Myth and Misunderstanding in Special Education

A Brief Overview

  • Everyone has moments when they hear something and pause to wonder, Is that true? This article and its companion videos describe some special education topics that may be misunderstood. Included is an explanation of what is fact.
  • Topics relate to special education eligibility, placement, support personnel, bullying, student discipline, and more.
  • Read on to see if there are things you haven’t quite understood about your student’s rights or educational services. PAVE hopes to empower families with information to make sure students with disabilities have their best chance for an appropriate and meaningful education.
  • The final myth described in this article is that PAVE provides advocacy on behalf of families—we don’t! But we can help you learn to be your child’s most important advocate. Click Get Help at to request 1:1 assistance.

Full Article

Everyone has moments when they hear something and pause to wonder, Is that true?

Parents/caregivers in meetings with their child’s school can feel particularly confused when something doesn’t sound right. They might wonder whether it’s appropriate to question school authorities. They might not understand all the words being spoken. Fear of not knowing something can make it uncomfortable to speak up.

At PAVE, we encourage families to ask questions and make sure they understand the words school staff use. Ask for important answers in writing, and plan to research explanations that are confusing.

For example, if you ask for something and the school says no because of a law or policy, ask for a written copy of the relevant parts of that law or policy. Try to understand the school’s reason for saying no. Write down what you understand and send a reflective email to school staff to make sure you understand their position correctly.

Having everything in writing is important, especially if filing a complaint is a possible next step.

This article describes myths and misunderstandings some people might experience when navigating school-based services for students with disabilities. These topics apply to students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), students with Section 504 Plans, and students with possible disability conditions impacting their educational access.

Parent Participation

MYTH: The school must hold a meeting without a parent if the parent is unavailable before an annual renewal deadline because the student’s IEP, 504 Plan, or eligibility will expire or lapse.
FACT: Parent participation is a higher priority than deadlines. Schools are required to accommodate parents/caregivers to ensure their attendance and participation at meetings where their child’s special education services are discussed. Those rights are affirmed in a court decision from 2013: Doug C. Versus Hawaii. If a meeting is delayed because a family member is temporarily unavailable because of illness, work, travel, or something else, services continue uninterrupted until the meeting. PAVE provies an article: Parent Participation in Special Education Process is a Priority Under Federal Law.


MYTH: The school is not required to evaluate a student who gets passing grades.
FACT: If there is a known or suspected disability condition that may be significantly impacting a student’s access to any part of their education—academic, social-emotional, behavioral, or something else—then the school district is responsible under Child Find to evaluate the student to determine eligibility for services and support. Child Find is an aspect of federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

MYTH: Section 504 doesn’t apply for a student without a plan or program.
FACT: Section 504, which is part of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, includes protections for students with suspected or known disability conditions that warrant evaluation. For example, if a student consistently misses school for reasons that may be connected to disability, the school may be accountable under the civil rights protections of Section 504 if an evaluation referral isn’t initiated.

MYTH: Section 504 eligibility does not involve an evaluation.
FACT: An evaluation process is required to determine whether a student has a disability condition impacting a major life activity. That evaluation process may include a review of grades, test scores, attendance, health room visits, parent and student input, teacher observations, medical or psychological evaluations, special education data, medical information, and more. If the student meets criteria, evaluation documents are used to support the design of accommodations and other individualized supports to ensure equity. The state provides a family-friendly handout, downloadable in multiple languages, to describe 504 eligibility, evaluation process, plan development, and civil rights complaint options.

Medical Diagnosis

MYTH: A student cannot be identified as eligible for services under the autism category unless they have a medical diagnosis of autism.
FACT: If there is a suspected disability condition and reason to believe there is a significant educational impact, the school is responsible under Child Find to evaluate the student to determine eligibility for services. Schools have evaluation tools to determine characteristics of autism, its possible educational impacts, and student needs. Medical information might help an IEP team design interventions, but families are not required to share medical information with the school, a medical diagnosis is not required, and doctors may not “prescribe” an IEP.


