This is a tale of two students: Samantha and Julia.

This is their story and how they, like your child may, relate to “The Matthew Effect.”

Let’s see if you can identify with either of these young girls…

For the sake of discussion, both students are of the exact same intellectual ability. They both have an average IQ of 100.

Our first student is Samantha.

Samantha is a skilled reader. When Samantha entered kindergarten she already had a good understanding of her letters and letter sounds. She had automatically picked up (through listening and speaking) all 7 essential phonemic awareness skills: rhyming, phoneme counting, phoneme matching, blending, segmentation, deletion, and substitution.

When reading skills were first introduced to Samantha by her classroom teacher, she readily picked up on the skills taught. She was able to easily blend phonemes together to form words and put words together to form sentences.

It would seem that reading came “naturally” to Samantha. The reason Samantha picked up on reading so easily is that her brain could easily process the sounds using the same neural pathways that she used for spoken language.

Samantha represents about 80% of students in classrooms across the U.S. and Canada, and likely other countries as well.

Our second student is Julia.

Julia entered kindergarten struggling to understand the relationship between letter symbols and This puzzled Julia’s teachers.

Julia struggled with phonemic awareness. Rhyming was lost on her. She could not identify a rhyme when she heard it and she was unable to produce a rhyme when asked. For example, if the teacher asked what word rhymes with pin, Julia would say pan.

Blending phonemes into words and segmenting words into phonemes left Julia frustrated. It seemed that there was something wrong with this intelligent little girl.

Can you relate? Have you seen a Julia in your classroom, or perhaps Julia is like your own child?

Julia represents 20% of students who struggle to process sounds accurately in their brain. Certain parts of her brain are working too much and other parts of her brain aren’t working enough.

This 20% of the population likely has what is known as dyslexia.

Unfortunately, these at-risk kindergarteners are often not given the intensive intervention that they need to become skilled readers.


Here’s why:

“The Matthew Effect” explains why at-risk students often continue to struggle with reading, writing, and spelling.

Take a moment to study the chart.

This is what often happens to readers with dyslexia who are given inappropriate programs in the school. They make some gains, but the gains are at a very slow pace. As a result of this slow pace, the reading gap between the skilled readers and the struggling readers widens.


We don’t want this for our own struggling readers, do we?

So, what can we do? What is the answer?

The answer is: early, intensive intervention with a specialist that is well versed in dyslexia interventions.

Teachers and parents: Don’t wait! There is no such thing as a temporary lag. That is a myth. It does not exist in the research, yet we keep perpetuating this myth to parents at parent-teacher conferences and on the report cards.

Parents: If you suspect that there is something not right with your child, go with your gut feeling. You will be right 9 times out of 10. Request that the school conducts an educational psychological evaluation. Don’t let them tell you that your child is too young or isn’t far enough behind. If you request it in writing, the school has to, by law, test your child. You know what is best. Go with your gut.

Teachers: Request testing for your students if you can. Don’t let the situation continue year after year and grade after grade. I know your administrators often don’t want you to request testing on children so young. Do it anyway or encourage the parents to request the testing. Someone has to stop the madness.

The testing will determine if the child meets the criteria for special education services. I’m going to forewarn you that often a student with dyslexia doesn’t meet the criteria for special education services in the primary grades. That’s okay. There’s another step if they don’t.

The next step if they do not qualify for special education is to request an IEE (Independent Educational Evaluation) paid for at public expense. This has to be done in writing. Now you can go outside the district for an evaluation and, hopefully, a diagnosis. Be sure to pick an evaluator that isn’t afraid to use the word dyslexia.

Parents: Remember that school districts, by law, cannot diagnose anything. That is left in the realm of outside evaluators.

I hope this article has helped give you insight on what “The Matthew Effect” is and how to assure that your child or student does not continue on the slow-growth trajectory.

If you have benefited from this article, please share it with fellow parents or colleagues.

Until next time,


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