From “Just Words” to Lexia, FCPS Continued Its One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Addressing Dyslexia

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) did it again. It used a one-size-fits-all approach to addressing the needs of students who struggle with reading. In 2020, Lexia gave FCPS 999,999 licenses for its programs. FCPS’ response? The FCPS Office of Special Education Instruction (OSEI) recommended Lexia for all students who were using “Just Words” prior to Governor Ralph Northam’s 3.23.20 executive order calling for the cessation of in-person instruction. This was confirmed by FCPS Special Education Teacher Kelly Teclesenbent in her 4.22.20, email to a parent, in which she stated:
“The Office of Special Education Instruction is recommending Lexia for students who were using Just Words before the closure. “

Click on the image below to view Kelly Teclesenbent’s emails with the parent.

FCPS OSEI knew the Lexia programs (“Core 5” for the younger kids and “PowerUp” for the older set) were inappropriate for some students, but proposed them anyway. FCPS OSEI Coordinator Ellie Stack confirmed this during the 9.21.20 Special Education Chair meetings. (.) During the 9.21.20 morning meeting, Ellie stated the following:
“Now that we are providing synchronous instruction on a daily basis, Lexia is not going to be the most appropriate program for some students. And the same goes with our other programs.”
During the 9.21.20 afternoon meeting, she stated the following:
Lexia is a is a company who last spring, they gave us 999,999 licenses. That’s right, almost a million licenses to use their program and we in Fairfax used it widespread. A lot of special ed students were using it and a lot of gen ed students were using it and it was fabulous for in the spring when we weren’t doing so much of the synchronous instruction for our students. Well, now that we are doing synchronous daily instruction for our students, and a lot of our programs, a lot of the other programs have given us permission to use their programs virtually. You might find that we’re having conversations, saying you know, while Johnny use this program in the spring, really when we look at the data, his needs are showing us that this other program might be more appropriate.
During the 9.21.20 morning meeting Ellie proposed teachers wait until later in the school year to match students with appropriate programs, even though IDEA calls for an IEP that addresses a child’s unique needs on day one of the school year—not after month one or two or three of the school year. During the morning meeting she stated the following:
So we are going to be helping you make the match. If we can’t have the conversation now about program matching, because we know how insane it is in the schools right now, it is possible that we might give you access to a program that you previously had access to, and then asked to meet with you, you being the teacher here, not you, the department chair, but you the teacher will ask me what the teacher maybe in October or a little bit later, to then make sure that it is the appropriate program.
FCPS’ financial reporting (see end of article) suggests that FCPS did, indeed, wait until October 2020 to match students with different programs. Between March and June 2020, FCPS paid zero dollars to Lexia Learning Systems, LLC. From July to September 2020, FCPS averaged $9,200 a month to Lexia Learning Systems, LLC. In October 2020, FCPS reports $100,150 to Lexia Learning Systems, LLC. In the five months that followed (Nov. to Feb.) FCPS totaled $1,400. (Source: FCPS Transparency site.)

But . . . “FCPS Was Just Doing Its Best During a Bad Situation”

On might try to argue that FCPS did the best it could under the circumstances. Here’s the response to such an argument: FCPS has provided in-school, in-person instruction for students since last year. It had the ability to provide synchronous instruction for students who have reading struggles. If not in-school and in-person, FCPS could have matched students with companies such as Lindamood Bell and/or individual tutors who have been instructing students via an online platform for years. For the 2020-21 school year, FCPS has proposed four-days-a-week Orton Gillingham-based instruction, provided via an online format and by a FCPS staff member—something else FCPS could have chosen to do last year. FCPS chose Lexia, which is less expensive than providing tutors—even though Lexia, itself, underscores the importance of teacher involvement and instruction during the implementation of such programs. The following is stated on Lexia’s site:
Technology can be a key component of a personalized learning approach, but it cannot stand alone.  Lexia believes personalized learning is a combination of effective, teacher-led instruction combined with an interactive, user-centric experience that supports the varying cognitive abilities of all students. With Lexia, teachers can see detailed, real-time reports that help prioritize and differentiate instruction, allowing students to develop critical reading skills at their own pace.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Lexia-web-site-screen-shot.jpg