MYTH: Special Education is a location within the school.
FACT: Special Education is a Service, Not a Place, and PAVE provides an article by that title to further explain a student’s right to educational services in general education—the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)—to the maximum extent appropriate.

MYTH: The school district is in charge of placement decisions.
FACT: The IEP team determines a student’s placement. If placement in general education, with support, is not meeting the student’s needs, the IEP team is responsible to locate or design a placement that best supports the student in accessing their Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Placement might be general education, a segregated classroom setting where special education services are provided, day treatment, alternative learning environment, residential, home-based, something else, or a combination of any of these options. Once an IEP team designs a placement, the school district has some leverage in choosing a location. For example, if an elementary-age student who is struggling to read needs individualized services from a reading specialist, the district might bus them to a school in another neighborhood where a specially trained teacher provides reading instruction in a smaller classroom. The district doesn’t have to offer every placement or service within every building, but it does need to serve the IEP as written by the IEP team.

MYTH: Preschool IEPs are not required to serve students in the Least Restrictive Environment to the maximum extent appropriate.
FACT: An IEP is required to serve a student with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), to the maximum extent appropriate, regardless of age or grade level. WAC 392-172A-02050 provides specific language about state requirements for LRE, including for preschool students.

Adult Aids at School

MYTH: A 1:1 creates a “restrictive environment” for a special education student.
FACT: Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) refers to placement. A helper is an aid, not a placement. Supplementary aids and services, including 1:1 support from an adult staff member, may support access to the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for some students. If having a 1:1 enables a student to appropriately access learning in the general education setting, then that support is provided to ensure FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education). FAPE within LRE is required by federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

MYTH: Support personnel should regularly rotate in their roles to ensure a student does not become “dependent” on specific individuals or relationships.
FACT: Healthy interpersonal relationships enable humans of any age to feel safe and secure. Because of the way our brains work, a person doesn’t learn well when a fight/flight nervous system response is activated. Connecting to trusted adults and receiving consistent help from safe, supportive people enhances learning. PAVE provides a collection of articles about Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Washington State’s SEL Standards.

Section 504

MYTH: A 504 Plan is a watered down IEP.
Section 504 is part of a civil rights law called the Rehabilitation Act, passed by the US Congress in 1973. The anti-discrimination protections of Section 504 apply to any person identified as having a disability condition that impacts their life in a significant way. Public agencies, including schools, are responsible to provide individualized accommodations and support to enable the person with a disability to access the service, program, or building in a way that affords them an equitable chance to benefit from the opportunity. A 504 Plan at school ensures the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Section 504 FAPE rights are upheld by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. PAVE provides a video series: Student Rights, IEP, Section 504 and More.

MYTH: Section 504 doesn’t apply to a student with an IEP
FACT: Section 504 protections apply to students with IEPs and those with Section 504 Plans. The civil rights protections of Section 504 are threaded throughout the IEP, especially within sections that describe accommodations and modifications. Section 504 includes specific provisions to ensure students are not discriminated against within student discipline, by unmitigated bullying, or through denial of support that is needed for access to what non-disabled students access without support. All aspects of school are protected, including athletic events, field trips, enrichment activities, specialized learning academies, and more—everything the school is offering to all students. PAVE provides a comprehensive article about Section 504 and its protections for all students with disabilities.

MYTH: If the student has found ways to cope with their disability, they don’t need support.
FACT: Section 504 forbids schools from using “mitigating measures” to justify denial of evaluation or support. A mitigating measure is a coping mechanism—for example, a deaf student who reads lips or a student with an attention deficit whose symptoms are improved by medication. PAVE’s article about Section 504 provides more detail about mitigating measures.


