Statement by James H. Wendorf on the U.S. Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” Letter to States and School Districts Regarding Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia

Statement by James H. Wendorf, Executive Director Emeritus of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, on the U.S. Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” Letter Encouraging States and School Districts Use the Terms “Dyslexia”, “Dysgraphia” and “Dyscalculia”

The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) commends the U.S. Department of Education for informing states and school districts in a “Dear Colleague” letter issued today that the terms ‘dyslexia,’ ‘dyscalculia’ and ‘dysgraphia’ – which are specific learning disabilities –  can indeed be included on a child’s individualized education program (IEP).

In writing this letter, the Department responded to the concerns of countless parents nationwide who have been told that these terms cannot be used on their child’s IEP—despite the fact that their child’s evaluation identified one or more of these specific learning disabilities.

After hearing nearly identical stories from many parents across the country, NCLD formally requested in a May 2015 letter that the Department clarify for states and school districts that the terms ‘dyslexia,’ ‘dyscalculia’ and ‘dysgraphia’ can be included on a child’s IEP.  Since that time, over a dozen national organizations, 28 Members of Congress, and numerous parents also urged the Department to address this issue.

For the 2.5 million students formally identified with specific learning disabilities – such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia – and the countless others who have gone unidentified, it’s critically important to be specific about the unique traits of their disability so that their needs can be addressed in the classroom.  Today’s statement from the Department takes a significant step in helping to ensure that students with learning disabilities who struggle with reading, math or writing receive the services and supports they need to thrive in school.

While students with learning disabilities are graduating at higher rates now than in the past, they still lag far behind their peers:

  • Over the last two decades, students with disabilities have scored an average of 40 points below their peers without disabilities in both reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP);
  • 1 in 5 students with a learning or attention issue will drop out of school; and
  • Overall, students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended, half as likely to attend a four year college, and more likely to be unemployed than those without.

In addition to encouraging states and school districts “to consider situations where it would be appropriate to use the terms to address the child’s unique, identified needs,” the Department’s letter also encourages states to:

  • “review their policies, procedures, and practices to ensure that they do not prohibit the use of the terms;” and
  • remind their districts of “the importance of addressing the unique educational needs of children with specific learning disabilities resulting from dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia.”

The Department’s letter will help families and schools address these achievement gaps more precisely and effectively.  By being specific about a child’s disability, families and educators can work together to establish the individualized services tailored to that child’s needs.  NCLD applauds the Department for helping families and educators start this essential conversation.


The mission of NCLD is to improve the lives of the one in five children and adults nationwide with learning and attention issues—by empowering parents and young adults, transforming schools and advocating for equal rights and opportunities. We’re working to create a society in which every individual possesses the academic, social and emotional skills needed to succeed in school, at work and in life.