Blog:  Expert Corner

Opportunity and High Expectations Can Be a Powerful Combination

Expert Corner blog post by Lindsay Jones
Feb 18, 2015

College students interacting while working on computers

“It’s a misperception that students with [learning and attention issues] can’t do well. We should have high expectations for these kids, too.”
—Laura, mother of a ninth-grade student with dyslexia, Maryland

When I speak to parents of children with learning and attention issues, they often share a common message: They want their child to have the same opportunities as all other children. But sometimes this can seem like an insurmountable challenge.

Laura, who I quoted above, is one of those parents. Her daughter has dyslexia. When her daughter was in seventh grade, she wasn’t given the chance to take the test to get into a higher-level math class. Why not? Because it was assumed that because she couldn’t read or write well, she couldn’t do math.

So Laura advocated for the opportunity for her daughter to achieve more. It wasn’t easy, but her daughter got the opportunity. She’s now taking geometry in high school.

When I hear these stories from parents like Laura, it makes me hopeful. But I also cringe because of the many barriers that get in the way of the hopes and dreams of children. Far too often, our educational policies seem to focus on what kids can’t do, rather than looking at their strengths and potential.

I believe this is partly due to misconceptions about what kids with learning and attention issues are capable of achieving. When misunderstanding drives policy decisions, our kids feel the negative impact. Here are some examples:

  • In 2013, data showed that only 1 percent of students with disabilities participated in gifted and talented programs. Only 2 percent were enrolled in Advanced Placement courses.
  • In 2011, only 68 percent of students with learning disabilities (LD) graduated with a regular diploma, versus 80 percent of all students. And 12 percent of students with LD graduated with another type of certificate, making them not eligible for many college or career opportunities. (Get more of these facts from The State of LD, a report from founding partner the National Center for Learning Disabilities.)

I believe we can do better. Parents want the best for their children. It’s important that laws and policies support those ideals and offer opportunities for all children to reach their potential.

Things will change when policymakers hear the voices of parents. That’s already happening. In a previous blog, I wrote about Kristin Kane of Decoding Dyslexia Virginia. She’s a parent who believes that—with the right support and accommodations—children with learning and attention issues can thrive.

I’m also inspired by Kathy Stratton, a mom from New Jersey. Here’s what she’ll tell you about her son, who has dyslexia: “Our son’s school said that he was struggling in math and reading and needed to be moved to easier classes. But his struggle had to do with his reading disability, not with his ability.”

Today, Kathy’s son is a freshman at Cornell University.

Opportunity and high expectations: It can be a powerful combination for our kids. And it’s critical that policymakers know that. That’s why, as Congress rewrites the nation’s education laws this year, we at NCLD are urging them to expand opportunity and promote high expectations.

I hope you’ll join us—write to Congress and tell them to support the success of our kids.

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About the Blogger

Portrait of Lindsay Jones

Lindsay Jones is vice president and chief policy and advocacy officer for the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

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