MYTH: The best way to help a student with a disability who is being bullied is to remove them from the bully’s classroom.
FACT: Section 504 protects a student with disabilities in their right to be protected from bullying. That means the school must stop the bullying and support the victim to feel safe again. Schools may not punish or disadvantage the victim. OCR says: “Any remedy should not burden the student who has been bullied.” PAVE provides a video: Bullying at School: Key Points for Families and Students with Disabilities.

MYTH: An informal conversation is the best way to address bullying.
FACT: The best way to hold a school accountable to stop bullying and support the victim is to file a formal HIB Complaint. HIB stands for Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying. Washington State’s 2019 Legislature passed a law that requires school districts to write formal HIB policies and appoint a HIB Compliance Officer to spread awareness and uphold the laws. Families can contact their district’s HIB Compliance Officer for support with a complaint and to ensure student civil rights are upheld.

IEP Goals and Process

MYTH: An IEP provides education to a student with a disability.
FACT: An IEP is not the student’s education. An IEP provides educational services to enable a student to access their education. IEP goals target areas of learning that need support in order for the student to move toward grade-level curriculum and learning standards. Included are services for academics, adaptive skills, social-emotional skills, behavior—all areas of learning that are impacted by disability.

MYTH: If an IEP team agrees to change something about a student’s services or placement, the team must submit that idea to the district for approval or denial.
FACT: An IEP team has decision-making authority. The team is required to include a person knowledgeable about district resources (WAC 392-172A-03095) so decisions about program and placement can be made at the meeting. If a required IEP team member is not in attendance, the family participant must sign consent for the absence. The family can request a new meeting because a key team member, such as a district representative, is missing. PAVE provides more information and a Sample Letter to Request an IEP meeting.

Behavior and Discipline

MYTH: A Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) is used to figure out how to discipline a student more effectively.
FACT: An FBA is an evaluation focused on behavior. It helps IEP teams understand the needs behind the student’s behavior. A Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) is built from the FBA to provide positive behavioral supports, teach new or missing skills, and reduce the need for discipline. PAVE provides a video about the FBA/BIP process.

MYTH: A school isn’t responsible to track exclusionary discipline if a parent agrees to take the child home and no paperwork is filed when the school calls to report a behavior incident.
FACT: “Off books” or informal suspensions count as exclusionary discipline for students with disabilities. If a student with a disability misses more than 10 cumulative days of school because of their behavior, the school is responsible to hold a manifestation determination meeting to decide whether the behaviors are directly connected to the disability and whether school staff are following the IEP and/or behavior plan. If services or placement need to change, this formal meeting is a key opportunity to make those changes. PAVE provides a video: Discipline and Disability Rights: What to do if Your Child is Being Sent Home.


MYTH: A parent or provider who visits school to support or evaluate an individual student is violating the privacy rights of other students just by being there.
FACT: Federal laws protect private medical or educational records. Visiting a classroom or other school space should not expose student records for inappropriate viewing. The Department of Education provides a website page called Protecting Student Privacy to share resources and technical assistance on topics related to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The confidentiality of medical records is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Understanding HIPAA and FERPA can help parents /caregivers ask their school for documented explanations whenever these laws are cited as reasons for a request being denied.


MYTH: Schools cannot provide individualized instruction in reading through a student’s IEP unless the student is diagnosed by a medical provider as having dyslexia.
FACT: No medical diagnosis is needed for a school to evaluate a student for any suspected disability that may impact access to learning and school. An educational evaluation might show that a student has a Specific Learning Disability in reading, with characteristics of dyslexia. When a disability that impacts education is identified through evaluation, the school is responsible to provide services to meet the identified needs and enable appropriate progress. PAVE provides an article: Dyslexia Screening and Interventions: State Requirements and Resources and a video: Supporting Literacy for Students with Learning Disabilities.


MYTH: The school has to withhold credits for a student to receive services beyond a traditional senior year.
FACT: Credits do not need to be withheld, and a student doesn’t automatically earn a diploma by reaching the required number of credits. The IEP team determines the target graduation date for a student receiving services through an IEP and how transition programming for a student ages 18-21 might support learning and life planning. Receiving the required number of credits is only part of what a student needs to earn a diploma, and the IEP team individualizes a plan for the student with a disability to earn their diploma within the state’s options for graduation pathways. PAVE provides a Toolkit for life after high school planning.

