State issues first-ever guidance on students with dyslexia

State issues first-ever guidance on students with dyslexia

(Calif.) For the first time, school leaders and classroom teachers will have state sanctioned guidance on how to identify students with dyslexia as well as how best to address their educational needs.

Although dyslexia has been a growing challenge for educators for decades, consensus among experts about where the condition fits into the matrix of disabilities—and more importantly what to do about it—has only recently solidified.

There are 15 states that still have not added specific protections or mandated services to students with dyslexia. Among those that do, more than 25 upgraded their protections since 2012.

“Our focus on dyslexia is really part of a broader goal to improve reading in all schools,” said Kristin Wright, director of the CDE’s special education division. “We know we need to increase our literacy rates in order to increase our overall achievement, and to the degree we can start to dissect how to address struggling readers, this is an important step.”

The state does not keep track of the number of K-12 students in California that have been identified with dyslexia—largely because, under federal law, it is classified as just one type of many under the Specific Learning Disability category.

That said, research shows that about half of all children who qualify for special education—more than 6.5 million students—have a learning disability, and about 85 percent of that pool have a primary learning disability in reading and language process, according to the International Dyslexia Association

Many more, perhaps as much as 20 percent of the adult population in the U.S., show some symptoms of dyslexia such as slow or poor reading skills, bad spelling or the inability to distinguish some words.

When Congress moved in 2004 to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, they also added dyslexia to the list of Specific Learning Disabilities that already included perceptual disabilities, brain injuries, minimal brain dysfunction and developmental aphasia.

The legislation adopted by California lawmakers in 2016 took it one step further by giving specific direction to schools when screening students for disabilities in hopes that those with dyslexia would not be overlooked.

Existing state regulations required school personnel to consider attention issues, visual processing, auditory processing, sensory-motor skills, cognitive abilities, conceptualization and expression. Last year, lawmakers added “phonological processing”–which is the ability to recognize and understand, or process, units of words.

Given federal law already required school psychologists and other professionals engaged in the evaluation of students for possible disabilities were likely already looking for signs that a child could not recognize or process units of words—putting the phrase “phonological processing” into the regulations elevated those efforts into a state priority.