Dyslexia and Berkeley Unified School District

Parent Q&A

  • Hi everyone,

    I would like to know if any public middle schools in Alameda, Albany, Berkeley  and charter schools in Oakland are providing the right services and accommodation for dyslexic children, such as subscriptions to learning ally or multisensory structure language teaching (Orton-Gillingham Approach, Wilson approach, Lindamood Bell, etc).  Would you please share your experiences with your school?


     I do know that from experience you have to constantly fight for what you want in the schools otherwise they will not support you. If they say no to something keep going back until they say yes. 

    Many  Schools do not have the funding or the staffing to provide the services but just keep fighting for what you want. 

     Also try looking on Facebook for support groups as there are many here in California. 

     Good luck 

    At King Middle School, and, from what I have heard at the other Berkeley Unified Middle Schools, there is NO structured  multisensory approach, which is a crying shame. More then that, there has been much active discouragement of getting help for dyslexic students. 

Parent Reviews

I know you asked about private schools, but FWIW, King Middle School in Berkeley is getting ready to return to in-person instruction (tentative date, Mon 4/12), and they have a strong SpED department with special attention to dyslexia (grade level teachers and instructional aides with special training, running small groups) - I believe they are using Wilson Language Training, if that helps.

I have a son who is quite dyslexic. I didn’t catch it til third grade and can now kick myself for that. IF you are in public school, I believe you need to let the school do the first assessment. Not sure if they will still do that now or not, given the closures and CoVid. My son was in BUSD and I had to hound them to do the assessment, but they did, and it was a totally terrible assessment. Then, I asked for an IEE at District’s expense, which you are allowed, as I didn’t have $8K lying around. Finally, after I filed a complaint with CED because they dragged their feet for a year (yes, a year), they were forced by CED to okay the IEE. Dr. Terry Doyle in Rockridge did it, and she is the AUTHORITY, if she still practices.  Anyhow, cudos for you for seeking out an assessment sooner rather then later! It was HUGELY helpful for us to have the assessment, and for my son, plus we then got way more specialized and useful help, which finally got him to read. He went from K level to grade level within a year with Jane Ashley, our lifesaving Slingerland tutor. All the best! Again, kudos for looking at this sooner rather then later! And, our son totally resisted reading too. It’s just soooo hard when you have visual or auditory processing issues (his was auditory processing). 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Frustrated by BUSD's response to dyslexic first grader

April 2014

Our 8 year old daughter was diagnosed with Dyslexia at the end of first grade. In attempting to advocate for appropriate remediation and support -- she was behind grade level at that point -- we requested an IEP with BUSD. We have been shocked by the response from both educators and Special Ed personnel from the District. A very basic course on Learning Disabilities/Differences or a quick review would give them the information that we have learned doing our own research. Mainly that Dyslexia is a Learning Difference that can be addressed with a systematic and multi-sensory approach. That it it very common, (1 in 5 have Dyslexia), it is the most commmon LD and the longer you wait the harder and more expensive it is to remediate. We are still considering our options in best supporting her and are wondering what other parents have experienced with BUSD. We have read older posts but were hoping to talk to parents who have experienced this recently or are in the thick of it as well. Please share your experience.

Thanks Frustrated and surprised

All the things that you say are true. Schools do not understand dyslexia. And they are not equipped to treat it. Actually, they do not acknowledge its existence. It is interesting that the neuropsychologists who study reading disorders use the term all the time but school psychologists don't. There is some justification. The brain has a ''reading circuit'' and a problem anywhere in that circuit can make learning to read difficult. I was recently at a conference on dyslexia at UCSF put on by Dyslexic Advantage. Maryanne Wolf, who wrote, Proust and the Squid: Reading and the Dyslexic Brain said, something like:

There is no one form of dyslexia. There are many kinds of reading disabilities and a person can have more than one of them at a time. Still, we shouldn't get rid of the term dyslexia because while the sources of difficulty are different the treatment is the same.

But here is the problem for schools: the treatment is unlike anything they are prepared to deliver. Treatment is best when delivered 1) early 2) intensively 3) in groups of no more than 2-3. But schools 1) wait till kids are 2 years behind to intervene, 2) have a curriculum they need to get through 3) have classes of 20-30.

I am really happy to see you bringing this up. We have to change the way schools handle reading difficutly. Risk for reading disabilities can and should be identified in preschool or kindergarten. Kids at risk should be put into intensive reading programs where they get intensive 1-on-1 or no more than 1-on-3 multi-sensory reading instruction until they read at grade level. They should never be allowed to fall behind.