Private School and Home School

MYTH: Public schools do not have to do anything for students with disabilities who are home schooled or enrolled in private schools by parent choice.
FACT: Child Find applies to all students with known or suspected disabilities who live within a district’s boundaries, including those who are home schooled or enrolled in private schools. Child Find means the public district is responsible to seek out and evaluate all students with known or suspected disabilities. If the student is found eligible for services, parents/caregivers can choose to enroll the student in the public school to receive special education services, even if the primary educational setting is a private or home placement. If the student is fully educated in the private setting, by parent choice, the private school provides equitable services.

Parent Support from PAVE

MYTH: PAVE gives the best advice and advocates on behalf of families.
FACT: PAVE does not give legal advice or provide advocacy. We support families in their work.  Staff from our Parent Training and Information (PTI) program provide information and resources to empower family advocates. Our goal is to ensure that family advocates have knowledge, understand options, and possess tools they need to work with schools to ensure that student rights are upheld and the needs of students with disabilities are met. Click Get Help at to request 1:1 assistance. Help us help you by reading your student’s educational documents and having those documents handy when you connect with us!

Dyslexia Screening and Interventions: State Requirements and Resources

A Brief Overview

  • Washington passed a law in 2018 requiring schools to screen young children for the indicators of weaknesses associated with dyslexia and support literacy across all grades. The law took effect in the 2021-22 school year.
  • Dyslexia is a Specific Learning Disability. Students with learning disabilities are eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) if they demonstrate a need for Specially Designed Instruction (SDI). SDI is key when a student isn’t keeping up with grade-level work and standard teaching strategies aren’t working.
  • The Revised Code of Washington (RCW 320.260) requires schools to support literacy with “multi-tiered” programming. That means schools provide different levels of help for all students who need it, regardless of special education eligibility.
  • The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) supports a library of screening tools and best practices. Included are handouts for families in multiple languages.
  • PAVE provides a video: Supporting Literacy for Students with Learning Disabilities.

Full Article

A child who struggles to read can quickly fall behind in school. Nearly every academic area includes some reading, and children might become confused or frustrated when they don’t get help to make sense of their schoolwork. Behavior challenges can result, and sometimes schools and parents struggle to understand why the student is having a hard time.

Washington State requires dyslexia screenings and interventions. Lawmakers in 2018 passed Senate Bill 6162 to require schools to assess children from kindergarten through second grade using state-recommended literacy screening tools. The law took effect in 2021-22.

In January 2021, Superintendent Chris Reykdal called on the state to “completely overhaul early literacy and teach students using proven strategies that are grounded in the science of reading.” The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) supports a library of screening tools and best practices, with resources for families in multiple languages.

Educators, psychologists, and other professionals in related fields nationwide are participating in a movement called the Science of Reading. The goal is to share research about literacy to shift teaching strategies and improve outcomes for students.

Help with reading may be part of special education services

The federal law that provides special education eligibility and funding is called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). According to theIDEA, Dyslexia is a reading disability—aSpecific Learning Disability. Specific Learning Disability is a category of eligibility for an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Children with Specific Learning Disabilities often struggle to read, write, or do math. If the impact on school is significant enough, they have the right to Specially Designed Instruction (SDI), which is an important part of an IEP. The service minutes listed in the IEP describe the SDI, whose providing it, and when/where the SDI is provided.

Each area of SDI includes at least one IEP goal. IEP goals are built to support learning, and appropriate progress is required as an element of FAPE—Free Appropriate Public Education. FAPE is what a student with a disability has the right to.

