Despite Special Ed, Many Kids With Reading Difficulties Still Lag Far Behind

Despite special education, many children with reading and spelling difficulties (RSD) still lag far behind their same-age peers during the first two years of school, according to a new Finnish study published in the European Journal of Special Needs Education.

In addition, the spelling skills of RSD children who struggled with other types of learning difficulties remained far behind their peers and this gap continued to grow.

“This warrants the question of whether the contents and teaching methods used in special education meet the needs of children. Do we have enough skilled special education teachers capable of helping children with reading and spelling difficulties?” said Professor of Special Education Leena Holopainen from the University of Eastern Finland.

The researchers said about 10 to 15 percent of elementary students have developmental reading and spelling difficulties. They stress that identifying these children as soon as possible and making special education available to them is paramount in moving beyond RSD and preventing other secondary difficulties in learning and studying.

In the Finnish education system, children can receive special education services without a formal diagnosis. Instead, the parents, student, and teacher make the decision together.

According to the researchers, two-thirds of children with RSD who lagged behind the age level received part-time special education approximately once a week during their first and second school years.

“However, one third of children received part-time special education only either in their first or in their second year of school, and the average amount was less than 30 hours per year,” said Holopainen.

The findings also show that when children with RSD had other learning difficulties, their skills lagged far behind their age level, and the gap continued to grow during the first two school years.

“Our findings are relevant both in terms of teacher education and in terms of special education resources schools allocate to reading and spelling skills,” said Holopainen.

Holopainen added that schools should look for ways to organize their special education in reading and spelling in a way that provides sufficient support to all children who need it also after the first school year.

Source: University of Eastern Finland