• Getting children reading assistance in our public schools that leads to meaningful improvement often requires that parents take on the role of an informed advocate.
  • This task can be truly daunting. Parents need help navigating the hurdles of getting help for their children – especially if their children are in the special education system.
  • Armed with the program contained in this book, parents can learn the 5 Steps of informed advocacy that can result in success for their children.

Step I: Act as Soon as You Suspect a Problem

The most important piece of advice I can give to parents who suspect their child has a reading problem: Seek help as soon as you suspect a problem and don’t quit until you find a solution. Trust your instincts as a parent and act on your child’s behalf. Children do not just “outgrow” reading problems. Once children enter the fourth grade it is much more difficult to help them catch up.

  1. It is easier to help students before they get too far behind their peers.
  2. Reading is fundamental to all learning that takes place in school.
  3. Children with reading problems often hold themselves in low esteem, putting themselves at risk for behavioral and emotional problems.
  4. There are evidence-based methods for remedying reading problems in the early grades.
  5. Start early—the process for getting reading help for your child may take longer than you expect.

Parents are sometimes confused about whether their child is reading at grade level and don’t know when they should act. The teacher advises them not to worry but parents see their child struggling. If you face this dilemma, you can try the following:

  1. Monitor your child’s classroom work.
  2. Read the National Academy of Sciences guidelines to learn the reading skills that children should have at the end of kindergarten through grade three as they are first learning to read.  A summary of these guidelines can be found in the book, or click here.
  3. Administer our informal screening tests at home.
  • Ask your child to read pages from his books out loud.
  • Ask your child to read the papers and books he brings home from school. Can he read his classroom books and papers accurately, fluently, and with comprehension?
  • Get some grade-appropriate books from your library and see if your child is able to read them. Most librarians can be very helpful in guiding you to such books.
  • Meet with the classroom teacher to ask questions about your child’s reading progress.
  • Purchase the informal screening tests here and self-administer them to your child.  In the video section of this website, you will find videos showing Sandy and me administering these screening tests to help you see how this is done.

If you see that your child is having trouble by the end of the first grade, it is time to act!

National Academy Guidelines: Click here for a free download of the Summary of National Guidelines by Grade. Skills that kids should have.

Screening Tests: Click here to purchase and download screening tests.


Step II: Understand What Your Child Needs

You need a full and accurate understanding of your child’s academic needs. Information that is unbiased and free from the budgetary and personnel concerns of the school system is essential to developing an effective plan for getting help with reading. This information about your child’s needs is the backbone of your advocacy plan.

Schools are not diagnostic facilities and they generally lack the expertise needed to complete a comprehensive evaluation. Also, many schools have an inherent conflict of interest for providing appropriate recommendations. For example, a school will not recommend a specialized reading program designed for dyslexic students if they do not have a teacher trained in the use of the program. You want a complete understanding of your child’s strengths and weaknesses with recommendations based on your child’s needs.

A comprehensive individual diagnostic evaluation should include the following elements:

  • A personal history that includes a developmental, medical, behavioral, academic, and family history.
  • A measure of general intellectual functioning.
  • Evaluation of cognitive processing (language, memory, auditory processing, visual processing, reasoning, processing speed, and executive functioning).
  • Tests of specific oral language skills related to reading and writing success, including tests of phonological processing, verbal memory, and rapid naming.
  • Educational tests to determine how your child does in the basic skill areas of reading, spelling, written language, and math.
  • An evaluation of social/emotional functioning when appropriate.
  • A classroom observation completed by the evaluator or other professional.
  • Recommendations based on your child’s academic, cognitive, and psychological strengths and weaknesses.

Parents cannot dictate to schools how they must teach their children or what tests they must administer as part of an evaluation.  BUT parents can insist on progress.

Evaluating your child’s progress is critical. If you have questions about your child’s reading progress, you will need to have his or her progress monitored by an independent evaluator. Learn how to evaluate progress by comparing standard scores and percentile ranks of standardized tests.

Understanding test results is crucial if you are to have a voice in advocating for the services your child needs. You need to know enough about test scores so that you can understand your child’s evaluation reports.