Here’s a review of this key information:

  • IEP Eligibility is based on a student’s needs
  • Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) serves the identified needs
  • The IEP tracks learning progress with specific goals in each area of SDI
  • Appropriate progress is one measure of FAPE—Free Appropriate Public Education

Reading supports are schoolwide

Not all students who need reading support have IEPs. The Revised Code of Washington (RCW 320.260) requires schools to support literacy through “multi-tiered” programming. That means schools provide different levels of support for all students who need help, regardless of special education identification.

Some schools have reading programs funded by Title 1, which is part of a federal law called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Title 1 is funded to close opportunity gaps related to poverty and other measures.  

TIP: Ask about all options for reading support at your school. If a student with an IEP participates in a schoolwide reading program, then the IEP can list that program as part of the student’s services. The school is responsible to serve an identified need related to disability.

Dyslexia can be identified and supported without a diagnosis

Students do not need a diagnosis of dyslexia to be evaluated for special education eligibility. If the family has concerns, they can ask the school to evaluate the student. Requests should be in writing. PAVE provides a sample letter to help families request an educational evaluation.

Here’s a sentence to include in the evaluation request letter:

“I need my child tested for a specific learning disability. I believe there is a problem with reading that is disability related.”

Schools have tools to identify “characteristics” of dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities. When those characteristics are present, the school is responsible to serve the student with appropriate interventions and instruction.

Consistent with recommendations of the Dyslexia Advisory Council and RCW 28A.320.260, qualified teachers must use best practice methods to help the student overcome the barriers of their learning disability and show meaningful progress:

“The interventions must be evidence-based multisensory structured literacy interventions and must be provided by an educator trained in instructional methods specifically targeting students’ areas of weakness.”

Structured Literacy is helping in some Washington schools

Structured Literacy comes from educational science and is a specific way of teaching the foundational skills of reading, writing, and speaking to use language effectively. Learning skills in a methodical way is especially important for children with dyslexia and for children using multiple languages.

Wenatchee School District shifted to a structured literacy approach in 2019. Many students, including those with dyslexia-type disabilities, have improved in their reading skills since the switch, according to a Seattle Times article published April 17, 2022: Fed up with lackluster reading scores, Wenatchee schools turned to science.

The article explains how Wenatchee staff got specialized training and describes the primary components of structured literacy:

  • Phonological awareness, ability to notice and distinguish different sounds in a word
  • Phonics, ability to match sounds to letters
  • Orthography, knowledge of how words and sounds are spelled
  • Morphology, knowledge of word roots, prefixes and suffixes

In a second article in its Education Lab literacy series, the Times on April 18, 2022, reported about Mercer Island, which also has trained teachers to provide structured literacy: “So far, there are signs of success: Early this year, fewer students were identified as potentially having dyslexia, an indicator that modified instruction is helping.”  

TIP: Families can ask whether their school has staff trained in structured literacy. Or ask this: What evidence-based Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) is being provided to serve a student who is not learning to read with standard instructional methods?

An outside evaluation may provide additional information

If a school is unable to gather enough information to fully understand the causes and features of a student’s disability, parents have a right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) for more information.

If the family is asking for an IEE because there is disagreement about the quality or conclusions of the school’s evaluation, the family can request an IEE at school district expense. PAVE provides a sample letter for requesting an IEE in this article: Evaluations Part 2: Next Steps if the School Says ‘No’. A school district must file Due Process to deny an IEE request.

In some situations, the family might pay for an IEE or seek one using medical insurance. In most cases, testing for dyslexia is done by a licensed educational psychologist. Neurologists and other medical professionals may also be qualified to provide a formal diagnosis.

Schools can call it dyslexia, but they don’t have to

Families and schools sometimes struggle with what to call a learning disability with features/characteristics of dyslexia. That topic was part of one family’s Due Process complaint against a school district in Washington State. In February 2022 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision. The court said schools are not required to name a student’s learning disability dyslexia. Schools can meet federal and state standards by identifying a student as having a Specific Learning Disability.

