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  • Writer's pictureThe Dyslexia Initiative

Reading Below Grade Level

Updated: Nov 29, 2019

by: Ashley Roberts

Dear Educational Establishment:

I have a question for you.

When did you decide it was ok that a child reading below grade level was acceptable?

Now, while your PR departments sit up straighter in their chairs and brainstorm how to spin this in a "we don't believe that" position rife with indignation at the accusation that lies within my question, I have to point to the falling NAEP scores. The evidence within the scores themselves is wholly and completely damning. If that weren't enough, the accusation stems from the knowledge gained from every advocate that I know who represents families in both 504 and ARD meetings, and the litany of school administrators who have defended the mantra that reading below grade level is an acceptable norm.

Here is the slippery slope your position creates. As the expectation of average declines, and as more and more children are unable to read above a 4th grade level, because that's where books stop having pictures in them, the inherent danger here is that for the citizens of this country, you are choosing to make the 4th grade reading level the norm. You are choosing to make it acceptable. You are choosing illiteracy for our children and for our society. You are choosing to significantly and artificially widen the gap between the haves and have nots which in turn creates a class system. You are choosing to make this impact across generations. You are choosing the destruction of our country.

Do you realize that? I mean really really really deep down all the way to your toes realize that?

If you do then you are evil.

If you don't, then your ignorance makes you criminally negligent, as ignorance of these facts does not exonerate you.


And frankly, you know who you are, though you'll likely never read this.

Thirty plus years worth of children have walked the halls of American schools, filled with hopes and dreams of becoming Astronauts and Presidents. Their parents, oblivious to your silent coup, have sent their children, trusting in you, believing in you, that the education that they themselves received would be granted to their offspring, not knowing the truth that the science of reading had been completely displaced with the belief that reading is natural and not learned.

30% of children did and will continue to learn to read and they thrive. Reading is simple for them. It makes sense.

70% of these children did not and will not read and struggle. Their parents hire tutors, or buckle down and teach them themselves, or the child does not learn to read at all.

1 in 5 of all of these children were and are dyslexic.

The result? 80% of our prison population is functionally illiterate with estimates of roughly 50% being dyslexic ( ; Our dyslexic children are 3 times at greater risk of suicide, and suicide rates have tripled for the general population over the last decade (

I wish I could solely and completely blame your inability to teach our children to read for all of the above, but while it is not, it is most definitely a major root cause.

The amusing thing is even your brain child Fountas & Pinnell has a ranking system for what determines grade level reading, and you willfully ignore it. Too, many of our school districts water that ranking down. All of this is just more evidence that the "average" bar is being lowered.

Within our university systems the educational leadership desperately clings to Whole Language ideologies and knowingly harms generation after generation of aspiring teacher by refusing to teach them how to teach.

Our publishing companies both enable and foster a testing culture that takes even more and more time away from the teacher to fulfill an impossible to reach and completely false standard based on nothing tangible, real, meaningful or valuable.

Yet, you, dear school administrator, sitting across from me and my fellow advocates in these 504 and IEP meetings, you are the face of denial and you have no idea what you are denying and the consequences that brings. To acknowledge that a child is NOT reading on grade level, and by not reading on grade level I mean BELOW grade level, and to have that not cause shock, dismay and panic on your part, to have that not incite the entire team to respond in an intensive, constructive and caring way, to not incite you to do all that you can to aid that child in reaching grade level understanding, is negligent.


This should be the very definition of "de minimus."

This assumes too that the child has an "average" IQ. What does this mean? From a bell curve perspective in the educational world, this means an IQ score of 85-115 with 100 being perfectly average.

Average, /ˈav(ə)rij/, Noun, Definition: a number expressing the central or typical value in a set of data, in particular the mode, median, or (most commonly) the mean, which is calculated by dividing the sum of the values in the set by their number. Synonyms: Mean, Median, Mode, Midpoint, Center, Norm, Standard, Rule, Par.

So what does this mean if the child has an average IQ and they are reading below grade level? The answer is the education system is failing that child. Any average child SHOULD and CAN reach grade level accomplishments. Period.

Anything less than grade level is unacceptable, and negligent.

How does this correlate to our dyslexic children? Our dyslexic children of average intelligence should be in EXACTLY THE SAME BOAT AS THEIR PEERS. Not a lesser boat, it's not ok that our dyslexic children get to read below grade level and have that be acceptable, it's just not. It never has been and it most certainly never will be.

Our dyslexic children can indeed learn to read; they can function equally with their peers, if they are given proper remediation and the tools necessary to support their intelligence, ability and everyone, including the educational establishment as a whole, is focused and committed to their success.

So everyone is clear right? The minimum benchmark that is acceptable for any "average" child is to be able to capably read on grade level. Not the district watered down version of benchmark scores, but true, real, definitive grade level ability and comprehension.

Ok, so we've made a big deal of average. What about above average? What is the acceptable grade level reading standard for those children?

That is a great question and I am so glad you asked!

Above average IQ in educational terms is anything above 115. Above average means higher or better than "average." This means that the ability of the child / person exceeds their average peers. From an educational perspective, this means they are capable of more, and should be challenged for more.

Depending on where their giftedness lies, aka their core intellectual strengths, an above average IQ child who is not dyslexic, has the ability to read above grade level, not forgetting that they should definitely be reading at grade level.

Depending on where their giftedness lies, aka their core intellectual strengths, an above average IQ child who is dyslexic, should definitely be reading at grade level at the minimum, and potentially above grade level, but again that depends on receiving the proper remediation and supports. Above average IQ does not negate dyslexia and supports will still be needed to level the playing field in the educational environment, and that should be clear as well.

So as you enter your next 504 or IEP meeting, seek to understand exactly where the child is reading, and if it is below grade level, ask the team point blank what is THEIR plan to get the child to grade level ability. Anything less than an aggressive plan to achieve this benchmark is unacceptable. I don't care what "average" is being watered down to, do not let it happen. The power is in YOUR HANDS. It is your right to demand this for your child. It is your child's right.

Do not be afraid to push your school team to achieve this goal. You are the parent and this is your child, and anything less is a denial of FAPE.

This is the #DyslexiaRevolution and it is about LITERACY FOR ALL!

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