Archive for the 'Dyslexia' Category

Are read alouds cheating?

Over on his Science and Education blog, Dan Willinghom, a friend of LD Blog, posted an intriguing examination of this question: “Is Listening to an audio book ‘Cheating?’” Consistent with Professor Willingham’s perspective, he takes a cognitive psychology look at this question. It’s worth reading.

He says he’s heard this question often, and I wonder whether there’s been a hint of objection to the idea of having students listen to audio books. Now maybe it is just about whether one is slighting her- or himself by listening to books on tape.

But, I wonder whether at least some of the objection to listening to audio books being a form of cheating reflects concern about children who receive special treatment in school testing situations. I can imagine a conversation in which a parent might say, “I heard that the Smith’s boy gets to have a teacher read the test to him. And it’s not just the story, but the teacher also reads the answers, too!”

Parents of students with disabilities will recognize this situation as a “read-aloud accommodation.” (People who conduct a lot of research on accommodations such as Rogers, Lazarus, and Thurlow, 2016, refer to read-alouds as “oral delivery,” by the way.) Whether they are called “read alouds” or “oral presentations,” these accommodations are pretty common. They were provided to approximately 33% of secondary students with disabilities who took standardized tests in the early 2000s, according to a report by the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (2004).

Does having someone read test content and items convey an unfair advantage? Ahh, herein lies a rub. Two meta-analyses (Buzick & Stone, 2014; Li, 2014) both reached similar conclusions. Studies that compared the effects of oral presentation for individuals with disabilities and those without disabilities found that “read alouds” helped the students with disabilities and those without disabilities, but they helped those with disabilities significantly more. The benefits were more substantial in reading or language arts areas than in arithmetic or mathematics areas.

So, is it cheating for those students who do not have fluent decoding skills? Apparently, it allows them to show what they know and can do when the handicap is removed.

For my money, the evidence is also a strong argument for doing a very good job of teaching decoding skills very well right from the beginning, thereby eliminating or reducing that handicap.

References

Buzick, H., & Stone, E. (2014). A meta‐analysis of research on the read aloud accommodation. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 33(3), 17-30. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/emip.12040

Li, H. (2014). The effects of read‐aloud accommodations for students with and without disabilities: A meta‐analysis. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 33(3), 3-16. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/emip.12027

National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (2004, April). Standardized testing among secondary school students with disabilities. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International. http://www.nlts2.org/fact_sheets/nlts2_fact_sheet_2004_04.pdf

Rogers, C. M., Lazarus, S. S., & Thurlow, M. L. (2016). A summary of the research on the effects of test accommodations: 2013-2014 (NCEO Report 402). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes. http://www.cehd.umn.edu/NCEO/OnlinePubs/Report402/NCEOReport402.pdf

Thompson Road by Scott Wyatt

Because he thought I would be interested in reviewing it, Scott Wyatt, an author of contemporary fiction, sent me a copy of a new title called “Thompson Road.” The reasons he thought it was fitting for LD Blog will become clear as I describe the story.

Thompson Road follows adolescents who grow into adulthood in the Pacific Northwest in the 1930s-40s-50s. Mr.’s Wyatt’s choice of this time allows him to highlight many important ideas that touch on how people personally view learning disabilities (LD) and on issues about public policy in disabilities. But that’s not what Thompson Road is really about.
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Mistaking dyslexia


Daniel Britton’s Alphabet

In “Powerful images show what it’s like to read when you have dyslexia,” Ana Swanson reported about the typeface developed by Daniel Britton in 2013. As an individual with dyslexia, Mr. Britton, who works in graphic design, created a typeface that omits parts of capital letters, as illustrated here, putatively to simulate the experience of reading with dyslexia.

I am saddened by the possibility that people may get the mistaken impression that dyslexia is caused by misperception of the shapes or forms of letters. Fortunately, Ms. Swanson discounts this mistake at two points in her article. First, she notes that the font is not designed to mimic what a person with dyslexia sees when she or he reads, but to force skilled readers to lose fluency. Second, although I might quibble with the phrasing she uses, Ms. Swanson puts the focus in the right place when she reports
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The House should support Resolution 456

U.S. Representative Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, with the support of Representative Julia Brownley of California, introduced a resolution to the U.S. House of Representatives 10 January 2014 calling on “State and local educational agencies to recognize that dyslexia has significant educational implications that must be addressed.” The resolution, which was foreshadowed by a kick-off event by the Congressional Dyslexia Caucus in November of 2013, is drawing support around the Internet, as it should, from diverse sources:

  • Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, noted advocates and researchers on dyslexia, posted a notice on their site, Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, and published a guest editorial in the influential political news source, The Hill calling for support of the resolution.
  • Pete and Pam Wright of Wrightslaw, the widely esteemed site for legal information about students with disabilities, lent their support to the effort, recommending constituents contact their representatives.
  • Over on Barto’s World (long-time connection with LD Blog), Amy Barto posted an entry pointing to the Yale Center’s and Wrightslaw’s pages.
  • Over on High Expectations Advocacy, Sandra Fitzpatrick posted a blog entry pointing to the Yale Center post and recommending that people contact their own representatives to encourage those legislators to support the resolution.
  • Joan Brennan, at Help for Struggling Readers provided a message of support including some useful links (along with some links to her own product).