Some Specific Learning Disabilities that impact students are:

  • Dyslexia—a learning disability in reading
  • Dysgraphia—a learning disability in writing
  • Dyscalculia—a learning disability in math

Although not legally required, use of these terms is allowed. The US Department of Education on October 23, 2015, issued a Dear Colleague letter to encourage schools nationwide to do more to identify and serve students with Specific Learning Disabilities. The letter includes information about federal law—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA):

“The purpose of this letter is to clarify that there is nothing in the IDEA that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP documents.”

Since 2015, nearly all states have passed laws to require schools to assess students and provide support for those who need help in reading because of dyslexia.

On April 25, 2016, the US Department of Education issued guidance about the school’s responsibility to evaluate a student who is having reading difficulties. The department’s guidance is formatted as a Letter to Kelli Unnerstall of Decoding Dyslexia of Missouri. The letter includes information about when a school district (“public agency”) might pay for assessment from a medical provider:

“If the public agency decides that a medical evaluation or any other assessment is necessary to determine whether the child has a disability and his or her educational needs, the entire evaluation must be provided at no cost to the parents.”

TIP: Families can talk about their student as having a Specific Learning Disability with characteristics/features of dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, or more than one. Evidence-based instruction from properly trained teachers is required, regardless of how the disability is named.

How might a student with dyslexia keep up with their class?

Schools are responsible to support students at their age, grade, and developmental level. Washington follows Common Core Standards for all students, including those who receive services through an IEP or Section 504 Plan.

OSPI’s Best Practices for Supporting Grades 3 and Above lists evidence-based classroom strategies, social-emotional supports, and how to accommodate a struggling reader at school. The top recommendations:

  • Use audiobooks to support access to grade-level curriculum.
  • Allow Assistive Technology, including audio features, voice typing/dictation software for writing, or assistive applications for spelling and notetaking.

Learning standards for literacy go beyond the skill of saying or thinking the words on the page. Here’s a way to understand what this means. While reading the Common Core standard below, consider how assistive technology might help students with reading disabilities move closer to these aspirations:

“The Common Core asks students to read stories and literature, as well as more complex texts that provide facts and background knowledge in areas such as science and social studies. Students will be challenged and asked questions that push them to refer back to what they’ve read. This stresses critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills that are required for success in college, career, and life.”

PAVE provides a video: Text-to-Speech: Supporting Literacy for Students with Learning Disabilities

TIP: Schools and families can talk about how children learn to think critically, problem solve and analyze information through schoolwork done by reading or listening.

A student with dyslexia might work on literacy two ways:

  1. SDI: Student can work on literacy at their level, with help from teachers using evidence-based Specially Designed Instruction (SDI). and
  2. Accommodations: Student can use audible formats and text-to-speech and/or speech-to-text to support reading in all subject areas, including literature, nearer grade level.

Here’s a way to talk about this two-part approach from a student rights perspective:

  1. SDI: A student receiving special education services has the right to FAPE—Free Appropriate Public Education. FAPE requires SDI in areas of need to help a student make solid progress. Federal law describes that as “progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances” (Endrew F decision).
  2. Accommodations: FAPE is required in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), which is general education in the neighborhood school, “to the maximum extent appropriate.” Access to the core curriculum is included. If technology helps the student access grade-level (or adapted grade-level) learning materials, then the school is responsible to accommodate those needs. Accommodations are part of an IEP or a Section 504 Plan.

TIP: Ask the school what audible book service they subscribe to (Bookshare, for example) and how the student can get audible books and curriculum materials. Make sure the student has headphones, a microphone, devices, and spaces to use text-to-speech/speech-to-text and audible books. All can be listed in an IEP or 504 Plan.

What other help can we ask for?

Other state recommended accommodations for students with reading/writing disabilities:

  • Provide extended time for reading and writing, especially for testing.
  • Provide fewer test/homework problems that work on the same skill.
  • Allow modified grading of spelling and grammar (consider the purpose of the task).
  • Print or record verbal step-by-step directions or allow student to take a picture or video.
  • Offer project-based learning options (oral presentation, multisensory experiences).
  • Provide a quiet place for studying and testing.

