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Reading Difficulties and Retention
Q: My son has been diagnosed with ADHD. He is presently taken Ritalin® twice a day. He is in second grade. He has been tested at the school to be sure that his lack of reading was not due to anything other than the fact that he just could not concentrate. He tested fourth-grade level in every area but reading phonics (which is the only method of teaching at this school). The school counselor pulled me aside one day and told me she thought my husband and I should consider having our son repeat second grade. We'd like to get someone else's opinion. My husband and I feel that Travis should go on to third grade because we are afraid that he will be bored and not challenged if he repeats second. But on the other hand, we do not want him struggling to keep up with the other kids when it comes to reading. I intend to have him tutored in reading this summer. Should I feel the summer out before deciding whether or not he should go on to third grade?
A: If your son tests at fourth grade level in most areas, why in the world would the school counselor recommend that he repeat second grade?
If he is behind in reading, then I would put him in a specialized reading instructional program right now, and keep that going for the summer. He should show significant gains if the program is matched to his needs (you should consider something like Project Read, or Orton-Gillingham, or The Wilson Reading Program, or another specialized reading program that uses a multisensory approach to teaching phonemic analysis.) The truth is that most kids with reading problems show incredible gains if they are "intensively and relentlessly" exposed to specialized approaches to reading instruction. I'm not talking here about a couple of 45-minute periods a week, but an hour or two per day. If intensive phonics instruction doesn't "take," then consider a program called Fast ForWord, which does an impressive job retraining the auditory processing center of the brain. This isn't for everyone, but when it's a proper fit, the gains are astounding. If Travis hasn't had a thorough evaluation that you have confidence in, then consider having someone outside the school take an objective look at him.
Let's get back to the issue of repetition. What will repeating second grade accomplish? You are right when you say that Travis might get bored or not challenged in grade two if he is a smart kid. Do this intensive work with him and see how he's doing at the end of summer. You can always decide to repeat a grade then, but I don't think it is the solution, if it just means another year of the same thing. If the school won't pay for the intervention, then take money out of his "college fund" to pay for these services. At least then, he can GO to college, even if you have to take out loans later on!
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.