By Nancy Duggan
Legislators in Massachusetts are beginning to #SayDyslexia. DDMA says thank you!
Thanks to the many families that continue to speak up and explain the challenges of dyslexia faced by public school students in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the important and most valued help of dyslexia experts in the fields of neuroscience, literacy and speech and language, we have made another step toward improving education for students with learning disabilities, especially dyslexia.
We are not there yet but we are making progress!
On Friday, An Act Relative to Providing Screening for Dyslexia was moved forward (But not yet passed into law) in a redrafted version (A NEW BILL NUMBER WILL LIKELY BE ANNOUNCED THIS WEEK) .
As we wait to see what the next step will be. I urge everyone to look at this Bill which amends an already established law, very carefully.
There is much to be happy about; I want to point out some of the positives:
1. Our legislators have heard our concerns and are taking legislative action. It is very clear that our efforts are not wasted and the #SayDyslexia and #ScreenDyslexiaMA
2. The title of the Bill clearly states the intent of the law: "to Provide Early Screening for
3. As currently written, the law includes "a voice for families whose children are struggling with dyslexia in the public school system and requires research-based
We have traveled far to get this to happen and we need to keep it moving in a positive direction. Initially when you read the bill you may, as I did, ask:
Where is the definition? Why this Panel? Or have other concerns with the specifics of the legislation.
Although it is not the immediate result of screening by next year, that legislation in NH recently passed; It is something that we have not had ...it specifically says "early screening"
and if it passes:
directs by law the established Early Literacy Panel to take:
"steps to implement the research-based recommendations contained in reports written by experts in early language and literacy development with respect to reading disabilities including dyslexia; provided that, in developing its recommendation, the panel shall solicit at least one organization representing families with dyslexia."
It could still change as it goes through the legislative process.
We have questions - but lets support this while we ask them and hope that our questions inspire clarification and a more effective outcome.
1. What is the definition to be used when discussing "early screening of dyslexia"?
Specific Learning Disabilities includes dyslexia, so not all specific learning disabilities are neuro-biologically dyslexia, and the term "reading disabilities" is also broad and not specific. The brain imaging research and neuroscience that enlightens us is fairly recent in scientific terms, and is specific to the scientifically defined dyslexia using IDA/NIH definition.
If we are part of the conversation we can explain more about why this matters. We are fortunate that the expert research laboratories in our state studying dyslexia can provide, and have provided, testimony, guidance and a desire to collaborate with educators and share the latest accurate research for dyslexia.
2. What will it mean for dyslexia screening to be considered by the panel? General screening is already part of the process in most schools (but not for dyslexia ). The current Early Literacy Panel, by law advises about screening, and training of teachers and early educators to screen. Let's hope that if we proceed we will see not only screening protocols for dyslexia endorsed by the panel, but guidelines and training of how to screen for early educators and teachers. Research clearly supports early intervention and we will have to stick with this to see it unfold. I think this is a good step.
3. The current Literacy Panel, and the Third Grade Proficiency Law that establishes it includes the following:
on the alignment, coordination and implementation of, including, but not limited to, the following areas:
(1) strategies for evaluating the effectiveness of curricula on language and literacy development for children in early education and care programs and grades pre-kindergarten to third grade, inclusive, that
(i) is anchored in rich content;
(ii) uses a wide variety of types of text to support content under study;
(iii) emphasizes the role of oral language and discussion in promoting early reading skills; and
(iv) contains a balanced instructional design focused on developing both meaning-based skills, such as comprehension, conceptual knowledge, vocabulary and code-based skills, such as letter knowledge, letter sounds and word reading;
For students with dyslexia aligning with this specific criteria may or may not align with what is the necessary research evidenced based dyslexia instruction.
How can the panel ensure that these criteria are adjusted for the evidenced based criteria for dyslexia?
We can bring that question forward with us, guided by dyslexia specialists in instruction.
Massachusetts has IDA endorsed programs and some excellent literacy experts who focus on dyslexia. Fortunately they are committed to helping move early screening for dyslexia in Massachusetts.
So now what do we do?
1. Call your legislator and thank them for supporting Dyslexia Legislation.
2. Remind them that the scientific definition matters not only for screening but for the current students struggling and ask them to consider that as they go forward with their support for dyslexia legislation they remember that current students would benefit from acknowledging an scientifically accepted definition, like the definition used by the National Institute of Health. This is an important step in better outcomes for students with dyslexia
and all students with learning disabilities.