Students with learning disabilities have the right to accommodations and support to enable them to work successfully toward a high-school diploma. If a student chooses an alternative route through General Educational Development (GED) testing, they may be eligible for accommodations. A website called lists disability conditions that might make a person eligible for testing supports. Included are dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia.

What options do families have if they disagree with the school?

Special education law supports procedural safeguards for students and families. Included are dispute resolution options when there is disagreement with the school. PAVE provides guidance in a video: Procedural Safeguards: How to File a Special Education Complaint.

Families have the right to attend public meetings of their local school board to make requests and provide feedback.

A group of families in Easten Washington filed a petition with in February 2022, to ask for literacy improvements from the Richland School District (RSD). Included are statistics showing that the COVID-19 pandemic worsened already poor reading scores.

The petition asks for a more structured approach to literacy and makes this appeal: “As parents of Richland School District students, we are writing you to plead with you to improve our students’ reading proficiency. Every student deserves the opportunity to become a proficient reader! Reading is a foundational skill that affects one’s ability to function within our society.”

More detail about dyslexia

The state’s definition of dyslexia, adopted in 2018, is similar to a definition promoted by the International Dyslexia Association. According to Washington State’s definition:

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disorder that is neurological in origin and that is characterized by unexpected difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities that are not consistent with the person’s intelligence, motivation, and sensory capabilities.” provides a video and additional materials to support understanding of dyslexia. Here’s their plain language definition: “Dyslexia is a common condition that makes it hard to work with language.”

Keep in mind that parents and schools don’t need to use the term dyslexia at all. They can talk about a student’s learning disability in reading, writing, or math in broader terms. Specific Learning Disability is defined by the Washington Administrative Code (WAC 392-172A-01035):

“Specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia, that adversely affects a student’s educational performance.”

The state’s definition of learning disability excludes “learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of intellectual disability, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.”

The Child Mind Institute offers a Parent Guide to Dyslexia. Included are the following tips.

A young child with dyslexia may have:

  • Trouble learning simple rhymes
  • Speech delays
  • A hard time following directions
  • Difficulty reading short words or leave them out
  • Trouble understanding the difference between left and right

In school, children with dyslexia are likely to:

  • Struggle sounding out new words and counting syllables
  • Reverse letters and numbers after most students stop doing that, around age 8
  • Struggle taking notes and copying words from the board
  • Have a hard time rhyming, connecting sounds and letters, and putting the sounds of words in the right order
  • Misspell even familiar words (cmpt instead of camped)
  • Read much more slowly than peers
  • Avoid reading out loud
  • Show signs of fatigue from reading with great effort

National resources include comics and videos

Dyslexia awareness is promoted by the National Center on Improving Literacy (NCIL), which provides resources designed to support parents, teachers, and policy makers. On its website, the agency includes state-specific information, recommends screening tools and interventions and provides research data about early intervention. Through social media, the agency in October promotes a hashtag campaign, #DyslexiaAwareness.

NCIL provides a unique resource in the format of an online or downloadable comic book: Adventures in Reading Comic Books stars Kayla, a girl with dyslexia.

Here are a few video resources:

Summer Reading Tips for Families

A Brief Overview

  • Learning Heroes provides help to figure out a child’s reading level, useful when asking for summer reading recommendations from a teacher or librarian.
  • Any format that captures a child’s imagination and makes them enjoy reading is valuable. Consider graphic novels, audio books, read aloud online videos, or e-readers in addition to traditional books.
  • Consider rewards and prizes for reading achievements. The local library might have a summer program. Read on for ideas.
  • Some students will have school-based services over the summer through Extended School Year (ESY), Recovery Services (additional services due to pandemic impacts), or something else. See PAVE’s article: ESY Helps Students Who Struggle to Maintain Skills and Access FAPE.
  • PAVE provides a video and an article about supporting students with specific learning disabilities related to literacy.