But now for your child. Your daughter will not get what she needs at school. You won't change the system in time to get the school to give her what she needs. You can get her accommodations (books on tape) and modifications (less homework, extra test time) but the school will not teach her to read fluently.

I taught my own dyslexic child. You can, too. Or you can send her to me. Or to Lindamood Bell or to an Educational Therapist trained in Seeing Stars, Orton-Gillingham or Slingerland. I'm studying to be an Ed Therapist and I use Seeing Stars (Lindamood Bell's program). I'd be happy to talk with you for an hour at no charge.

Someday in the future I'd like to see a kindergarten screening program in place and a central BUSD school for kids with reading disabilities where kids go until they can read fluently after which they return to the regular classroom. I don't expect to see that future any time soon, but as a parent of a dyslexic child in BUSD I want to work towards it! So, thank you for raising this topic. Susan R


BUSD's interventions for dyslexia?

Sept 2013


I wondered what parents of other children with dyslexia have experienced in terms of BUSD's interventions for dyslexia. My child just started the 4th grade and his school has been working on his reading with small group and even one-on-one tutoring since 1st grade. Unfortunately, despite teachers' best efforts, his progress has been minimal. From what I've read so far about dyslexia, children with this learning disability need a different kind of instruction - and if they get it, they CAN learn to read. I'm not sure if any of the interventions offered or tried were designed for the dyslexic learning style. As he has an IEP, I wrote to the special ed department last spring, and requested a meeting with the district's most knowledgeable expert on dyslexia and other complex reading problems. I am still awaiting a response. (They acknowledged receiving my email, but have yet to tell me whether such a professional exists within BUSD, whether BUSD is willing to let this person consult with our family, etc....) It's hard to believe that in a district this size, there would be no professional who could advise us on how to treat our child's dyslexia. How have other parents gotten appropriate and effective reading intervention for their learning disabled child? Newbee to Dyslexia

I also had a 4th grade dyslexic child in the BUSD. I did everything I knew of to get the district to help him. BUSD devoted very considerable resources and time to formal meetings about my child's IEP (what could and could not be in it, why they could not use the word dyslexia, etc). The focus of BUSD was on covering themselves so they were not in violation of any legal language concerning children with disabilities. I came to see they knew absolutely nothing about dyslexia and did not appear to have any staff trained in its treatment. My son was offered 15 minutes of pull-out (which was called 45 mins on paper) three times a week. He went to a room where there were some other children with completely different reading issues and did some exercises that could not possibly have helped his dyslexia. I was told that I was not allowed to observe but when I showed up at the door, no one made me leave. I realized I could spend years battling the district and while all that time passed, my child would move out of the window of brain plasticity in which he could most easily be helped. I pulled him out of the BUSD and worked with him every day doing the most highly recommended interventions for dyslexia. He made dramatic progress and by age 10 he could read fluently and easily, well above grade level, with perfect comprehension. I realize many parents cannot pull their child out of school -- but I would not waste any of your child's precious time or your energy on trying to get the district to offer services their special ed people are not trained in. Dyslexia is so common it would be great if all teachers (and reading specialists) were trained in recognizing and treating it ... but sadly it is not so. sympathetic parent


AC or BIHS or other School for Dyslexic freshman?

March 2013


I would love to hear from parents, teachers, administrators etc. re: which Learning Academy within Berkeley High might be a best fit for my son who has dyslexia (Auditory Processing difficulties). Thanks for any ideas/thoughts. His sister is in IB and loves it. How about which language? How is the Spanish Department? Or Mandarin? Mom

My student is dyslexic and had a very full dossier of testing and school records from teachers etc. I met with counselor Diane Colborn early freshman year (actually she got files from me in spring 8th grade) and she granted a 504, and my child's academic life just worked - as it is supposed to do. It helped a lot getting started early with this process. Getting the 504 is crucial and if you don't start early, your kid can be failing by Nov. and then you are in crisis mode, having to talk them down from the cliff. It's awful.

My student was in AC and all her teachers were cooperative with her accommodations. I had to remind her how large the school is; this meant she had to remind teachers occasionally that she had accommodations, but still, all were fine. Her counselors were all fine; just hope you do not get the infamous Mr. S. who routinely denies a 504 to dyslexics, is unfair, probably out of compliance and fails to return phone calls. I don't know about the teachers in IB. But in AC you have the advantage of more choice in classes so students can choose classes they might do well in. There is far less choice in IB. So if a student is very bright in math, or computer science, or arts, then s/he can take more of those classes leading to both a better GPA and increased self esteem. This was a crucial factor for my student.

