TOPEKA — The Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia gave a report to the legislature last Wednesday on the recommendations regarding evidence-based practices for students with dyslexia.
The substitute bill of House Bill 2602 established the Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia in April 2018 to advise and make recommendations to the governor, state legislature and the Kansas State Board of Education (KSBE), regarding matters pertaining to the use of evidence-based practices for students with dyslexia. The substitute bill was made after the original bill, which would have required screening for dyslexia, did not pass in March 2018.
The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) states dyslexia is “a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.”
Kansas is one of few states without laws to help children with dyslexia, according to the Kansas City Star.
“We are responsible for changing,” said Jim Porter, chairman of the task force. “Why we didn’t 20 years ago, I don’t know.”
Sen. Bruce Givens (R-El Dorado), who currently serves as assistant director of special education with the Butler County Special Education Cooperative, said in 1992 that he knew teachers lacked the training to teach students with dyslexia.
“We had the research then; the practice was there for us; the explicit instruction was there for us,” Givens said. “And here we are in 2019, and we still don’t know how to do it.”
The task force is separated into four subcommittees: Current State and Federal Law, Pre-service and In-service Professional Development, Screening and Evaluation Process, and Evidence-based Reading Practices. Recommendations are separated by subcommittee.
As for pre-service recommendations, the task force suggests the KSBE should revise the Educator Preparation Program Standards to include the IDA’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading. It recommends that candidates for K-6 teaching licenses should be required to pass an examination of their knowledge of the science of reading.
“We have teachers who don’t have the basis of the science of reading,” Givens said. “We’re going to have to invest in retraining of the right thing to do.”
It also suggests the legislature should provide funding to train college of education professors who teach reading to become cognizant of the science of reading as well.
In regards to professional learning, the task force wants the KSBE to require school systems to provide evidence-based and consistent professional development opportunities consisting of training regarding the nature of dyslexia. Colleges of education in Kansas should be encouraged by the KSBE to create a course of study with specialization in dyslexia and dyslexia-like characteristics. Additionally, the task force wants the legislature to provide funding for school districts to train designated staff on dyslexia and recognizing dyslexia characteristics.
Screening and evaluation process recommendations consisted of the KSBE requiring every accredited school district to screen and identify students at risk of dyslexia or demonstrating the characteristics of dyslexia. The task force recommendations also state legislature should provide additional funding to districts for the purpose of acquiring screening, diagnostic and progress monitoring tools that are sensitive to the characteristics of dyslexia.
The subcommittee on Evidence-based Reading Practices wants the KSBE to require each accredited school district to utilize structured literacy as the evidence-based approach to teaching literacy skills to all students and promote early intervention for students with characteristics of dyslexia.
With KSBE supporting the recommendations, the task force must target all recommendations to the appropriate audience and request resources necessary to implement them.
“The train has already left the station, and we hope that it starts picking up speed immediately,” Porter said. “We have to make significant changes. We have to be responsible for each one of those students.”
Paige Henderson is a University of Kansas senior from Lenexa majoring in journalism.