Full Article

Summer days offer time to focus on play, creativity, and family fun. Reading can also be fun! If summer days include time for reading, it helps children keep the skills they worked on during the school year. PAVE has some tips for families to keep kids interested in reading, while still having fun! 

Check your child’s reading level

If possible, ask a teacher for information about the child’s reading level before school’s out. This information will help you use any reading guides provided by the school or library. Here’s another option: Learning Heroes provides help to figure out a child’s reading level.

Follow your child’s lead

Ask a librarian to show you where to find books in your child’s general reading level, then turn your child loose to explore. Children will often gravitate to books that look interesting and accessible.

Don’t worry if the child wants to explore a book that seems too easy or too hard. Keep in mind that the point is to keep the child interested in reading. Sometimes children need something easy to keep it fun, and sometimes the subject of a harder book makes it more fascinating.  

Some children choose comic books or books with diagrams, which are rarely included on teacher lists but can keep kids going to the library. Consider whether guilt-free reading options might reduce battles and keep eyes engaged on the page. Any format that captures a child’s imagination and makes them enjoy reading is valuable. Consider graphic novels, audio books, read aloud online videos, or e-readers in addition to traditional books.

Pull words from the page

Some children prefer or need books that are more interactive. Here are some options:

  • A read-aloud, with an adult or child doing the reading
  • Read together and share questions and answers along the way
  • Act out a book
  • Participate in a read-a-thon
  • Check out audio books
  • Seek applications and video programs that show words and provide narration

An agency called Bookshare provides e-books for children with learning disabilities, vision problems, or conditions such as cerebral palsy.  The agency provides alternative reading options, such as braille, audiobooks, large print books, and more.

Make reading part of everyday activities

Children learn reading habits from their family, and when adults show they love to read children will often model that behavior.

Read during everyday activities. Notice and read signs and billboards while you travel around town. Ask children to read the recipe while they help prepare a meal. They can help read a text message, an email, or a letter that came in the mail. Turn on the television’s closed caption feature so a favorite show includes the words to read and follow along.

Understand reading milestones

Washington State’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides guidance for teachers and families through Early Literacy Pathways. The downloadable booklet provides a chart of developmental milestones linked to literacy. An alternative place to get this type of information is from Reading skills at different ages.

Resource locations for summer reading

Washington’s Secretary of State provides a website page with information about a statewide Summer Reading Program. Included is a tool to find your local library.

Ask the teacher or school district what they offer over summer. Many schools partner with local organizations or offer school-supported access to digital learning applications, such as

The Barnes & Noble summer reading program is for all ages and allows any child to pick a free book from a predetermined list of books after completing the program. Visit the store to ask for a journal to track summer reading.

Scholastic Summer Challenge ( has a summer reading challenge called “Readapalooza.” Kids log their reading minutes, unlock badges, and earn rewards.

Search locally online for “summer reading [your city]” or  “summer reading program near me” because many local or state-specific businesses and restaurants host summer reading programs.

Happy reading this summer and always!

Supporting literacy: Text-to-Speech and IEP goal setting for students with learning disabilities

A child who struggles to read can quickly fall behind in school. Nearly every academic area includes some reading, and children might become confused or frustrated when they don’t get help to make sense of their schoolwork. Behavior challenges can result, and sometimes schools and parents struggle to understand why the student is having a hard time.

This video provides information about two primary ways that schools can support students with learning disabilities that impact literacy:

  • Text-to-Speech (technology that provides audio-visual communication)
  • Specially Designed Instruction (SDI)

Student learning accelerates when both strategies work together, and this video provides tips for making that happen.

Washington passed a law in 2018 requiring schools to screen young children for the indicators of weaknesses associated with dyslexia and support literacy across all grades. The law took effect in the 2021-22 school year. PAVE provides an article with more information: Dyslexia Screening and Interventions: State Requirements and Resources.

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