About the Authors:
In this paper, we the authors, present a slightly modified letter from a parent about the difficulty her son experienced with a standardized reading test her son has to take in school. Children in the American school systems often undergo oral reading tests to evaluate their level of reading ability. For children who stutter, this presents a problem depicted in the parent’s letter. This parent gives permission to share her letter so that other children may not experience these difficulties.
Letter revised for publication by Kim Krieger M.S. CCC-SLP BCS-F and Lourdes Ramos-Heinrichs M.A. CCC-SLP BCS-F.
My son Landon started stuttering around his 3rd birthday. In our home, we attributed the stuttering to the challenges to be heard in a talkative family; or we thought that maybe his active mind raced ahead of his verbal skills. Landon’s older brother had a period of stuttering around the same age, but it had quickly passed. In addition, a family member and a friend – both speech-language pathologists, told us not to worry as it was only a developmental phase and would resolve on its own.
Two years later, Landon’s kindergarten teacher presented concerns about the stuttering to the school’s Speech-Language Pathologist. The stuttering seemed to be lessening; but it was still not resolved. Landon just became adept at hiding it; he had become what is known as covert stutterer. Landon figured out what sounds and words troubled him and simply avoided them. He became a master of the synonym, so to speak, skillfully finding alternate words to replace those that seemed to lead to stuttering. At school conferences, my husband and I heard from his teacher about Landon’s high reading lexile (an educational tool that uses a measure to match readers with appropriate leveled reading materials) and yet wondered why he always seemed to fail the oral reading fluency sub-tests from reading instruments such as the DIBELS. Landon’s school measured reading achievement by having the students read a passage with both rate and accuracy determining pass/fail. Landon sometimes achieved reading accuracy but his speech rate was deemed too high; he spoke too fast. Our family joked that he had the makings of a “fast talking auctioneer”. We did not understand that this rapid rate or “run on speech” was a strategy he cleverly used to avoid stuttering.
Throughout elementary school, his teachers never recorded an on-going problem with stuttering. Landon regularly participated in school plays, where he recited his lines fluently. Eventually, we learned that many people who stutter are fluent when playing in a theatrical role.
In fifth grade, Landon was tested and accepted into the school district’s Gifted and Talented program; and yet continued to fail the oral reading fluency tests. In the spring of sixth grade, he took tests that, when paired with the recommendations from his teachers, decided academic placement at the middle school. Although Landon tested well, his classroom teacher told him that unless he passed the oral-DIBELS reading fluency test, she could not recommend him for next year’s Honors English class. Distraught, that day Landon came home from school and confided his upset and frustration. When asked why the oral reading fluency test was difficult, he replied that when he slowed down to improve rate, his accuracy score plummeted because he would then stutter. With great introspection, he went on to say that when he speaks, he can change or avoid words that trip him up; but the oral reading tests are rigid and don’t allow that. If he speaks quickly, he can often push past the sounds that trigger a stutter. In an initial attempt at advocacy, we met with the school’s Speech-Language Pathologist and school principal to talk about stuttering and the need for testing accommodations, which resulted in a 504 plan (504 plans are accommodations for children with disabilities in the American school systems). To our great relief, the principal agreed to place Landon in the Honors English class. The 504 was offered in the interim, due to the fact that it was late in the school year, with recommendation for comprehensive speech assessments accommodations to take place in September, after summer vacation. Through this experience, we learned that standardized reading scores, such as those provided from DIBELS, should not be the only determinant in course placement decisions for children who stutter. Other important indicators of reading achievement should be used such as informal reading scores, running records, and teacher recommendation
Then again, in seventh grade, Landon reported to his parents that he had been docked a whole grade for speaking too rapidly during an oral presentations. AND, the Oral Fluency Test DIBELS was back in his life. This was a newly added assessment to middle school. After inquiring with school administrators about the 504 plan accommodations regarding oral reading fluency tests and oral presentations, we discovered that his elementary school had as of yet failed to forward the 504 plan to the middle school. There was no way for the middle school to know about Landon’s stuttering difficulty, as this information did not appear in any of the transferred records. At the recommendation of the middle school Speech-Language Pathologist, my husband and I requested that a fluency assessment be administered and as a result, an IEP (Individualized Education Program) was created outlining federally mandated testing accommodations. The IEP included weekly school based stuttering therapy services. Landon will be in high school next year. Although still a covert stutterer, he has learned, in speech therapy, some effective techniques on self-advocacy and has learned strategies to manage his speech fluency and oral communication. He is now able to openly speak about his communication needs and verbalize to his teachers that he stutters and is in need of certain accommodations.
My husband and I have learned a valuable lesson about our son’s education. We must actively engage in partnership with the school to ensure that his special education needs are met; and that he has as positive experience as possible during the rest of his High school years; and hopefully, he will learn to carry his self-advocacy into the post high school years.
Message from the Authors
◆ The American Speech-Hearing-Language Association (ASHA) formed an Ad hoc committee to address concerns that children who stutter are being placed in lower-level reading groups because of problems reading out loud. Parents and teachers do not feel prepared to manage the variability of school district policies related to the assessment reading achievement tests. This is what we learned:
- Rigidity in testing is a problem in testing children who stutter
- Speech-Language Pathologists should get involved to advocate for students who stutter (before, during, and after assessments),
- Increased administrative support and collaboration is vitally important
- Other children with speech and language deficits or differences may also have problems on oral reading fluency measures (apraxia, English language learners, hearing impairment, cluttering)
- Accommodations should start early in the education of the child.
- Accommodations should be monitored especially at transition periods (semester change, grade level change)
Ad Hoc Committee Members: Diane C. Games (Chair), Kathleen Scaler-Scott, Nina Reeves, Lourdes Ramos-Heinrichs, Karole Howland, Laura Young-Campbell, Kim Krieger, and Diane Paul (ASHA)
Angie Meissner Spencer, parent
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