Dyslexia is the most common reason that students are identified as having learning disabilities in the US. It is, indeed, a problem that deserves very careful consideration and systematic, evidence-based treatment. Even though some may glamorize it and others may ignore it, I agree that the most appropriate course of action is to recognize it and empower schools (and others) to address it effectively and humanely.

Readers interested in obtaining a PDF copy of the full resolution can download one.

Testing genetic causes of dyslexia

Although at least four genes have been identified as possible markers for dyslexia, scientists have encountered considerable difficulty in coming to consensus about identifying a culprit as a contributing cause for the perplexing reading disorder. As noted previously here on LD Blog, DCDC2 (1 November 2005) and DYX1C1 (1 August 2008; 19 November 2009), among others, have been cited as possible loci for disruptions. But problems emerge when seeking to connect studies that point toward these candidate genes and studies showing the individuals with the problems. The associations between genes and problems appear in some language populations, but perhaps not in others, making one wonder about the clarity of the relationships.

Seeking a means of examining the relationships at a more abstract level, a group of European researchers collected data from a sample of individuals with dyslexia that represented people from eight different countries (Austria, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, Hungary, and the United Kingdom). Using this diverse language sample, they reasoned, would allow them to search the the connections between genes and dyslexia at a more abstract level than when testing with a sample of people speaking just one or two languages.
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Visual differences are a consequence, not a cause, of dyslexia

In an article to appear 10 July 2013 in Neuron, Olumide Olulade, Eileen Napoliello, and Guinevere Eden present a series of studies that greatly help educators, psychologists, neurologists, and others understand the relationship between visual deficits and dyslexia. Although most people interested in reading have understood that problems with phonological processes undergird dyslexia, personal accounts of those with dyslexia and some anomalous evidence about the visual cortex and the performance of individuals with dyslexia on certain visual tasks kept the possibility of a visual component open to debate. Professor Eden’s group devised studies and collected the data that shed light on these issues.

In a nutshell, in their first study, Eden’s team found the same results that others had found: When their participants with dyslexia were compared to similar aged children, they showed certain deficits in visual processing associated with a particular part of the brain shown by fMRI. However, when their participants were compared with younger children of like reading ability, there are no deficits in the visual performance; so, these children must not have had the visual problems all along. In their third study, the researchers provided even stronger evidence: The provided powerful remedial reading instruction to their participants and they observed not only improved reading outcomes, but they also found that the students had improved performance on the visual tasks as reflected in fMRI. (Click the accompanying image for a movie of Professors Eden and Olulade explaining the experiments.)

Here is the abstract:

Developmental dyslexia is a reading disorder, yet deficits also manifest in the magnocellular-domi- nated dorsal visual system. Uncertainty about whether visual deficits are causal or consequential to reading disability encumbers accurate identifica- tion and appropriate treatment of this common learning disability. Using fMRI, we demonstrate in typical readers a relationship between reading ability and activity in area V5/MT during visual motion pro- cessing and, as expected, also found lower V5/MT activity for dyslexic children compared to age- matched controls. However, when dyslexics were matched to younger controls on reading ability, no differences emerged, suggesting that weakness in V5/MT may not be causal to dyslexia. To further test for causality, dyslexics underwent a phonolog- ical-based reading intervention. Surprisingly, V5/MT activity increased along with intervention-driven reading gains, demonstrating that activity here is mobilized through reading. Our results provide strong evidence that visual magnocellular dysfunc- tion is not causal to dyslexia but may instead be consequential to impoverished reading.

Olulade, O. A., Napoliello, E. M., & Eden, G. F. (2013). Abnormal visual motion processing is not a cause of dyslexia. Neuron, 79, 1-11. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2013.05.002

The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia airs soon

Time bomb boy from the producers of 'The Big Picture'

The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia, a film by James Redford that portrays dyslexia as both a real problem with learning to read and also a force in individuals’ lives to develop alternative strengths, is scheduled to air on US national television 29 October 2012. Mr. Redford uses the life experiences of individuals, including children and well-known public figures, to dispel myths about dyslexia.

