Why does Massachusetts Need Dyslexia Legislation? by Nancy Duggan, Executive Director, DDMA
The Purpose of Dyslexia Legislation is to clarify and specify, based on science, research and brain imaging technology the neurobiological basis for dyslexia so that it can be more effectively identified and managed.
One particular disability is a neurobiological condition defined as dyslexia.
Before reading instruction, in fact at birth, dyslexic kids experience differences in brain structure and processing which will effect how and if they learn to read. Learn more about this.
Neuroscientists, using brain imaging like fMRI technology validated that simple screening was over 86% accurate in identifying students at risk for dyslexia at age 5 and 6. (Review the READ study and testimony)
Peer reviewed research proved earlier intervention specific to dyslexia was much more successful for these children.(Review the Dr. Gaab video and many other sources.
Collaboration between Neuroscientists, Cognitive Developmental Pediatricians, Speech and Language Dyslexia Literacy Experts, Educators at every level, Parents, and Policy-makers should create informed guidance for the Commonwealth.
Dyslexia legislation is an important issue. It will determine if students who arrive at school with a neurobiological condition called dyslexia must “wait to fail” before receiving screening, diagnosis and evidence based instruction specific to dyslexia. If passed, legislation will provide a clear and scientific definition of dyslexia(1) and require early screening so that students at risk for dyslexia can be identified early and evidence based instruction(2) for students with dyslexia can begin before a child experiences failure.
To learn more about the social and emotional affects of unidentified dyslexia CLICK HERE
Why do we need a definition? Doesn't everyone know what it is? Specific Learning Disability (SLD) is the largest designation of special education in MA. According to the 2010-2011 Annual Report to the Legislature, 31.5% of special education students in Massachusetts were categorized as Specific Learning Disability, (SLD). That was 51,900 of the 164,711 students in the special education programs for the school year 2010-2011. But it is a broad category that covers many very different disabilities. How these disabilities are determined and what interventions are used varies widely between districts. Some schools will use the term dyslexia only when an outside diagnosis costing parents thousands is provided, other districts tell parents that it is an irrelevant term and refuse to use it even with an outside diagnosis. Other districts use the term incorrectly to mean any language based reading problem, or all specific learning disabilities. Some districts, after reading failure and diagnosis, and too often only after BSEA involvement provide services. This confusion is noted by the DESE. Quoted from a recent Review of Special Education in the Commonwealth, Report commissioned by Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
we learned that local school districts are given substantial flexibility in their interpretation of these specific disability categories. In some cases, this appears to result in children with the same underlying issues receiving different disability labels in different school districts. This represents a potential impediment to the effective delivery of services to children and also presents challenges for our analyses.
Despite the confusion with the SLD model, acknowledged in this report and the experiences of many many families across the Commonwealth, most students receiving services for special education are categorized as SLD. The requirements for an SLD include that:
The student must experience quality reading instruction, and fail. (3)
The team determines that exclusionary factors like “culture” or “economic disadvantage” were not a primary factor they may be considered for SLD and an IEP.(4)There is no other disability that could exclude students from receiving services required due to a biological disability, something they are born with based on these subjective and irrelevant factors.
This is the current "wait to fail" method. As a result, dyslexia may or may not be used as a term to identify evidence based interventions at this stage. Many parents find that a private diagnosis and evaluations costing thousands are the only way, even after this process, to get a dyslexia diagnosis and the specific evidence based instruction known to be effective with dyslexia. Since some students are excluded simply on the basis of having a second language or economic disadvantage there are some students that never learn the cause of their academic struggles or the skills they need. This multi year delay, confusion about the definition, and irrelevant exclusionary factors are the cause of great stress for students, parents, teachers and in fact districts. The end result for far too many is failure. The correlation to poor reading and the school to prison pipeline makes this an even more important issue.
By accepting the scientific neurobiological definition, the accuracy of identifying dyslexia and the ability to determine effective delivery of services will be greatly improved. This definition is used in the neuroscience based research that provides data for evidence based screening and instruction.
If we know beyond a doubt, that it is a neurobiological condition some students will be born with, why do we still expect these children to wait to fail before targeting the interventions that work best for them? How can we pretend that there is not a better more accurate way?
Many Massachusetts legislators have been learning more about this from a grass roots organization called Decoding Dyslexia Massachusetts. This group includes parents, students, neuroscientists, speech and language pathologists, higher education professors of pediatrics, literacy, speech and language pathology, medicine and psychiatry. Many legislators have looked at the science, the research from MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Boston Children’s Hospital labs for Neuroscience and Cognitive Development, MGH Institute of Health Professionals and heard the stories of frustration, failure and wasted opportunity from families across the Commonwealth in Acton, Middleton, Grafton,Worcester, Andover, Plymouth, Martha’s Vineyard, Medford, Arlington. East Long-Meadow, Winthrop, Revere, Dracut, Rockport, Wellesley, Newton. While legislators consider the financial and emotional costs of the "wait to fail" model associated with SLD, many of these families are living with the stress and often financial burden of this model. .
Isn't it time we base educational and instructional policies for students with a neurobiological condition called dyslexia on the definition accepted by those that study dyslexia using medical, scientific research and brain imaging technology. Teachers, parents and students deserve to understand dyslexia in the most informative and scientifically valid concepts of how the brain actually learns to read and processes the written word. Share this information with your state and local policymakers.
Beyond the science based definition, and early screening guidance, the legislation should also include the establishment of a Task Force or Committee for Dyslexia Guidelines. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a leader in scientific dyslexia research and a leader in public education, including special education. Collaboration including Neuroscience, Speech and Language, Developmental Pediatrics, and other dyslexia specialists with Parents, Educators and Policy-makers through this type of task force would ensure that guidance, regulations, policies and professional development would quickly and accurately be available to stakeholders at every level of instruction. (Check this link: http://www.decodingdyslexiama.org/national-legislation.html to see what other states are doing to accomplish this. Decoding Dyslexia MA allies itself with the National Network of Decoding Dyslexia grass roots groups in 50 states and 4 Canadian provinces.)
1 The International Dyslexia Association and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development agree on a definition internationally accepted by neuroscience, and medical researchers as well as speech and language pathologists, and dyslexia literacy specialists. 2 Dyslexia specific evidence based instruction has been successful. IDA lists teaching standards and approves programs. Examples can be found in Overcoming Dyslexia, by Sally Shaywitz. 3 For all the procedures needed to process a student born with dyslexia as a student with a specific learning disability refer to the Mass DESE guidelines: http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/iep/sld/ 4 See all the Exclusionary factors http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/iep/sld/SLD3.pdf Can there be any reason to exclude a child based on these arbitrary exclusionary factors when despite these factors they may be just as likely as any other child to have been born with dyslexia? It should also be noted that these students are the least likely to have the financial means and information needed to appeal to the BSEA.