Case Studies: Individual Students


Wo Lin is an 11-year-old bilingual female who came to this country from Malaysia two years ago. She has encountered serious learning problems resulting primarily from her physical disability, time lost from school during surgery, and relocation to the U.S. Wo has poor circulation in her hands and feet that causes swelling and discoloration of her fingers and toes. Extremely motivated to learn and from an educationally ambitious family, she is keenly aware of her failure and very anxious in academic situations. This results in further impairment of her performance.

Academically, she is far below the fifth grade in reading, spelling, and arithmetic. She reads at a low third grade level, with good overall comprehension based on context, but with many common words unknown to her. Auditory discrimination of consonant blends and knowledge of the consonant sound-symbol relationship are inadequate. In addition, she confuses some of the short vowel sounds and is unsure of the long vowels. Wo Lin has not read enough in English to develop a sufficiently large sight vocabulary to cope with the assignments given her. In arithmetic, she can perform the basic operations, but she lacks the reading ability required to complete word problems. In addition, she has difficulty completing multi-step problems such as three-digit multiplication or long division. Finally, her physical condition makes holding pencils and crayons difficult. Her poor handwriting and artwork are a source of embarrassment to her.

Wo Lin is an extremely pleasant student who makes friends easily and enjoys group activities during classes or at recess. She is the middle child in a two-parent family. Her siblings are academically average brothers who are very protective of Wo in social situations.


Betsy is a 13-year-old adolescent who is having difficulty handling schoolwork due to specific reading problems. Because reading is hard for her, Betsy is not able to handle the demands of the content subject areas in the seventh grade at Johnson Middle School. She has a good sense of humor, expresses herself well, and has insight and feelings about her learning problems.

Although Betsy has had help with reading over the last few years, she has become discouraged because her reading has not improved significantly. She appears to have taken the responsibility for failure upon herself. Betsy’s learning problems are compounded by frequent absences from school and have interfered with consistency in learning.

Betsy has poor visual-motor coordination (reflected in such things as poor handwriting skills), uneven and inconsistent phonics knowledge, a poor sight vocabulary, and some reversals of letters and words. She is an anxious, tense reader. Though Betsy makes many mistakes, she has a quick grasp of the essential material she reads and she can understand material read to her at the seventh-grade level. Her reading of words in isolation is at the mid-third grade level.


Bryce has delayed progress in reading, writing, and comprehension compared to his peers. He is only capable of passing reading tests on a 1.6 reading level although he is in third grade. He is able to complete the basic math functions, but has difficulty solving word problems. The extra one-on-one time with Bryce has not resulted in much improvement. He is experiencing frustration and often gives up when faced with difficult academic tasks.

Bryce’s writing samples show below grade-level spelling, disorganization, incorrect subject/verb agreement, and limited vocabulary. His previous teacher comments that he becomes easily frustrated when he has to read or write and often says he is so dumb, he could not even pass first grade. In addition, Bryce’s previous teacher comments that he will not stay on task unless the teacher constantly reminds him. His handwriting is very clear and neat.

Bryce lives at home with his mother, father, and younger sister. His father seems to be a little frustrated with Bryce and does not understand why he has trouble with school. Because Bryce repeated first grade, his younger sister is now in the same grade.

He behaves appropriately in social situations and often leads peer games and activities. He enjoys dogs and farm animals and drawing pictures of his pets. Bryce also enjoys physical activity because he is usually better at athletic activities than most of his peers.


Angela is a 12-year-old female who attends sixth grade with her peers at Baker Elementary School. However, she was referred for special education services in first grade when she experienced problems in reading and writing. In fifth grade, Angela’s teachers requested a follow-up evaluation. Problems noted by her classroom teacher were disorganization, uncontrolled energy, and weakness in writing. According to teachers, Angela tries very hard and seems to know information but has trouble retrieving it.  Angela behaves well in class and participates regularly.

Based on individual assessment results, she is operating cognitively at age 10.5 in the low-average range based on her age. However, she is only reading at a third grade level. She also has difficulty in spelling and can only spell words at the fourth grade level. She experiences problems in the areas of spelling three letter clusters and adding suffixes and prefixes to words. She seems to have trouble understanding rules such as changing the “y” to an “i” before adding “es.” She exhibits strong comprehension skills when material is read with her or to her. She expresses good content in writing but her expression is limited by her difficulty with spelling. Further assessments indicate a visual motor perceptual delay that may be a factor in her difficulty in retrieving answers and in written language. When answering questions in class Angela offers intelligent answers that are often incorrect. Often she seems to know correct answers but has trouble retrieving them.

Angela lives with her father, stepmother, an older brother, and younger sister. Angela has a neat appearance and positive attitude. She has many friends at school and in her home neighborhood. She enjoys playing board games and riding her bicycle.


