Progress continues on efforts to advocate for children with dyslexia. On June 26, the Dyslexia and Early Literacy Intervention Pilot Program was signed into law by Gov. Corbett. Through this pilot, the Pennsylvania Department of Education will be able to analyze how early screening and high-quality, evidence-based instruction can improve reading performance for all students and reduce special education referrals, particularly for dyslexic students.
The passage of House Bill 198 represents a year of hard work by then-State Rep. Ed Neilson and the Pennsylvania Dyslexia Literacy Coalition, formerly Pennsylvania Dyslexia Legislative Coalition. The coalition includes parents of dyslexic students who were not identified in early elementary school, did not receive evidence-based instruction, and felt stupid for not being able to read.
The group met tirelessly with legislators, rallied in Harrisburg, organized four dyslexia awareness events, and coordinated grassroots support of the bill, which passed the Senate Education Committee in February.
Dyslexia is a language-based disability that can affect not only reading, but also writing, spelling, handwriting, certain aspects of math, learning a foreign language, hearing and reading directions, understanding spoken language, and the ability to express oneself. Early screening can detect dyslexia as well as early signs of reading difficulties that affect children throughout their education.
Current studies show that half of the students qualifying for special education are classified as having learning disabilities. About 85 percent of those students’ issues are related to reading and language processing. Effective general classroom instruction, especially in the early grades, can reduce the special education population and increase reading scores by 3rd and 4th grade.
The pilot will begin in fall 2015 and run for three years in three school districts still to be chosen. The school districts applying must have between 3,000 and 15,000 students.
While screening tools are widely used statewide, the pilot will focus on rigorous diagnosis of screening results and the design of remediation plans to show what schools should do after children are screened. A final report to be submitted to the legislature after the three years will show how effective early intervention can improve grade-level reading.
Well-trained teachers will screen all incoming kindergarten students for potential risk factors related to early reading deficiencies, including dyslexia. Teachers will also be supported in analyzing the screening results and designing appropriate multisensory, evidence-based instruction.
Early intervention for students with dyslexia or other reading difficulties is more effective and more cost-effective for districts because remediation generally takes four times as long if you wait until the upper elementary grades. The pilot will demonstrate that well-trained, well-supported teachers can make a difference for all students in the earliest grades. Not only will all Pennsylvania districts have a clear standard for quality early-grades reading instruction, but the state will also be able to quantify the cost savings.
As parent Daphne Uliana said, “My son would have been spared years of battered self-esteem if he had been identified in kindergarten and then taught by teachers who understood his reading difficulty and how to teach him. We should expect no less of our schools.”