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As a parent, you have observed your student struggling in school or having difficulty with retaining information but you are not sure about the next step.  Know that you are not alone. Learning problems can be a symptom of many things.  Getting an accurate diagnosis and learning profile is an important step because if your student's strengths and deficit areas can be identified, parents and the school system can work together to teach to his or her strengths while remediating deficit areas.

The first thing to do is to ask your son or daughter’s teachers for assistance.  Schedule a meeting and share your observations and concerns.  There are a number of avenues that the school system can (and are obligated to) investigate.  Informally, the school may meet with you to discuss or propose extra interventions in the general education classroom.  You may hear acronyms like Response to Intervention (RtI).  In short, this is part of the Individual’s with Disabilities Improvement Act (IDEA) which states research based interventions must be put in place and have progress monitored before a student can be determined to need more intensive intervention like those received through special education services.

Your son or daughter’s school will most likely invite you to participate in a meeting called a Student Support Team (SST) meeting.  This a formal meeting where a written plan of interventions is developed.  As a parent you may request or be asked for your consent to conduct an educational evaluation from the school system.  This evaluation provides a complete learning profile of your student and will in turn assist your son or daughter's team in choosing the most appropriate interventions - and perhaps most importantly, is at no cost to parents.

Another option the Student Support Team or parents may investigate is called a “504 Accommodation Plan”.  This plan is based upon Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which guarantees equal access to all programs which receive federal funding.  Eligibility for a formal written accommodation plan is considered based on a medical diagnosis and any accommodations the team determines a student needs for “equal access” to the school environment which includes instructional, access, and assessment accommodations. 

The Student Support Team or parent may also request a referral to special education where the team will review all information available to determine if a student meets one of the state eligibility requirements for special education services - for students with dyslexia, this falls under the Specific Learning Disabilities category.  The school system is bound by IDEA to follow the eligibility criteria to determine a student’s eligibility for special education services.

This can be a confusing process for parents mostly in part to the schools system's obligation to follow what is specified in IDEA , Section 504, and state educational rules which are separate processes.  If you have any questions, reach out to your son or daughter’s teachers or feel free to contact me. 

Next month: Comparing Student Support Team (SST) and Section 504 Accommodation plans.

Paul West is the assistant director of special education and system 504 coordinator for the Forsyth County School System.  You may reach Paul at or by phone 770-887-2461.

How to Ask the School System for Help. (July 2013)

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Finding the right tutor can determine the level of your student’s success.  You and your student should feel confident enough to talk freely to the tutor and trust that she has a genuine interest in your child. Here are some tips and questions to consider when searching for a tutor:

  1. Does the tutor first ask questions about your student, such as previous help received, your concerns, and what goals you expect your child to obtain?

  2. Is there specific knowledge in the area of your child’s needs? For example, fluency, reading comprehension or phonemic awareness.

  3. What strategies are taught to assist in my student’s success?

  4. What kind of training and background does the tutor have and is it congruent with your child’s needs? The tutor should be certified in an intervention program recognized by IDA.

  5. How will the student’s progress be monitored and shared with me?

  6. Intervention tutoring should be twice weekly at a minimum. Frequency will impact your student’s progress.

  7. How long has the tutor been working? You and the tutor should plan on a long-term commitment.

  8. Do they charge a reasonable amount per hour and is it comparable to other tutors’ fees? A minimal number of sessions should not be sold to the parent.

  9. All policies, such as payment, location of tutoring and missed lessons should be clear and reasonable.

  10. Listen to your instincts.

Finding The Right Tutor