Students Entered 2020-21 School Year At Risk For Failing In Reading

Instead of guaranteeing continuity of learning in—at a minimum—reading, the state of Virginia entered the 2020-21 school year with a high number of students who are at risk for reading failures. In his 3.19.21 Superintendent’s Memo #071-21, James Lane stated:
Fall data from PALS shows that students began the 2020-2021 school year with less well-developed early literacy skills than in previous years. PALS data from fall 2020 show 27.2 percent of Kindergarten students and 28.5 percent of first-grade students started the school year at high-risk for reading failure. This reflects a significantly elevated percentage of students below the PALS benchmark, when compared to previous years. There were disproportionate increases in children falling below the PALS benchmark this year, compared to last year, among students who are Black, Hispanic, children from low-income backgrounds, and English learners. Given these trends, it is critical for schools and divisions to examine how students’ literacy skills and risks in literacy development may have changed across the school year. The spring window for PALS offers an important data point for educators and for planning instruction and support in the coming year.
Unfortunately, the report doesn’t mention the older students who 1) have been receiving inappropriate programs for years and/or 2) who haven’t been identified as having special education needs. For example, that high school student who takes forever to turn in work (on the occasions that he does turn it in) might be considered lazy by teachers, when in reality he has undiagnosed Dyslexia that will impact every day of the rest of his life.

What Does IDEA Say About This?

Per the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is—wait for it—individualized. A school district can’t base an IEP on what it has available. It must base the IEP on the individual needs of the child. It must provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Per 300.17 of IDEA, these are four components of FAPE:
Free appropriate public education or FAPE means special education and related services that— (a) Are provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge; (b) Meet the standards of the SEA, including the requirements of this part; (c) Include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education in the State involved; and (d) Are provided in conformity with an individualized education program (IEP) that meets the requirements of §§300.320 through 300.324.
Nothing about IDEA advocates for a one-size-fits-all approach.

Know This, Too

This article isn’t a criticism of Lexia’s programs any more than it is a criticism of the program “Just Words”. It is a criticism of a school system that used one program as its go-to—and then switched to another program 999,999 licenses later. Two Virginia hearing officers called “Just Words” inappropriate for students with Dyslexia. In addition, Wilson, the publisher of “Just Words” does not endorse the program for students with Dyslexia. FCPS’ response? It continued to propose “Just Words” long after it knew it wasn’t appropriate—and then shifted those kids to Lexia. Students who were inappropriately placed in “Just Words” were proposed Lexia simply because of the inappropriate “Just Words” placement.

FCPS and Lexia

Between fiscal year 2017 and fiscal year 2021 to date (through February 2021), FCPS has paid the following amounts to Lexia Learning Systems LLC:
  • Fiscal Year 2017 (July 1 through June 2017): $1,600
  • Fiscal Year 2018 (July 1 2017–June 2018): $9,900
  • Fiscal Year 2019 (July 1 2018–June 2019): $4,900
  • Fiscal Year 2020 (July 1 2019–June 2020): $38,825
  • Fiscal Year 2020 (July 1 2019–June 2020) Monthly Breakdown:
August 2020: $8,925 September 2020: $28,500 October 2020: $0 November 2020: $0 December 2020: $0 January 2021: $0 February 2021: $1,400 March 2021: $0 April 2021: $0 May 2021: $0 June 2021: $0
  • Fiscal Year 2021 to date (July 1 2020–February 2021): $130,420
  • Fiscal Year 2021 to date (July 1 2020–February 2021) Monthly Breakdown:
July 2020: $9,000 August 2020: $9,600 September 2020: $9,270 October 2020: $100,150 November 2020: $1,500 December 2020: $0 January 2020: $0 February 2020: $900

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