Dyslexia reaches breakthrough in legislation
For generations, the fight for dyslexia awareness in Oregon schools has gone unreformed. But in 2017, two bills passed that will require early screening for this learning disability and will require one teacher from each school to be trained in dyslexia identification and education.
With October being Dyslexia Awareness Month, a presentation about the learning disability was held Wednesday, Oct. 18. Community members and West Linn-Wilsonville School District administration gathered at Sunset Primary to talk about the new legislation, what dyslexia is and the next steps for the district.
Dyslexia involves difficulty in decoding words. People with this learning disability have a hard time processing language, word reading and identifying and manipulating initial sounds in spoken language.
"Often these children are strong with reading skills in listening comprehension. It's perplexing to a lot of students and parents who have these bright children who struggle in this one area," said Carrie Beck, dyslexia specialist for the Oregon Department of Education. "When children struggle decoding words, they're not going to be strong readers who are reading independently."
This is why she says identifying markers for the learning disability and early intervention is key.
Sarah Lorenz, a West Linn mom and ambassador for Decoding Dyslexia Oregon — a grassroots movement of parents and teachers advocating for dyslexia awareness and change in public schools — has been personally affected by dyslexia.
When her son, Ty, was in second grade, he was put on an Individual Education Plan — a special education document that builds on curriculum being taught, providing strategies to fit the child's specific needs and educational goals — because he was experiencing difficulties in school, particularly in the realm of reading.
Lorenz remembers watching a documentary on dyslexia one year after her son was put on an IEP, and finally coming across a word that helped her understand what her son was going through.
She remembers saying to his teacher "I'm so excited we have a word for it, he's dyslexic and she said, 'I know, I've always known but I'm not allowed to talk about that,'" Lorenz said. "It's just too many kids to help, it's very costly unless you establish these bills which Decoding Dyslexia helped do."
The two bills passed were Senate Bill 1003 and House Bill 2412. SB 1003 requires one K-5 teacher or one K-8 teacher in each school complete dyslexia training by July 1, 2018. It also mandates that schools screen for risk factors of dyslexia in kindergarten — or first grade if a student begins school then — starting in the 2018-19 school year. This includes examining family history of difficulty in learning to read — dyslexia is genetic in origin — if the student shows markers for reading difficulty on other measures.
HB 2412 makes it so college students training to be a teacher will now have to take a certain amount of course hours in dyslexia.
"Teachers are going to be trained in understanding recognizing dyslexia and the foundational skills of teaching reading," said Barb Steinberg, dyslexia and educational consult, and owner of PDX Reading Specialist. "I say that knowledge transcends all curriculum; it's just the foundational skills required to teach and then how do you intensify instruction for those who are needing it the most?"
Beck and Steinberg both say going back to the foundations of literacy elements is a start. For example, teaching children at a young age how words are built and not leaving anything left to infer or make generalizations about is important. They both said children with dyslexia need a lot of practice in reading and spelling, and that instruction should be relentless, shown in a variety of ways, and be systematic — building one skill onto the next once it's mastered.
While SB 1003 doesn't directly impact older students, it is still raising awareness about the learning disability that affects one in five students to some degree, according to the Decoding Dyslexia Oregon website. Children with dyslexia can have varying degrees of severeness, and if they are struggling and need additional help outside of the classroom, there are educational plans that can be put in place.
The District also allows students to use Google classroom options for things like text-to-speech, with audible book options available. District officials added that it will be a slow process, but one they intend to get right so every student is being catered to appropriately.
"I think I have a heart for this because I recognize through this, that I, too, am dyslexic. These kids are really bright and they deserve a fighting chance," Lorenz said. "(But) this is not about me, this is not about Ty, this is just trying to get the word out there for people like me that finally you stumble across the word and you have something to attach to."