Christopher is an 11-year-old male who attends the sixth grade with his peers in a neighborhood elementary school. Christopher is very quiet in class and well behaved. He has good relationships with his peers, teachers, and other school staff.

Overall, Christopher’s individual assessments indicate that his cognitive ability is in the average range for his age. However, Christopher has difficulty in oral reading and reading comprehension skills. He scored at the third grade in reading. His reading comprehension levels were higher than his word recognition skills. Christopher can recognize most familiar words, but when he tries to sound out unfamiliar words, he is unsuccessful due to inconsistencies in some phonetic sounds. Reading comprehension scores place him at a second-grade level. In addition, Christopher is significantly below average in his spelling, scoring on the third-grade level. He can write simple sentences and even four or five sentence paragraphs with limited description. His written work is difficult to read because his spelling is so inventive. He functions at grade level in math computations, but has difficulty reading word problems.

Christopher lives at home with his mother, father, and two sisters. His sisters are both younger and attend the same elementary school. The family environment is happy and supportive. His mother states that he enjoys school, even though it is sometimes difficult. Christopher likes football, basketball, and playing with his friends.


Brian is a 15-year-old high school student whose favorite subject is band. This is his third year in band, and he is playing the first trumpet part along with two other students. Brian’s hobbies include drawing, listening to music, and watching movies. He is a star player on the boys’ soccer team. His IEP notes a significant learning disability (dyslexia).

Brian reads at a 5.5 grade level, but comprehends most of what he reads. His form of dyslexia involves difficulties in decoding: he often reverses letters that are similar in appearance (such as lower-case b and d), requiring additional time to decode even simple words. His overall reading pace is therefore slower than that of his classmates, and he sometimes misses key points of written information located near the ends of paragraphs or chapters because he cannot get to the end of the information within the allotted time.

Brian’s math skills are at a 6.0 grade level. Again, the effort and time he needs to be sure he is copying the numbers and/or solving the problems correctly often keep him from getting all the way to the end of assignments or practice sets. He typically completes 70–80% of a non-adapted assignment.

Brian writes creatively and with an age-appropriate understanding of order and planning. However, he writes at a slower pace than that of his classmates because he must check and recheck each sentence as he goes along. He often does not have quite enough time to proofread a timed composition, such as those on tests. To compensate, he often writes shorter essays and leaves out some relevant information to be sure he finishes on time. Brian often misspells words and sometimes spells the same word differently on the same page.

Brian’s oral communication skills are excellent. When he is allowed to give answers in oral form or volunteers to answer a question in class, his answers are more thorough, thoughtful, and do not require additional time to formulate. Brian enjoys group projects where he can act out a role or serve as a moderator.

Brian enjoys participating in the band and is naturally talented. He is willing to work hard to stay at or above the level of the other students. Brian can read music, although usually at a slower pace than that of his classmates. He is generally well behaved and does not try to draw attention to himself.

Brian family life is stable. He lives in a middle-class neighborhood and both of his parents (who are still married) work outside the home. He has a younger brother, Jason, who is in the fifth grade. Jason does not have a learning disability.


Jeff is a 15-year-old student in the ninth grade. He is identified as having a learning disability on his IEP. His area of greatest difficulty is written expression. Jeff is a friendly, but shy, ninth grader who enjoys NASCAR and video games. He plays on the soccer team after school, and although he isn’t a star, his coach says that his work ethic makes him a valuable asset to the team.

This is Jeff’s first semester as a freshman in a new high school. He attends language arts class during his first period of a four-block per day schedule. He has physical science with Mr. Robinson during second block, attends lunch, and then spends third block in a freshman orientation class. During fourth block, he goes to the resource room for help with assignments and homework with his special education teacher.

Jeff’s reading comprehension is average for his age and grade, but he has difficulty reading out loud. Although he does not have math this semester, Jeff is an average student in this subject and states that math is his favorite subject.

Written expression is the area where Jeff’s disability manifests itself. He has both product and process problems. He overuses simple subject-verb constructions, repeats high frequency words, and has poor organization and structure, accompanied by many mechanical errors. His approach to writing shows little systematic planning; he has great difficulty in putting his ideas on paper because of his preoccupation with mechanics and does not monitor or revise his writing well. Jeff’s level of oral expression is age-appropriate.

Jeff lives with his mother and grandparent in an upper-middle class neighborhood near school. His father lives in another state and does not often see his son. Both his mother and grandparents take an active role in Jeff’s education.

Jeff’s physical development is age appropriate. He has some low self-esteem issues, however, because of his disability, but his acceptance on the soccer team and the collaboration of his family and teachers over the last few years have helped in this area. The low self-esteem still manifests itself in minor episodes of disruptive behavior in class, especially when he feels intimidated by an assignment.