A dyslexic high school student pursues admission to a leading college—a challenge for a boy who didn’t learn to read until 4th grade. Additional accounts of the dyslexic experience from children, experts, and iconic leaders at the top of their fields, help us to understand that dyslexia, a persistent problem with learning to read, can be as great a gift as it sometimes is an obstacle.

In The Big Picture (also known as The D Word: Understanding Dyslexia when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival), Mr. Redford incorporated interviews with and content about many different people. As the faces of dyslexia, some of those involved in the production (Allison Schwartz, producer Karen Pritzker’s daughter, and Dylan Redford, Mr. Redford’s son) will be new to readers of LD Blog. Of course, some public figures who have remarkable achievement despite their dyslexia (e.g., businessman Charles Schwab, attorney David Boies) and some of the researchers (Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, naturally) will be familiar to readers of these pages.

Some themes (e.g., LD does not stand for “lazy and dumb”; reversals are not particularly meaningful) should be familiar. But familiarity with these themes and authorities are not reasons to miss this film. I’m looking for a place to see it and I hope you are, too.

Other’s views of the The Big Picture are encouraging: Duane Byrge, Hollywood Reporter; Jerry Penacoli, EXTRA; D. Schwartz, cine source; and Shelly Golderg, NY1.

Is RTI reducing identification of LD?

According to Jennifer Radcliffe’s story for the Houston (TX) Chronicle, “Experts can’t explain drop in state’s special education numbers,” students with disabilities—and, especially, students with Learning Disabilities—

… seem to be disappearing in Texas.

The Lone Star State diagnosed just 8.8 percent of its public school students as having special needs in 2011, down from 12 percent in 2000. Texas now has the lowest percentage of special education students in the nation – a full 4 percentage points below the U.S. average. Urban giants like the Houston and Dallas school districts identify even fewer children at 7.9 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively.

Ms. Radcliffe describes Texas as an atypical state in the distribution of states on the basis of percentages of students identified as having disabilities. And she explains that people do not have adequate explanations for the observed declines. She asks experts for explanations. Under the heading “National rates steady,” she focuses on Learning Disabilities.

The largest category in special education is children with a “specific learning disability.” In Texas, that category peaked in 1999 at 266,934 children, but fell to 172,148 by 2011, according to Texas Education Agency data. Nationally, the percentage of 3- to 21-year-old students with learning disabilities dropped from 6.1 percent in 2000 to 4.9 percent in 2010, according to the latest federal data.

Overall, national special education rates remained steady at 13 percent in that same span.

That data has [sic] prompted different interpretations.

“It’s very encouraging,” said Jack Fletcher, a University of Houston professor who heads the Texas Center for Learning Disabilities. “I don’t think people fully understand why, but it does seem to coincide with the state and federal initiatives for beginning reading instruction.”

Teachers are putting forth a greater effort to provide all young children with solid reading instruction and intense intervention, preventing the need for many to be referred to special education, Fletcher said.

Later in her coverage, Ms. Radcliffe interviews Gene Lenz, director of federal and state education policy for the Texas Education Agency, who refers to response to intervention (or instruction; RTI) as a way of avoiding “over-diagnosing” students. She quotes Mr. Lenz as saying, “Districts are taking care to make sure [every effort is made to refer students only after they fail to respond to intervention is] 100 percent true before they place a label on a child.”

These and similar discussions about the relationships between RTI and identification of students as having LD got me to thinking about the topic anew. Of course, alert readers recognize that the topic’s been on the front element a few times in the past (e.g., Does RtI reduce numbers of children in special education? 25 Feb 2010). There are at least a couple of ways to look at these discussions about the relationships between RTI and identification rates.

(1) One might start by looking at RTI as an independent variable. If (musing) RTI were a faithfully implemented approach to managing instructional programming (good screening, powerfully tiers of instruction, careful monitoring, flexible regrouping, strong administrative support, and so forth), what outcomes would one reasonably expect it to affect? Let’s make a list (and here I invite readers to expand my tentative list):

  1. Higher achievement, especially at the lower tail of the distribution;
  2. Fewer disciplinary referrals;
  3. Fewer absences;
  4. Fewer tardies;
  5. Higher self-concept outcomes;
  6. Fewer referrals for special ed;
  7. Fewer placements in special ed;
  8. [your dependent variable goes here…].