IB is very very hard-- in junior year especially --and this could be pretty devastating for a student who takes more time doing homework. My student didn't think she could have handled IB but she was extremely successful in AC and took a number of AP classes in her strengths and avoided AP in her weaker areas. She works like a dog but as you know, a dyslexic kid can take a long time to do certain tasks that come easier to others. Because there are so many poor math teachers all over BHS, you might want to consider tutoring if that is not one of your son's strengths. Mine is very glad she was in AC. As for Spanish, it's probably the worst BHS dept. besides math. Mine took 2 years and stopped. I wish she had taken French or Mandarin. Because of the characters, some dyslexic kids do better with Mandarin. They can remember the visuals.

I have not met one parent of a dyslexic kid who was pleased with small schools. Many teachers there say that all their kids have learning issues and will not comply with accommodations. It is frustrating. As you know, when our kids get what they need they can soar and if they don't they can tumble. Oh, for some mid-ground. Good luck. 2011 AC parent

Dear Mom with Dyslexic freshman, My sons are dyslexic and both went to Berkeley High School. My oldest was in AHA and loved it. He did very well and had good friends. It is quite academic but small and the teachers are very good! My other son was in AHA but is a different kid, more affected by peer pressure, and had a harder time. I think any school would have been the same for him. Junior year he begged switch to The Independent Study program. I was very hesitant but let him. It really was much better but I had to be much more involved as an IEP advocate. He actually did better with fewer distraction from the class room. He did his homework. He was also still at Berkeley High in Dance Productions. He might have done better at Oakland school for the Arts or Bay Hill High School however. They both took American Sign Language at Berkeley City College. tracy

Dear 2011ACparent, could I contact you? I also met with Diane Colburn with much different results! I wonder if you might share what you did differently (better) than I did! My daughter is also Dyslexic, has had accommodations for such since 4th grade and had a Neuropsychological evaluation 2 years ago that officially diagnosed her. Despite that, Diane was unhelpful. Thanks so much in advance! Soon to be 9th grade mom!

We had an experience similar to that posted last week--great difficulty getting even a 504 plan for our son at BHS. It appears that this in part was because of a change in how the school is interpreting the regs--ie requiring proof of failing to succeed without accommodations before granting accommodations. In part the counselor in our small school was just not helpful We would have had to take an aggressive route, and decided against it. But it was a very discouraging, counter-productive experience. However, many of the teachers in his small learning community were wonderful, and willing to work with him in any case.

I do endorse the initial poster's emphasis on each student recognizing their challenges, working hard, and learning how to advocate for themselves... Good luck... doing the best we can...


Do you have a Child with Dyslexia at BHS?

March 2013


Do you have a child with Dyslexia attending Berkeley High School currently? Or recently? Please tell me about your attempts to get your child accommodations. My daughter needs extra time on tests as well a few other no-cost help and a 504 to document it. I'd appreciate any advice you have or information about your mis-steps. Thanks in advance!!

If you think your child qualifies for a 504, & guidelines currently being used at BHS may be unfair as regards your child, read this federal post: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html#evaluation

A few salient facts I pulled out: ''21. May school districts consider ''mitigating measures'' used by a student in determining whether the student has a disability under Section 504? No. As of January 1, 2009, school districts, in determining whether a student has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits that student in a major life activity, must not consider the ameliorating effects of any mitigating measures that student is using.''

Note ''reasonable accommodations or auxiliary aids or services'' are on the non-exhaustive list of "mitigating measures." This may mean that accommodations that work do not disqualify a student from getting them, e.g. requiring students to fail to prove their need for a 504 could be illegal. RE: 24.''As noted in FAQ 22, the Section 504 regulations require school districts to draw upon a variety of sources in interpreting evaluation data and making placement decisions.''

This could be interpreted as BUSD may not solely use failure as a determining factor, but must use additional factors in its assessment, e.g. reports by past teachers who say the student qualifies for accommodations, etc.

My student already graduated. Could parents of dyslexic students meet together and consider bringing in an atty, for instance from http://dredf.org/ in Berkeley? If what someone said is true about ''the failure test'' then BHS could be out of compliance, and may be illegally interpreting the law. If a formal complaint does not work, you can file a suit with the local Office of Civil Rights (OCR) who oversees Sec. 504.

I know a parent who successfully filed an OCR complaint against Jefferson Elementary School several years ago and won it rather handily. It is not rocket science. She had a good case and won. Just because this is Berkeley doesn't mean that the district practices the progressive principles it espouses.

Last, here is the best reason to fight like hell for your student now: Because my student qualified for extended time on tests, she was granted extended time on both the SAT & ACT exams. (I had to file for those, w/the school's help.) The difference on her SAT score without, then with extended time was staggering. It would have totally changed which colleges she got into. It would have altered her future. BUSD has no right to limit our children's choices in life, especially when all you are asking for is accommodations, which cost the district NOTHING. BHS does not get to re-write federal statute for its convenience.

RE past response: ''In part the counselor in our small school was just not helpful We would have had to take an aggressive route, and decided against it. But it was a very discouraging, counter-productive experience. However, many of the teachers in his small learning community were wonderful, and willing to work with him in any case...I do endorse the initial poster's emphasis on each student recognizing their challenges,working hard, and learning how to advocate for themselves...''

I have heard numerous parents of students in small schools say that getting the 504 was hard due to being told ''All the kids in this small school have learning issues.'' That may or may not be true. What is true is that your student has certain rights accorded them by the govt. and this district has no right to restrict those rights due to inconvenience. In addition, dyslexic kids need to learn how to get what they need and they will always need this, such as finding a way to tell a boss that they cannot spell and will need an editor in business situations. We, their parents, are the ones who model for them how to make allies. This is their lifelong battle. And it starts with getting the 504 - battling for it if need be - so that the kids can see that no one has the right to take away their civil rights. (This is not hyperbole - Sec. 504 is part of civil rights code.) My child has gotten several jobs by now and has learned how to let supervisors know what her weak area is, while maintaining her integrity and intelligence. It's a lifelong skill and a lifelong struggle. High school is when we help them learn to stand up for themselves, and thankfully my daughter's freshman year BHS counselor (AC) told her that in no uncertain terms. He told her clearly that part of HIS job was to help her learn to ask for what she needed from her teachers. We need more of that, and it needs to come from the counselors exactly so that the kids can get the testing accommodations needed for SAT & ACT exams. Fight the good fight. (I guess I am still mad on your behalf.) Good luck. former BHS parent


Need a 504 advocate for entering freshman with Dyslexia

March 2013


I need someone to help us get a 504 for my daughter before she enters Berkeley High School. Looking for someone who has done this before and knows the legal aspects for a child with dyslexia.

Hi Jennifer, My son who has dyslexia and dysgraphia has a 504 at BHS. I met with his counsellor befroe the start of school, bringing his 504 from Oakland School for the Arts and any testing he has had over the years. Getting the 504 was not difficult, but making sure all his teachers know about it has been. I suggest contacting them by email, making sure they have a copy of the plan and getting book lists as soon as possible. We have never been able to get the school to supply the cds of books, I buy the english ones on line for my son. He has never gotten the texts on cd and it has been an ongoing issue. He does get extra time for assignments and tests. But, when it is time for PSATs and SATs there is a separate process you need to follow. I did not know this before the PSATs, (my son came home and said he did not have time to finish...)but at least know for the SATs. Thank goodness, my son will go to art school! Best of luck, Ruth

Hi Jen, We got a 504 plan for our older daughter, who graduated from BHS last spring. They really didn't want to give it to her. She needed extra time on tests due to slow processing. Steven Falk was our advocate- shfalk [at] gmail.com. I don't think we would have gotten the 504 without him. I don't know if he has experience with dyslexia, but you can ask him about that. Call me if you want further info. Claire

If your income is low enough, you may qualify for your county or city's legal aid/legal services program. In our county they were helpful in giving me the information about our rights. But the 504 is not a big deal; you can do it yourself. I can give you some basic information, but with the caveat that I am fairly new to this and probably only about 80% correct.

You should start the 504 process now, in junior high/middle school. The 504 will follow your child to high school. You may want to renegotiate the terms of the 504 each year, as your daughter's needs change, her classes and teachers change, etc. As long as it's working for you as is, you can leave it in place. But there's no point in waiting until high school, you're only going to lose time that way.

A 504 is all about the accommodations you're asking for your child. Do you know what accommodations you need? I found our school looked at us blankly and expected us to have some clear cut, easy accommodations and weren't good at suggesting any. I felt like I was doing all the work for them.

You start the process by calling your school and saying you want a 504 for your daughter and how do you get started. We worked with our son's academic advisor, who had no idea what she was doing. She insisted on a meeting with all our son's teachers (only two showed up) to talk about what they noticed was problematic for our son in his work, what accommodations they could make, etc. If you have a demonstrated diagnosis of dyslexia, perhaps you can skip that step. I can see how it could be helpful, in some other universe, but it was useless in mine. Then you and the counselor/academic advisor write up the 504, which explains the need and what accommodations will be made. Everyone signs it. It goes in your kid's file. That's it.

Heads up for counselors who drag their feet, teachers who say it's not needed, people not sticking with the plan, teachers saying your request is too much work/unheard of, etc. good luck!