A Brief Overview
- Washington passed a law in 2018 that requires schools to screen children in kindergarten through second grade for signs of dyslexia and to provide reading support for those who need it. The law takes full effect in 2021-22.
- Schools already can evaluate students to identify learning disabilities and design interventions, regardless of whether the student has a formal diagnosis of dyslexia or another condition. Specific Learning Disability is one of the general categories of disability that may qualify a student for an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
- The Revised Code of Washington (RCW320.260) requires schools to provide support to students identified as having dyslexia through “multi-tiered” programming. That means schools provide different levels of help for all students who need it, regardless of whether the student qualifies for special education.
- In Summer 2020, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction released a handout for families: Understanding Literacy Screening. The two-page document defines key terms and describes student rights and the process of literacy screening in simple terms. A Dyslexia Fact Sheet provides additional information.
- Listen to a young adult talk about her life as a student with dyslexia in a 15-minute online video: Succeeding with Dyslexia.
A child who struggles to read can quickly fall behind in school. Nearly every academic area includes some reading, and children might become confused or frustrated when they don’t get help to make sense of their schoolwork. Behavior challenges can result, and sometimes schools and parents struggle to uncover the root of the problem.
October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, providing an opportunity to consider what is being done to evaluate and serve students who struggle to read because of disability.
Washington State has committed to helping more students with a law that requires early dyslexia screenings and interventions. The law takes full effect in 2021-22. State lawmakers in 2018 passed Senate Bill 6162 to require schools to assess children from Kindergarten through second grade. Schools who start using the state-recommended literacy screening tools before 2021-22 are considered “early adopters.”
Child Mind Institute offers a Parent Guide to Dyslexia. Included are a few examples of signs parents might look for to consider whether dyslexia might be impacting a child.
A young child with dyslexia may:
- Have trouble learning simple rhymes
- Be speech delayed
- Have a hard time following directions
- Have difficulty with short words or omit them (and, the, but are examples)
- Have trouble differentiating left from right
In school, children with dyslexia are likely to:
- Have significant difficulty learning to read, including trouble sounding out new words and counting the number of syllables in words
- Continue to reverse letters and numbers when reading (read bear as dees, for example) after most kids have stopped doing that, around the age of 8
- Struggle with taking notes and copying down words from the board
- Have difficulty rhyming, associating sounds with letters, and sequencing and ordering sounds
- Have trouble correctly spelling even familiar words; they will often spell them phonetically (cmpt instead of camped)
- Lack fluency in reading, continuing to read slowly when other kids are speeding ahead
- Avoid reading out loud in class
- Show signs of fatigue from reading with great effort
Dyslexia affects the brain’s perception of written language
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), which oversees schools and agencies providing education to Washington public-school students, provides detail about the work of an advisory council that formed in Fall 2018 to plan for the state’s implementation of the dyslexia screening law. Early work included a definition of dyslexia, which is a disability that affects the way the brain perceives written language. The state’s definition is similar to a definition promoted by the International Dyslexia Association.
According to Washington State’s definition:
“Dyslexia means a specific learning disorder that is neurological in origin and that is characterized by unexpected difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities that are not consistent with the person’s intelligence, motivation, and sensory capabilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological* components of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”
*The term “phonological” refers to patterns of sounds and word parts.
Through its website, OSPI provides a free downloadable Dyslexia Resource Guide. A print copy can be purchased for $10, and instructions for ordering are included on the website page.
A Learning Disability can qualify a student for an IEP under federal law
An evaluation to determine whether a student has a learning disability is part of the protections of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal grant program that provides money to schools to guarantee that students with disabilities received a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to meet their unique, individualized needs.
The IDEA lists Specific Learning Disability as one of the 14 general categories of disability that may qualify a student for an Individualized Education Program (IEP), if the disability significantly impacts access to education and requires specially designed instruction. Schools can evaluate students to identify learning disabilities regardless of whether the student has been diagnosed as having dyslexia.
Despite the IDEA, many states have struggled to identify dyslexia early enough to provide appropriate interventions before a student falls behind. On October 23, 2015, the US Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague letter to encourage schools nationwide to do more to identify and serve students with dyslexia. In its opening paragraph, the letter states that parents and other stakeholders were concerned that schools were reluctant to identify and serve students who might have specific learning disabilities:
“The purpose of this letter is to clarify that there is nothing in the IDEA that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP documents.”
Since 2015, nearly all states have passed laws to require schools to assess students and provide support for those who need help learning to reading because of dyslexia.
After passing the 2018 law, Washington formed the Dyslexia Advisory Council and included school administrators, non-profit organizations, school psychologists, special education and elementary teachers, parents, literacy specialists, experts in English language learning, state leaders and others. In June 2019, the council published a list of six recommended tools and resources to help schools screen for dyslexia. A downloadable list of the recommended screening tools is available through OSPI’s website.
The council chose screening tools intended to:
- Satisfy developmental and academic criteria and consider typical literacy development and a specific child’s neurological development
- Identify areas of weakness that can predict future reading difficulty: phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, rapid naming skills, letter sound knowledge, and family history of reading and language difficulties
The state’s law is described in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW 28A.320.260). In summary, schools are required to provide support to students identified as having dyslexia through “multi-tiered” programming. That means schools provide different levels of help for all students who need it, regardless of whether the student qualifies for special education. The intention is to intervene before students fall significantly below grade level. Students who don’t respond well to the initial extra help are evaluated to see if more specialized instruction—at a higher level/tier—is needed. The state requires that schools use the screening tools identified and recommended by OSPI.
Students can get various levels of help
According to the Revised Code of Washington: “If a student shows indications of below grade level literacy development or indications of, or areas of weakness associated with, dyslexia, the school district must provide interventions using evidence-based multi tiered systems of support, consistent with the recommendations of the dyslexia advisory council under RCW 28A.300.710…
“The interventions must be evidence-based multisensory structured literacy interventions and must be provided by an educator trained in instructional methods specifically targeting students’ areas of weakness.”
State law requires that schools provide instruction in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to the maximum extent appropriate. A higher level of support may be provided after further evaluation and determination of need, and schools are required to include families in the process:
“For a student who shows indications of, or areas of weakness associated with, dyslexia, each school district must notify the student’s parents and family of the identified indicators and areas of weakness, as well as the plan for using multitiered systems of support to provide supports and interventions. The initial notice must also include information relating to dyslexia and resources for parental support developed by the superintendent of public instruction.
“The school district must regularly update the student’s parents and family of the student’s progress.”
National resources include comics and videos
Dyslexia awareness is promoted by the National Center on Improving Literacy (NCIL), which provides resources designed to support parents, teachers, and policy makers. On its website, the agency includes state-specific information, recommends screening tools and interventions and provides research data about early intervention. Through social media, the agency in October promotes a hashtag campaign, #DyslexiaAwareness.
NCIL provides a unique resource in the format of an online or downloadable comic book: Adventures in Reading Comic Books stars Kayla, a girl with dyslexia.
Here are a few video resources:
- The NCIL provides a selection of videos, including one that features a University of Oregon doctoral candidate who has dyslexia and talks about her journey through school: Succeeding with Dyslexia.
- Georgetown University’s Director of the Center for the Study of Learning provides a researcher’s perspective: What do we know about what’s different in the brain of a person with dyslexia?
- A psychology professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison discusses early intervention: What has scientific research taught us about how children learn to read?
- A TEDx talk called The True Gifts of a Dyslexic Mind features Dean Bragonier describing how dyslexia impacts the brain.