As a special education advocate who has attended hundreds of IEP meetings, nothing frustrates me more than dyslexia IEP meetings. Mind you, sensory issues come in as a very strong second, but dyslexia is definitely first.

This is the one disability where I see the most gaslighting. The most “He’s doing fine!” from school staff people when the child absolutely is not fine. I don’t think I’ve ever had a client who had a solid IEP for dyslexia when I entered the picture.

A woman's feet on top of a stack of books, symbolizing the steps she's taking to overcome dyslexia through her IEP.

According to LDRFA, Dyslexia is the most common learning disability among children. There are three other “D” disabilities in this family of learning disabilities: Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia and Dyspraxia. I have a separate post about Dysgraphia and tests for Dyscalculia.

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IEP for Dyslexia

What does IDEA say about SLD or Dyslexia?

(IDEA 300.8  (c) (10)) describes an SLD as 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 and do mathematical calculations….including dyslexia….

IDEA (300.309) goes on to list the eight specific learning disabilities to include three for reading; Basic Reading Skills, Reading Fluency skill and Reading comprehension.

Schools Can Say Dyslexia

 Dyslexia is also specifically documented with IDEA. But it seems words matter here. Schools aren’t required to use the term Dyslexia ( or Dysgraphia or Dyscalculia). Schools can use these “D” terms and aren’t prohibited from using them.

OSEP has addressed this in a Dear Colleague letter about “saying Dyslexia.”

As a parent who is advocating to get an appropriate education for their child, arguing terms is not where I would waste my time about the term used. Many schools will tell you they can’t evaluate or diagnose dyslexia and precious time is wasted while the parent pursues outside evaluations that the team refuses to accept.

A written request for a comprehensive evaluation for special education in the areas of basic reading skills, fluency and comprehension is the first step. The request should also include any other suspected areas; such as auditory concerns, cognitive ability, attention, behavior, and emotional concerns.

You want to include as much information in your request as possible, as you want the school to also suspect needs in these areas.

IDEA says a school must complete a comprehensive evaluation to gather relevant functional, developmental and academic information about the child when a disability is suspected.

An additional OSEP Colleague Letter also says that “there is no provision for in the IDEA that gives a parent the right to dictate the specific area that the public agency must assess as a part of the comprehensive evaluation: the public agency is only required to assess the child in particular areas related to the child’s suspected disability, as it determines appropriate.”

OSEP also says that a school can pay for an outside medical evaluation as a part of their comprehensive evaluation and that the parent can also pursue an IEE paid for by the school.

So let’s look at the Areas of Reading.

Basic and Essential Reading Skills

Basic reading skills include:

  • phonemic awareness
  • sight word recognition
  • phonics
  • word analysis
  • Essential skills include identification of individual sounds and the ability to manipulate them, identification of printed letters and sounds associated with the, and decoding of written language.

These are the foundational skills of reading. These foundational skills are critical pieces for most children with dyslexia. They are also the areas skipped by most schools.

Reading Fluency 

Fluency in literacy includes three areas:

  • accuracy- the ability to decode words in text ( not in isolation) without error.
  • rate- refers to the ability to automatically decode words.
  • prosody- is the use of appropriate phrasing and expression.

Fluency is the bridge between basic word decoding and comprehension.

Fluency is often misinterpreted as speed reading and that is not the case. Forcing speed reading can be detrimental. Fluency is the natural result of efficient decoding skills and practice and facilitates comprehension.

Understanding Reading Comprehension 

Comprehension is the end result of reading. Comprehension can be significantly affected by basic reading skills and fluency learning disabilities. Comprehension is the ability to understand and make meaning of the written text.

So a diagnosis of dyslexia could include any of these areas. A school evaluation should be specific enough to look at needs within each area.

Evaluations for SLD or a Reading Disability could include:

  • background information
  • oral language skills
  • word recognition
  • decoding
  • spelling
  • phonological processing
  • automaticity/fluency
  • comprehension
  • and vocabulary knowledge

If you wish to delve into the specific tests that are commonly used to evaluate these areas, the University of Michigan has compiled a decent list.

After evaluations have been done in all suspected areas, then IEP eligibility must be determined. Eligibility criteria and the methods used are state-dependent. A child could have a private diagnosis of Dyslexia and still not meet the state criteria for a Specific Learning Disability.

Three main methods of determining eligibility include Response to Intervention, Pattern of Strengths and Weakness and the discrepancy method.

Understanding your specific state eligibility requirements and methods used are very important. If your state still uses the discrepancy method, you will need cognitive evaluations. If they use RTI, there are still specific timelines and parameters for eligibility. You do not want the school to place them in RTI for years without evaluation for special education. Looking for a local advocate or your state Decoding Dyslexia chapter can be additional resources for understanding the eligibility process.

Many schools do not have literacy instruction that is explicit or systematic to teach the foundational skills of reading. Schools may touch on phonics but generally, a focus is on Whole Word reading. The foundational skills of reading which include phonemic awareness and decoding are core needs for dyslexic persons.

A dyslexic student will not be able to learn these foundational basic skills without specific instruction to target those needs. Children with dyslexia cannot learn foundational skills with a generic whole word approach. This is the specially designed instruction (SDI) that is determined by the team to meet a child’s annual goals and allow them to access the general education curriculum.

Two little girls with dyslexia reading a book in a field.

A quick reminder of the IEP process, for dyslexia or SLD.

Needs drive goals–> Goals drive services.

And what you really want are appropriate services, so here is how to get that.

The IEP Present Levels section is where all this documentation comes together.

Your child’s IEP Present Levels should be objective, data-based descriptions about a child’s functioning or performance. Multiple sources should be used, from standardized testing, evaluations, grades, observations, performance testing, CBMS, etc.

Do you know what your IEP rights are?
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Identifying a Child’s Specific Reading Needs

For reading needs, you would want to know what the specific needs in each area. You want to know the baseline, what can they do now? What is the child’s current phonemic awareness? What is the child’s decoding level? What is his fluency? What is his current comprehension level?

Dyslexia-IEP Goal Development

A student should have an IEP goal in each area of need. So if basic reading skills, fluency, and comprehension each have needs identified, then you would want at least three separate goals.

While all connected and intertwined, they are separate areas of need. You cannot build basic skills by focusing on fluency. You cannot build fluency by focusing on comprehension.

IEP goal formula for special education

Dyslexia IEP Goals-Red Flags

Lumping all reading needs together in a single goal. You want separate goals for the basic skills, fluency, and comprehension.

Disappearing goals: Goals should not disappear in an area until a reevaluation shows there are no longer needs in that area. So even if a child met his goals, there are still goals that can be written in that area. And many times goals aren’t met and just disappear.

Goals that aren’t specific.  A goal for John to increase his ELA grade to 80% is not specific. Grades are always subjective. And, you have no way of knowing how basic skills, fluency or comprehension are improving in a grade without specific measurements of each area of reading over and over. Is a reading passage a cold read or practiced? What is the grade level they are reading for the goal?

Goals that aren’t connected to baseline data. Goals that are generic, connected to grades, goals that aren’t specific about what is to make progress..are all terrible goals. Goals should start from where a child is currently at and have progress that is expected within a year. 

Goals that aren’t going to lead to realistic progress. There can be many goals that just want a child to increase to a certain grade level or to a percentage. Or goals that are way too much to happen in a year.

Goals that would lead to very little progress over a year. These goals wouldn’t move the child’s abilities ahead, allowing the gap to widen. One thing I see frequently in poorly-written goals is something that is written to a statement of increasing fluency to 90WPM in 75% in 2 out of 3 trials. 75% of 90 is only about 68WPM and that would only occur 67% of the time. That may not be meaningful progress for a child who is already reading at a rate of 60WPM, so the 90WPM looks good but isn’t. Or a goal that says able to decode a list of 10 words. Only 10 words?

Goals repeated year after year without progress. This happens a lot. Goals lead to services and those services are supposed to meet that child’s needs. If appropriate progress monitoring is happening, it should be clear before the year is over that a child isn’t on track to meet that goal and that should be addressed by the team. Different types of services and different amounts of service are both options for the team when progress isn’t happening. And many times, unmet goals tend to disappear, see above under disappearing goals.

Goals that do not have appropriate progress monitoring. Goals that aren’t measured with objective data are meaningless for measuring progress.

This includes a fluency goal that is reported as observational data that a child reads out loud in class. How long did they read? Was it an unfamiliar or practiced text? How many errors were there?

Progress monitoring needs to match the area being monitored. Fluency cannot measure basic skills like phonemic awareness or decoding or blending or syllable work. Decoding cannot measure comprehension.

So after you have appropriate goals and services written in the IEP, you need to think about the impact these needs have on your child’s ability to access the general education curriculum. All the ways that reading impacts or affects the child should be a part of the present levels.

