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Failing Fourth Grade
Q: My 10-year-old is getting left back in fourth grade. She failed every subject on her report card. I'm afraid she has a learning disability, but I'm not quite sure what it is. She loves to read and enjoys singing. The problem is she can't spell second-grade words, she has poor concentration in the classroom, and her books are a mess. When she does her homework, it doesn't make sense because her spelling and writing are so bad. But she loves to write and has a gift for telling stories.
I hired a tutor and noticed that she does well one-on-one. The tutor told me that she doesn't have a problem with my daughter and that she learns well. However, at school her teacher complains constantly that she has a short attention span and fools around with her classmates. My daughter had attended Catholic school since first grade, but I switched her to public school for the first time this year. I received the same response from all her teachers. When the teacher gave her special attention, and worked closely with her, that would be the only time she showed improvement. If the teacher doesn't do that, she gets lost in the crowd. I can't afford to keep paying for tutoring.
I just want someone to help me understand if she has a learning disability or if she's just goofing around. I think she knows she has a problem because she feels awful when I get bad reports. She says she can't help her behavior and wants to do well. I just want her to get some help. What should I do?
A: The behaviors you are describing including -- concentrating in class, poor spelling and writing, and general disorganization -- could very well be symptoms of a learning disability. You have the right to a free evaluation done by your local school or school district to see exactly what the problem is.
If you have difficulty getting the help you need from your school district, call the toll-free number of the International Dyslexia Association at 1-800-ABCD123 or the Learning Disabilities Association of America at 1-888-300-6710. These organizations both were started by parents who shared your concerns. Ask if either of them has a branch in your area. If they do, ask if they hold any meetings for parents or if they have someone who could guide you through the process of an evaluation for your daughter. Both organizations can also send you information about learning disabilities for free. Some branches have a videotape library where you can come in and get more information about understanding learning disabilities. Another good resource for free information is the National Center for Learning Disabilities at 1-800-575-7373. Good luck!
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For more than 20 years, Eileen Marzola has worked with children and adults with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders, and with their parents and teachers. She has been a regular education classroom teacher, a consultant teacher/resource teacher, an educational evaluator/diagnostician, and has also taught graduate students at the university level. Marzola is an adjunct assistant professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Hunter College of the City University of New York. She also maintains a private practice in the evaluation and teaching of children with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders.