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Learning Disabilities & Juvenile Delinquency

Testimony of Joe Lockavitch
Before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
Committee on Education and the Workforce

Manchester, Tennessee
August 26, 1998

Current solutions are not working for America's 'bottom of the bottom' students. Consider the facts:

Over 1 million teenagers between the ages of 16-19 are no longer in school and did not graduate.
Researchers have estimated that there are approximately 440,000 students currently in school with a total sight vocabulary of 5-50 words.

A 1993 Justice Department study underscored a direct causal link between the inability to read and juvenile delinquency.
We are sitting on a teenage time bomb.

One newspaper in Los Angeles likened it to a potential 'bloodbath'. 

What's worse, these aren't the smaller less violent crimes of vandalism or trespassing or shoplifting.

Sadly, these kids are committing more horrific crimes like armed robbery, murder and rape - often, for the same foolish logic, one would generally associate these with a teenager. 

The schools are overflowing with these angry, hostile, young students - most of whom can't read! 

The relationship between juvenile delinquency and poor reading is a strong one. Most of these youthful offenders are slow learners who have a history of poor reading ability. They are angry and they are frustrated. They don't get along well with their teachers or their peers. Many have concluded - "schools don't like me and I don't like school." 

As Detroit Judge Jeffrey Gallet states, "if you can't read, there are only two ways to make a living - the welfare systems, or crime - and crime has the greater status."

Educators are just frustrated as the public in trying to find a solution for this hardest to reach population. Many of these students either become long term 'special education lifers' or fall into what educators term the 'Instructional Cracks'. Students in the 'Instructional Cracks' fail to qualify for Special Education because their IQ is either too low for learning disabilities or too high for mild mental retardation. Sadly, they are returned to regular classrooms to the frustrated regular classroom teacher who is worried about meeting their unique needs.

A recent study at the Ohio State University stated that the educational prognosis for America's nonreaders is 'not hopeful'. Many of these frustrated educators, after seeing panacea after panacea fail with this population, begin to give up hope, or worse, find themselves relying on the all too disappointing three bad "r's in education: referral, retention or rejection.

Referrals for Special Education cost approximately $1000 per student. Approximately 2-4 million students are referred but rejected annually in the United States for a cost to the taxpayers of 2-4 billion dollars. Due Process hearings for appropriate special education hearings are also soaring through the roof. The average cost of a due process hearing is $35,000. An appeal can cost $80,000 more. Many are for Learning Disabled students who are not reading on grade level, often after years of service.

Many Americans believe that the answer to social promotion is just keeping nonreaders back. Unfortunately, this is not the answer for two reasons. First, the cost would be staggering. If just 3% of America's 30.5 million K-8 students were retained, it would cost the taxpayer at least 5.07 billion dollars in additional years added on to these students' education. Second, retention doesn't work any better than social promotion. There are no long term studies available that show any positive consequences of large scale retention practices. Most students do not catch up when retained. We cannot go back to the days of fourteen year old nonreaders sitting with eight year old classmates in third grade classrooms. 

As stated earlier, there are approximately 1,080,000 teenagers, 16 to 19 years old, who are no longer in school and did not graduate. The cost to taxpayers for their future welfare, incarceration and other social services will be untold billions of dollars. 

What's worse, this number will explode if we don't do something to meet the needs of the large numbers of illiterate 9 to 15 year old students about to join their ranks. All too often, the much needed funding is being diverted away from this population under the mistaken belief that it is too late to help.

This is wrong. We cannot turn our backs on our next generation. We must do everything we can to insure that every student is on grade level - especially our hardest to reach.

But there is hope.

I am here to discuss an exciting new reading methodology called Failure Free Reading that has had close to 100 percent success with this most frustrating population.

In hundreds of classrooms across the United Sates, Failure Free Reading is currently proving that all students can have instant reading success with age appropriate material.

Failure Free Reading is a twenty-first century solution for America's 'bottom of the bottom' students utilizing a unique blend of talking computer software, correlated print materials and easy to follow scripted teaching lessons that enable educators to use small group instruction to produce one-on-one results. 

Research-based and twenty years in development, Failure Free Reading does not require elaborate teaching techniques and has been shown to be equally effective when administered by paraprofessionals and trained volunteers. Because of this, schools can show significant gains with larger numbers of their 'bottom of the bottom' students without paying the heavy price tag usually associated with other, much more costly, labor intensive, one-on-one tutoring solutions.

Failure Free Reading gives nonreaders and chronically failing students the opportunity to have an immediate and successful reading experience. More importantly, this unique 'reading attitude adjustment program' functions within the parameters found within typical school environments, such as: large numbers of at-risk and special education students, a minimum amount of staff training time available, noncertified teachers and teaching assistants, and limited financial resources.

Numerous independent studies, including articles in the Journal of Learning Disabilities, Special Services in the Schools and the Australian Journal of Learning Disabilities, have demonstrated that Failure Free Reading: (1.) does have significant impact on the learning curve of the lowest performing students, (2.) does not wear off after treatment, (3.) transfers to standardized measuring instruments and other end of grade state assessments, (4.) significantly reduces the reading discrepancy found in hard core special education populations such as: the severely learning disabled, mildly cognitively handicapped and dyslexics, and (5.) is replicable.

Specifically, in three separate studies in Texas, we have reduced the number of students eligible for Learning Disabled services by 31, 47, and 48 percent respectively. In Detroit, Michigan, Brightmoor Elementary School's third grade retention rate went from 13 percent to under 2 percent after one year of treatment. In Fayette County, Tennessee, teachers are amazed at the increased confidence, change in attitude and ability that Failure Free Reading has given their nonreaders. Perhaps a quote by Art Garret, Title I Supervisor, Fayette County, best summarizes how Failure Free Reading has helped them when he states:

"One of the biggest problems we have seen with our nonreaders is that they don't have the prior experience necessary to become good readers. Failure Free Reading helps these students overcome this by building on what they initially bring to the task and then expands upon it. Using this approach, we have seen marked improvement in not only their reading ability but in their attitude and behavior. They are proud of their improvement and are eager to show it in the classroom." 

Failure Free Reading is firmly based on the belief that illiteracy is but a symptom; language deprivation is the disease. More importantly, when the disease is treated, the symptoms go away.

Too many bright, at-risk students are deprived of adequate exposure to the language base necessary for reading and writing success. Many come from language deprived environments. They are born into homes where their parents either do not speak the language or are language deprived themselves. Because of this, these parents and their children become 'multi-syllable phobic'.

Failure Free Reading believes that language deprivation is the invisible ceiling that prevents at-risk students from reaching their full potential. We can't expect fourth grade students to read at a fourth grade level when they carry a second grade vocabulary. 

Furthermore, Failure Free Reading operates on a zero-reject policy. Target students for Failure Free Reading are the lowest of the low readers. No students are excluded and all students, regardless of current reading level or label, are welcomed. Students with all personal, educational, and instructional histories are accepted.

Even better, Failure Free is currently saving the taxpayer millions of dollars in reduced referrals, lessened special education services, lowered retention rates and fewer due process hearings.

Over the years, reading improvement reforms have come and gone. At times, debate over their value has achieved monumental proportion with little more left after the rhetoric has cleared but the inevitable swing of the pendulum. Failure Free Reading has had the same goal for more than twenty years: provide a basic understanding of the reading process to nonreaders and those with pronounced reading difficulties by employing age appropriate materials, promoting independence in reading, and using a consistent approach with repetition and immediate performance feedback.

About Dr. Lockavitch
Dr. Joseph F. Lockavitch, a former classroom teacher, school psychologist, university professor and special education director, is the author and developer of: The Failure Free Reading Program, Don't Close the Book on Your Not-Yet Readers, Verbal Master-An Accelerated Vocabulary Program, and The Test of Lateral Awareness and Directionality.

Dr. Lockavitch is also the author of dozens of published articles. His most recent research can be found in the Australian Journal of Learning Disabilities, the Journal of Learning Disabilities and Special Services in the Schools. 

Listed in Outstanding Teachers in Exceptional Education, Who's Who in American Education and Who's Who in the South and Southwest, Dr. Lockavitch has spent the past thirty years training teachers, parents and administrators across the nation on how to meet the unique problems of America's 'bottom of the bottom' students.

Dr. Lockavitch holds a Doctorate of Education from Boston University and a Master of Science in Special Education from Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, Connecticut. 

He is currently the President of JFL Enterprises - an educational publishing and software development firm housed outside of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Joseph F. Lockavitch, Ed.D.
Failure Free Reading
(JFL Enterprises, Inc.)
140 W. Cabarrus Ave.
Concord, NC 28025

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