Letter to Council Chair on dyslexia bill

Emily Gasoi, Member DC State Board of Education, Ward 1 Ruth Wattenberg, Member DC State Board of Education, Ward 3. Frazier O’Leary, Member DC State Board of Education, Ward 4 Zachary Parker, Member DC State Board of Education, Ward 5. Markus Batchelor, Member DC State Board of Education, Ward 8 

March 5, 2020

Dear Chairman Mendelson,

Thank you for your support to date for legislation that will improve the way our schools are able to address the needs of students with dyslexia. Thank you for your efforts to make sure that the proposed “Access to Reading for All” legislation does what our students and teachers need, specifically assuring that all of our early-elementary public school students will: 

  • Be taught to read based on state-of-the-art reading programs that genuinely reflect the most up-to-date reading science; 
  • Be taught by teachers who are genuinely skilled and knowledgeable in the most up to date, effective, science-based reading instruction; 
  • Be screened for dyslexia and other learning disabilities with the most scientifically up-to-date screening instruments, administered by teachers well-trained to use them; 
  • Get needed Tier 2 and 3 interventions in a timely way, with the needed intensity, provided by teachers who are well-prepared to provide it.

But we are concerned: Without strengthening measures like those listed below, it’s very possible that the legislation’s excellent intent will be undermined by materials and training that don’t fully reflect current scientific understanding of how best to teach word recognition skills. 

1. Screening instruments must reflect the highest standards. The legislation calls for OSSE to create a list of approved “screening instruments” and for LEA’s to adopt “science-based reading programs.” It is critical that there be a clear basis for assuring that the adopted screeners and reading programs meet the high standards that are implied by the call for “science-based reading.”  This could mean requiring that they are “certified” by a group such as the International Dyslexia Association that is thoroughly familiar with the relevant research and how it is/isn’t reflected in different screeners and reading programs.  

2. The training must reflect the best that’s known about teaching early reading. Likewise, it is critical that the training provided to teachers be top-notch, preparing them to effectively provide (depending on their role) science-based reading instruction to a whole class (Tier 1); provide Tier 2 intervention; provide Tier 3 intervention; and screen students. As currently written, the bill could permit training of widely varying quality, for just several hours or 100 hours, with or without “hands-on” training, with or without follow up coaching or not, etc.   

The legislation should require that the training it requires for teachers: 

a. be certified by a group such as the International Dyslexia Association that is thoroughly familiar with the relevant research and how it should be reflected in training and professional development programs for teachers. 

b. clearly identify whether the training is adequate and appropriate to prepare a teacher to teach Tier 1 instruction, Tier 2, Tier 3, or provide screening and have it certified as such. 

c. to include both classroom learning and some form of “practicum” in which teachers have adequate opportunities to use and practice their newly acquired knowledge and skills with students, with appropriate support and oversight from a mentor/coach.  

d. include follow up, including in-class support and coaching from a well-qualified coach.

3. The training must be provided in a way that can reach numerous teachers quickly. Provided that the training is “certified,” it could be offered by OSSE, LEA’s, universities, or independent providers.  Funding for the training could be provided to any of the above to provide the training; and/or teachers could choose to take training provided by universities or independent providers (or even LEA’S that wanted to be providers) for which their tuition/fees would be reimbursed.

4. Preparation of new teachers: Some action should be taken to get training to new, incoming teachers. Possibly DC’s teacher preparation institutions could be engaged in providing a comparable “certified” training in their preparation programs (and in some cases they may already) and/or provide such training to newly hired DC teachers.

5. Guidelines for Intervention.  The legislation calls for “remediation and intervention instruction.” There should be guidelines for the intensity and duration of tier 2 and tier 3 interventions and the size of the intervention group; and a requirement that these intervention be taught by individuals who have  completed a certified training for tier 2 and 3 interventions.

6. Exemption from training based on demonstration of knowledge and skills through an assessment.  Teachers could be exempted from the training if they pass a rigorous assessment demonstrating knowledge and skill equivalent to that taught in the certified trainings. As with the trainings, materials, and screeners, the assessment should be certified by a group like the IDA.  

7.  Identify a date by which every school must have the equivalent of a reading specialist on staff. The legislation provides a date by which all k-2 teachers must have received their training.  It should also set a date—or require OSSE to set a date–by which every school must have on staff one or more individuals who together or separately are able (and trained in a certified program—or who otherwise demonstrate their knowledge and skill) to administer screenings, provide tier 2 and 3 intervention, and coach/support teachers in tier 1 instruction.  

8. Independent review. The legislation should include a requirement for a constructive, independent review of the legislation’s implementation and outcomes—including surveys of all stakeholders–such that it can be tweaked as needed.

9.  Funding.  Funding is critical. Better to fund it seriously, in phases, than not to fund it adequately.

Sincerely,

Emily Gasoi, Member DC State Board of Education, Ward 1 

Ruth Wattenberg, Member DC State Board of Education, Ward 3

Frazier O’Leary, Member DC State Board of Education, Ward 4 

Zachary Parker, Member DC State Board of Education, Ward 5 

Markus Batchelor, Member DC State Board of Education, Ward 8

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