(2) Alternatively, if one had reduced identification rates, one would have to examine myriad possible causes for that reduction. Why might the percentage of students with, let’s say, SLD, have declined? Let’s make a list (and here, again, I invite readers to expand my tentative list):

  1. Teachers, those imperfect tests, have gotten the message that referring kids is bad;
  2. Musical diagnoses: Percentage of kids with autism (Shattuck, 2006) or ADHD has increased;
  3. RTI has been effective;
  4. Political systems have changed, leading to new biases (Wiley & Siperstein, 2011);
  5. The measurement systems themselves have changed;
  6. [your independent variable goes here…].

So, rather than looking at the situation with the preconception that RTI leads to reduced identification (i.e., RTI ==> lower SLD identification), I’m thinking we ought to be reflective about this issue. In one case, as illustrated in the first image, one is essentially looking at the matter from point of view of the independent variable, sort of looking forward in time. In the other case, one is looking from the effect, looking backward in time (see the second image).

I’d like to see the effects of RTI on these other dependent variables. Some clever data analysts ought to be able to conduct a quasi-regression discontinuity design on a grand scale to assess the effects of RTI in Florida, Texas, or elsewhere, no? Wouldn’t some of these outcomes be just as (or even more likely) to show the benefits of RTI than special education identification, which identifications are made by committees and other hard-to-model factors?

And, I’d like to see some stellar statistical models of variations in identification. In addition, to what extent is what’s being seen in prevalence today different from what was seen when Hallahan and colleagues reported about variation in rates of identification some years ago. Are the differences within the same ranges? Could any changes be essentially normal variation?

References

Shattuck, P. T. (2006). The contribution of diagnostic substitution to the growing administrative prevalence of autism in US special education. Pediatrics, 117, 1028-1037 doi: 10.1542/peds.2005-1516.

Wiley, A., & Siperstein, G. (2011). Seeing red, feeling blue: The impact of state political leaning on state identification rates for emotional disturbance. Behavioral Disorders, 36, 195-207.

Ingvar Lundberg: 1934-2012

Ingvar Lundberg—an internationally renowned psychologist who studied the psychology and pedagogy of reading and writing, learning disabilities such as dyslexia and dyscalculia, and problems in language development—died 23 April 2012. He was 77 years old.

Born in Stockholm 30 September 1934, Professor Lundberg began his academic career after teaching elementary school in the 1950s. He completed undergraduate and graduate training in the 1960s at the University of Stockholm and then began his academic career in the department of psychology at Umeå University in 1967. In 1995, he moved to Göteborg University and held dual appointments at Åbo Akademi, Finland, and Bergen University, Norway, during his tenure there. At the time of his death, he was Professor Emeritus in Psychology, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Although Professor Lundberg’s research ranged across many areas of psychology, we remember him here especially for his work on learning disabilities. He was a long-time member of the International Academy of Research in Learning Disability and the Society for Scientific Studies in Reading. As a perusal of the accompanying selected list of publications will show, he contributed a lot to our understanding of reading processes and problems.

Jacobson, C., & Lundberg, I. (2000). Early prediction of individual growth in reading. Reading and Writing, 13, 273-296.

Lundberg, I. & Nilsson, L.G. (1986). What church examination records can tell us about the inheritance of reading disability. Annals of Dyslexia, 36, 217-236.

Lundberg, I. (1988). Preschool prevention of reading failures: Does training in phonological awareness work? In R. L. Masland & M. W. Masland (Eds.), Preschool prevention of reading failure (pp. 163-176). Parkton, MD: York Press.

Lundberg, I., & Höien, T. (1989). Phonemic deficits: A core symptom of developmental dyslexia? The Irish Journal of Psychology, 10, 579-592.

Lundberg, I., & Höien, T. (1990). Patterns of information processing skills and word recognition strategies in developmental dyslexia. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 34, 231-240.

Lundberg, I. (1994). Reading difficulties can be predicted and prevented: A Scandinavian perspective on phonological awareness and reading. In C. Hulme & M. Snowling (Eds.), Reading development and dyslexia (pp. 180-199). Philadelphia: Whurr.

Lundberg, I. (1998). Why is learning to read a hard task for some children? Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 39, 155-157.

Lundberg, I. (2006). Working memory and reading disability. In L.-G. Nilsson & N. Ohta (Eds.), Memory and society: Psychological perspectives (pp. 198-214). New York: Psychology Press.

Olofsson, Å. & Lundberg, I. (1983). Can phonemic awareness skills be trained in kindergarten? Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 24, 34-44.

DBA conference June 2011

The British Dyslexia Association holds its eighth international conference in June of 2011. There is an outstanding list of presentations by authorities, including talks by Margaret Snowling, Bruce Pennington, David Saldaña, Joel Talcott, and many others. Download a copy of the announcement directly or jump over to the http://bdainternationalconference.org/ Web site where you can explore the list of speaker, learn about bookings, register, and so forth.