Legislators explore ways to help dyslexic students

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FRANKFORT – A proposed bill to encourage the effective teaching of dyslexic students in public schools was presented to two legislative panels this week.

Called the Kentucky Ready to Read Act 2018, the proposed legislation is related to dyslexia and response to interventions that improve student learning. In education, response to intervention (RTI) is an approach to academic and behavioral intervention used to provide early, systematic and appropriately intensive assistance to children who are underperforming in school.

Addia Wuchner“You probably wonder if this is an education issue or a healthcare issue,” Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, said while testifying before Wednesday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare and Family Services. “It is both. It’s is diagnosed on the medical side but it manifests itself in school and learning.”

The bill would update the definition of dyslexia and clarify qualified dyslexia screening tools, she said. It would also require the Department of Education to provide best practices for identifying dyslexic students, technical assistance, training and guidance for developing instructional plans for those students.

Wuchner, who co-chairs the committee, also presented the proposed legislation to the Interim Joint Committee on Education on Monday with Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Deputy Secretary Brad Montell.

On Wednesday she was joined by Jessica Fletcher, the executive director of communications for the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, and Aaron Thompson, the executive vice president at The Council on Postsecondary Education.

“Most importantly, not only do poor readers experience worse academic outcomes, but they are also at a disadvantage in the workforce,” Fletcher said. “Ninety-nine percent of the jobs added to the economy in the past six years are held by workers who had some level of education or training after high school.”

She said her cabinet has concluded that many of Kentucky’s students who struggle with reading and writing are dyslexic. Seventy percent to 80 percent of people with poor reading skills are likely dyslexic, according to information provided to the committee. And one in five students, or 15 percent to 20 percent of the population, has a language-based learning disability.

“We need to do everything possible to ensure Kentucky’s students read efficiently and proficiently,” Fletcher said. “With early identification and appropriate teaching methods students with dyslexia can learn as well as other students. And effectively identifying these children who do have dyslexia early in their school careers make it more likely they will be able to read and succeed in the workforce.”

Thompson said he knows there are effective ways of teaching students with dyslexia.

“My daughter is dyslexic,” he said. “I will tell you, as a sophomore in high school, she is getting straight A’s and doing very well on her own. But it took a while. It took some time. It took the level of skill that my wife has ... and the patience.”

Thompson said he was supportive of the proposed legislation because it would allow teachers to gain the skills they need to identify dyslexic students at an early age.

Wuchner, who introduced similar legislation last session, said she and others have their own personal stories of family members with dyslexia.

She also commended Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt for forming a dyslexia task force last year. The task force’s report was also presented at Monday education committee meeting. It identified several legislative initiatives that are included in Wuchner’s proposed bill.

Rep. George Brown Jr., D-Lexington, asked if undiagnosed dyslexics act out in school as a way of hiding their struggles with reading. He wondered whether well-documented achievement gaps in Kentucky’s public schools could be exasperated by children who haven’t been identified as dyslexic.

Thompson said students with dyslexia are generally extremely bright and may come up with ingenious ways of hiding dyslexia. This could include memorizing texts instead of having to read them or using context clues to figure out the words.

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, said she was committed to getting the proposed legislation passed. Adams, who co-chairs the Health and Welfare and Family Services Committee, said dyslexics require a “completely different method to learn how to read that most schools are not really equipped with.”