Middle school literacy and students with disabilities


I was talking to a co worker of mine and we were talking about how kids are in middle school and still can not read and write. This just totally blows my mind! I was trying to figure out where the break down starts and how can I as a teacher help close the achievement gap? How can kids go through elementary school and middle school and are sill are several grades levels below in reading? Is it just merely their disability or some other underlying cause? I ‘m sure there is not just one answer that tells me exactly where the break down is, but i’m sure there are several factors that come into play. My question is how can I do more to help kids become closer to grade level in the 7 months of school that we have left in this school year?

I was reading article and it talked about this very subject, it said that significant numbers of adolescents in the US do not read and or write at levels needed to meet the demands of the 21st century. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) indicate little improvement of literacy skills for the nations 13-17 year olds (Perue, Grigg, & Donahue, 2005; Persky, Daane, & Jin, 2003; Grigg, Donahue & Dion, 2007).  The article stated that in respect to reading, the most most recent NAEP data indicated that 36% of 4th graders and 27% of 8th grader students in the U.S. scored at the Below Basic level of proficiency, which NAEP defines as partial mastery of knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work given at grade level. The students that fall in this category have difficulty with literal understanding of what is read, ability to identify specific aspects of the text that reflect overall meaning, making inferences, and drawing conclusions based on the text.  As I was reading this I was saying to myself OH MY!!! This is totally true in my opinion. As a special educator, I often see students who are several grade levels below in reading and struggle significantly with drawing conclusions and making inferences which is part of the 8th grade curriculum according to Common Core Standards. I write several IEP’s (Individualized Education Plans) that include goals that deal with making inferences and drawing conclusions because it is such a struggle for some students and they need time to develop this skill.  Underdeveloped literacy skills have great consequences for students and families. These effects are academic , social, emotional, and economic nature. Students with LD (leaning disabled) experience significant deficits in reading and math. According to the (National Longitudinal Transition StudyII, 2003), 21% of students who are identified as LD are estimated to be five or more grade levels below in reading and drop out of high school at higher rates than their non disabled counterparts. Students with LD are often times inadequately prepared for the academic challenges that lie ahead. So after reading this, how can I help more? What can I do differently to reach the kids that I teach who are greatly below grade level in reading?

When planning I need to make sure that I target areas that are critical to reading such as vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, spelling, and grammar, which I do on a daily basis, but I could maybe incorporate more.  Try to combine strategy-based instruction/remediation with skill based instruction. In my opinion strategies are only effective if the students have the appropriate skills o carry out a given strategy. In middle school kids are expected to read volumes of materials from varied level texts and topics and are expected to answer comprehension questions about the text, make predictions, draw conclusions, and make inferences. This can be a daunting task for someone who is identified with a learning disability. Teaching these students effective strategies and practicing this with them as a whole group hopefully will help close the achievement gap and get these students with learning disabilities closer to grade level.


Adolescent Literacy and Older Students with Learning Disabilities (2008).


One thought on “Middle school literacy and students with disabilities

  1. Thanks for sharing this! I am struggling with the same issues! One third of my students are at or above grade level, one third are about 1-2 years behind, and another third are greater than two years behind grade level. It’s daunting! One thing we are trying this year as a school is to help all kids see themselves as readers and to get kids reading more. One of our school’s summer required readings for teachers was The Book Whisperer, by Donalyn Miller. Miller is a teacher who wrote this book about how she connects her students to books, and really builds their entire relationship and class around reading and love for books. It was an interesting and quick read and really pushed me to reconsider my role as teacher and to think critically about how I am shaping and influencing my kid’s opinions about reading.
    So far, it seems this strategy is working (though, I’d mention, for kids reading significantly below grade level, its also important to match them with books at their level so that they can actually read them.) It was wonderful having so many parents come in for parent teacher conferences last week raving about the books their kids are reading. A few parents mentioned that they never saw their child pick up a book by choice before, yet now it seems to be their favorite pastime. It’s also encouraging hearing kids start conversations on the playground about the books they’re reading. Here’s to hoping all this extra reading equates to at least some reading growth!


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