  1. Learn how to plot your child’s test scores on a bell curve to get a good “picture” of his performance.
  2. Learn the meaning of some basic statistical terms such as standard scores and percentile ranks. you can find a full explanation of these terms in Smart Kid, Can’t Read.

A great graphic way to visualize their child’s performance is with a bell curve.

Click here to link to an empty bell curve diagram you can use to chart your child’s test results.


Step III: Learn About the Reading Process

When appropriately qualified teachers use evidence-based reading instruction, it is possible to teach nearly every child to read. You want to learn enough about the reading process to effectively advocate for the specific, evidence-based reading instruction that your child needs. You must be able to determine whether your child is receiving reading instruction that will result in his becoming a successful reader.

  1. You want to know what part of the reading process your child struggles with and what type of remediation works best for his needs.
  2. You need to be able to tell the difference between an effective reading program and an ineffective reading program.
  3. You should know what works best for beginning readers and for those who struggle with reading.
  4. For a list of structured language reading programs we recommend, click here.
  • Phonological Awareness Instruction: This means teaching children that the words they hear spoken can be broken into individual sounds. This skill is usually mastered by the end of Kindergarten.
  • Systematic and direct phonics instruction: There is a well-established sequence of phonics instruction that goes from easy to more difficult. This is called systematic phonics instruction. Phonics instruction is cumulative, so it is important that students have appropriately sequenced instruction that builds skills in a logical order, beginning with the simplest phonetic rules and progressing to the more complex phonetic principles.
  • Fluency training: Fluency refers to the ability to read words and passages automatically and at a good rate of speed. Difficulty reading fluently is often related to trouble with decoding. Children need repeated exposures to words so those words become automatic.
  • Instruction in vocabulary and reading comprehension: Most children who struggle to read, have difficulty with decoding. However, some children are able to decode well but have trouble understanding what they read, other children have difficulty in both areas. A good reading program will provide instruction in vocabulary and reading comprehension.
  • Teaching to mastery: Beginning readers need to master one level of reading before going onto another, more difficult, level. The pace of instruction must be individualized for the struggling reader to give them the time they need to master the material.


Step IV: Know Your Rights Under the Law

Most children who receive help with reading, receive that help through special education. To be effective, you need to know what the law says about your rights. The special education law (IDEA 2004) is a federal law that applies to ALL states. While states have each enacted their own version of IDEA 2004, all states are required to meet the standards of IDEA 2004. The purpose of the law is to provide children with disabilities a “free, appropriate public education” (FAPE).

The law establishes guidelines for educating children with disabilities and sets procedural safeguards for you and your child that schools are required to follow.

Unless a child has other disabilities that interfere with learning, students with reading disabilities are usually identified as having a “specific learning disability” for purposes of special education classification.

  1. Learn what the law says about your schools obligations to teach your child.
  2. Learn what the law says about your rights and the rights of your child.
  3. Learn how to write an effective Individual Education Plan that meets the needs of your child and helps you to monitor your child’s progress.
  4. To read the law and receive a more detailed legal understanding of IDEA 2004, visit


Step V: Advocate for Your Child

You must advocate for services for your child. Children whose parents advocate on their behalf receive more services and better services than children whose parents do not advocate for them.

Once you understand what your child needs and you know the critical elements of an effective reading program, you can use the information to advocate for your child. Armed with knowledge about your legal rights and a determination to see that your child learns to read, you can move ahead.

The law establishes guidelines for educating children with disabilities and sets procedural safeguards for you and your child that schools are required to follow.

Unless a child has other disabilities that interfere with learning, students with reading disabilities are usually identified as having a “specific learning disability” for purposes of special education classification.

  1. Learn how to effectively manage team meetings.
  2. Remember that schools seldom have enough appropriately trained teachers to help all the students who need help with reading.  You are actually competing for those services. Keep at it, your child deserves your help.
  3. Develop your own working team to help you gain appropriate services for your child.  While the school is one of your resources, they are not your only resource.
  4. Network with other parents who face similar issues – they can be a source of support as well as information.
  5. Learn to organize your paperwork as well as your interactions with the school system.
  6. Take care of yourself.  This can be a long journey.