What is adequate instruction? Is it instruction that meets the needs of 80% of the children? 90%? 95%?
This is an essential question to answer, and one that is not easy answered and probably will not be answered sufficiently in the near future. However, diagnosis criteria require clinicians to determine if the instruction has been sufficient before labeling the child as reading disabled. Surprisingly, this rule-out requirement impacts both public school and private clinicians. The DSM V, The International Dyslexia Association and the SLD Eligibility Guidelines all state that dyslexia cannot be due to a lack of adequate instruction. Therefore, it is impossible to give a diagnosis of a specific learning disability without having addressed the issue of adequate instruction. While clinicians have numerous measurements available to evaluate specific skills, there is not one to evaluate adequate instruction. Although, we all must be evaluating it regularly as we continue to diagnosis children with Specific Learning Disabilities. This leaves us with the question, what is adequate instruction and how do we measure it?
One of the greatest challenges in evaluating what is adequate instruction is the fact that “adequate” depends on the individual. There is a large range of adequate. What is adequate for one student may not be adequate for another. Although there is some common sense rules that we can employ as clinicians to at least touch on the issue of adequate instruction.
The overall performance of the school is one way to determine if the instruction is adequate. If 90-95% of the students are proficient, it an be reasonable to assume that the instruction is adequate. If only 30% of the school is proficient, similarly it would be safe to assume that the instruction is not adequate. This information is publicly available allowing even private clinicians to get a realistic picture of the overall adequacy of instruction for the school.
Collecting general information about the amount of time dedicated to reading instruction can also be a great measurement of adequacy. Most schools will report the entire time dedicated to a literacy block, but when it comes to measuring adequacy to determine the presence of a reading disability specifically impacting basic reading skills, we want to determine the amount of time the child is spends reading (I mean actually lifting the words off the page) per day. I have found from my time in the public schools and working in private practice that when I push this question and get a valid answer, the child is typically spending an average of 20 mins reading per day. Let me say that again, only 20 minutes.
As clinicians we must continue to push the topic of adequacy and ensure that we are diagnosing those individuals that are truly learning disabled and not those that are often referred to as teaching disabled or curriculum causalities.