Learning Ally Blog: Access and Achievement

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Now more than ever, people with learning and visual disabilities are flourishing in the classroom, launching productive careers and becoming assets in their communities. This blog spotlights remarkable individuals who demonstrate that having a visual or print disability is no barrier to educational success.


Dyslexia: Translating the 504 Plan into Effective Action
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More than 1,000 parents and teachers have reached out to us with interest in this webinar, delivered on January 15, 2013. Dyslexia Testing Specialist, author and parent Shelley Ball-Dannenberg explains how to maximize accommodations and parent-teacher partnerships to help children with dyslexia succeed in school. She reviews the top accommodations typically recommended in a 504 Plan, showing how parents and teachers can implement them in the classroom and during homework time. National Program Director Mary Alexander shares a brief update on Teacher Ally and the Parent Resource Center, new tools Learning Ally has developed to support teachers and parents. The full 55-minute recording of this content-rich webinar is accessible above. You can maximize your video window by clicking on the four-arrow square icon on the right side of the play bar. Following is a transcript of Q&A from the webinar session. Q: How often should a 504 Plan be revised? Shelley Dannenberg: A 504 Plan should be revised yearly. Q: If a student has the accommodation of having a test read to them, what is a good way to see if the student can do this without accommodation without risking failure? Shelley: Ask the teacher if your child can take a practice test without the accommodation. If the student is not successful, he still needs things read aloud, but if he is able to handle the practice test, have him take the real test without a reader.  It is good to wean your child from accommodations they no longer need, but be careful about removing it from your plan. Before you do, make sure your child won't need a reader for any other exams, including standardized testing. Q: What is the most effective approach for a private tutor to take in being an advocate for their public school educated pupil?  Should we use our traditional education degrees or come as a family advocate? Shelley: Using both approaches and all experiences will be most helpful.  There is no standardized advocate training. Most advocates are lawyers, former teachers, or parents who have had to educate themselves for their own kids and then go on to assist other families. I usually recommend that families work with private advocates versus someone that is a paid parent advocate by a school district. Q: My dyslexic daughter will be taking the state test in reading next month. They have offered extended time and a co-writer keyboard. Should these suffice or should I pull her from the testing? Shelley: These are effective accommodations. I would also ask for a reader (i.e. someone to read her the questions and the directions). Q: The college my child has selected will not provide some of the same accommodations as the high school.  What are some suggestions on how to make this transition? Shelley: This issue must be addressed early. Learning what the college has to offer and arranging accommodations will take time.  Be sure to have a thorough, well-documented history of past accommodations. To make the college transition, access to assistive technology will be imperative (Learning Ally, digitally recording lectures, etc.) Visit http://www.bdmtech.blogspot.com or www.Ldonline.org (type in the key words “assisitive technology”) for more info about the latest assistive technology. Transition planning is mandated in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  There must be a team effort between the student, parents, secondary, and post-secondary personnel to work together to make this transition.  To read more about this visit http://www.ldonline.org/article/7756/. Q: How do you handle a teacher who won't give a second review sheet because your child lost it? Shelley: As difficult as it may be, remain calm and non-confrontational.  I would approach the teacher with the truth, acknowledge your child’s mistake, and simply ask for another copy.  Perhaps there may be minor consequences for losing the review sheet.  Gently remind the teacher that your child is just that, "a child".  Explain that you wish to help your child prepare for the test, and that if this is or has become a regular occurrence then there will be a discussion and an effort made to implement a system to help the child get better organized. Q: Nearly all students with dyslexia need instruction in organization, reading, and/or spelling.  Why would they not qualify for specially designed instruction AND accommodations through an IEP instead of only accommodations on a 504?  Shelley: Children with dyslexia can qualify for an IEP. However, getting the school to make a diagnosis of dyslexia can be difficult. School psychologists are rarely trained to diagnose dyslexia. Initially, the school must see evidence that the child needs an evaluation. Many kids with dyslexia are bright and overcompensate, and thus may not “fail enough." The child is bright, highly verbal, and usually has intensely involved parents who work at home with the child to avoid failure. By the time they are failing and the school agrees to an evaluation, the child has fallen behind and often has low self-esteem and a distaste for learning. Q: Why is the term "dyslexia" sometimes nowhere to be found on an IEP? Many schools avoid using the term "dyslexia" on an IEP because doing so requires them to provide methodology specific to that learning disability. They often have no one on staff trained to implement it and no funds to train anyone to do so.  Most children who get diagnosed with dyslexia do so through an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), not through the school psychologist. The results are then presented to the school with a request for accommodations, which generally do not cost money to implement, in lieu of an IEP.   The remediation then falls on the parents to implement privately through tutoring. While many states are beginning to pass legislation to provide accurate services for dyslexic children, there have not yet been sweeping changes in any state. In the meantime, kids need research-based remediation and accommodations to be successful in school, and a 504 Plan with private tutoring is often the best option available. Q: My child has moderate dyslexia, and I'm having a hard time getting some of her teachers on board with following the accommodation plan. Any suggestions? Shelley: In this case, if you have a written accommodation plan or 504, then you must follow the chain of command and address this issue with the administration. Technically, if the plan is written and the accommodations are documented, then the teacher is in violation of your child’s rights.  You may need to gently remind the school of this.  After addressing the administration, I would also call a meeting with all of your child's teachers to reiterate the accommodation plan and ensure that everyone is communicating openly. Q: What's happening with the text-to-speech books Learning Ally is preparing, synced with the human audio? Mary Alexander:  Many of our members are excited about this new offering. Hundreds of popular literature books in our library are now combining text highlighting on screen with human narration. This is a long-term initiative and we will continue to roll it out into thousands of other titles in the coming year. Q: I have two dyslexic children. Would I be required to open two separate Learning Ally accounts for them or can they each access their textbooks from one account? Mary: You can consider the account a family account for your young children. Once they are in college and likely studying different subjects, you may want to consider getting them each their own account. Q: Are there any grants available for parents to subscribe to Learning Ally? Mary:  There are not currently any grants for students to receive free memberships, but we do provide waivers if there is a financial hardship within the family.  If that is the case, please contact us at custserv@learningally.org and request a hardship waiver form. We try to provide help for everyone who needs it.


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