IEP Goals for Dyslexia

Hopefully, the above information has given you enough of a foundation to understand that a child doesn’t require “IEP goals for dyslexia” but requires IEP goals for the specific reading skill that they lack.

Here are the other lists we have on the site to address those issues.

Reading and Writing IEP Goals

Reading Disabilities affecting other Areas

How does reading impact Math word problems?

How does reading impact classroom participation, like reading out loud?

How does reading impact all worksheets, reading instructions, following instructions, do they miss details, ability to make inferences about what is read, can they understand grade-level reading…?

Does frustration with reading lead to behavior? Are these academic needs causing emotional needs, such as anxiety and withdrawal?

Dyslexia and Mental Health/Suicide

It’s worth noting that untreated dyslexia can spiral down into depression, negative thoughts, and suicide attempts.

Even after controlling for comorbid conditions, socioeconomic factors, and demographics, the study found that 16 percent of women with learning disabilities had attempted suicide in their lifetimes — compared to just 3.3 percent of the general female population. Men with learning disabilities had an elevated risk, too — 7.7 percent vs. 2.1 percent — but results in the female cohort were more drastic, researchers said.
dyslexia and suicide
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Dyslexia-IEP Supports and Services

There are many popular reading programs out there. However, I have found this to be an area where “the tail wags the dog.” In other words, reading intervention programs tend to be offered to students based upon what is available or already being used at that school, and not necessarily appropriate for the child’s specific reading needs.

Your child needs a reading intervention or curriculum that is specific to their areas of need, such as decoding or fluency.

This is where you need additional services and supports written into the IEP. There are many possibilities of Assistive Technology, audiobooks, verbal instructions, shorter assignments, reduced grade-level reading, and expectation, ability to not read out-loud, using a highlighter to follow along, or allowing extra time.

And, a reminder to educate yourself on the differences between accommodations, modifications and interventions.

Giving a child shorter assignments will reduce frustrations while they are learning to read, but it will not teach them to read. Allowing them to not read out loud in class may help them build confidence, but it will not teach them to read.

The child’s needs should be met every day in every class while they make progress to their goals.

Lastly, everything in the IEP process follows the same basic steps.

  1. Parent makes a written request for what they wish to add/change to the IEP.
  2. Team meets to discuss.
  3. Whatever the school’s final “offer” is must be presented to parent on a PWN.
  4. Parent decides how to proceed from there. This may include the parent asking for an IEE.

This post was written by A Day in our Shoes’ own Michelle, who helps admin our parent chat group. Thanks, Michelle!

I think I speak for most of the admins when I say this: In the case of dyslexia, a 504 is not recommended. 504 Plans are about access–they are not about teaching or special education. They offer accommodations, not specially designed instruction. Again, extra time on a test does not help teach a child to read. That’s just one thing I see with dyslexic students when it comes to not meeting their needs. I’ve seen everything from using AR Reader to monitor progress, to the most minimal list of 504 accommodations….and then wondering why the child can’t read!

More on Reading and Literacy for Students

Reading and Writing IEP Goals

Raise a Reader!

  1. What is AR Reading? And what do the Color Levels mean?
  2. Tips for Teaching Inflectional Endings or Inflected Endings + Free Worksheet PDF!
  3. Free Phonics Worksheets including CVC, Dipthongs, Vowels, Blends and More.
  4. 10 Research-Based Vocabulary Interventions for an IEP or RTI/MTSS
  5. How to Write a Meaningful IEP for Dyslexia (includes IEP Goals for Dyslexia)
  6. Phonological Awareness vs Phonemic Awareness: What’s the Difference and What’s the Same?
  7. 26 Free Alphabet Worksheets for Preschool and Kindergarten
  8. 20 Common Reading Intervention Programs for Schools (+how to get one on your IEP)
  9. Reading Comprehension Strategies: How to Improve Reading Comprehension (and then Reading Speed and Fluency)
  10. 30 Book Reading Challenge for Kids: Free Printable Reading Tracker
  11. What Is Decoding in Reading? A Simple Explanation
  12. Is Lindamood Bell Worth the Money?
  13. 13 Free Summer Reading Programs For Kids
  14. Dolch Sight Words: Free PDF Lists and Worksheets
  15. What are Temporal Words? (includes anchor chart)
  16. Is Your 3rd Grader Struggling? It’s Probably the Matthew Effect in Reading.
  17. Fry’s First 100 Words | PDF | Printable
  18. What is a Frayer Model? | Example | Blank Template
  19. Elkonin Boxes for Dyslexia | Phonemic Awareness | Examples | PDF

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