed.

If you decide all options have been exhausted and you want your child tested as soon as possible make your intentions known by writing a formal letter.  Make sure it is directed to the (1) principal and send copies to (2) your child’s teacher and (3) the school psychologist as well.  All these individuals need to be in the loop.  You may also include other teachers and educational support specialists who work with your child. Secondly, include documentation such as the (1) interventions and strategies (2) time frames (3) report cards and anything else that you consider relevant regarding your request for more in-depth testing.

Early intervention provides “a window of opportunity” to fix little problems before they become big ones.  At the very least, if you know why your child is struggling you can work with your child’s teachers to put together a more specialized plan of action. MTSS focuses on external factors such as the (1) curriculum (2) learning environment and (3) quality instruction.  The fact that your child has struggled for three consecutive years, in spite of having great teachers, a positive learning environment, along with interventions and strategies is a red flag.  His continued struggles as a beginning reader, suggest to me that formal testing should commence immediately. Even assuming he doesn’t have a learning disability, formalized comprehensive testing will shed additional light on his strengths and weaknesses.  This, in turn, will provide insight on how to better meet his academic needs and adjust instruction accordingly.


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