Dyslexia Bill Advances To Governor

If Gov. Terry McAuliffe signs legislation passed in the General Assembly without opposition this year, Virginia will have taken another step toward giving dyslexic children a better chance to succeed.

Companion bills sponsored by Republicans Del. Ben Cline and Sen. Richard Black call for public school divisions with one or more reading specialists to have at least one specialist trained to identify and know ways to help students with dyslexia or related disorders succeed in the classroom.

This comes on the heels of the approval of Cline’s 2016 bill requiring teachers obtaining or renewing their license to complete awareness training on dyslexia indicators. That edict goes into effect July 1.

Jill McGlaughlin, a Rockingham County resident whose two children have been diagnosed as dyslexic, went to Richmond each of the last three years to lobby for both changes. She was part of a group of parents affiliated with Decoding Dyslexia Virginia.

That organization, she said, saw the need to have a specialist very familiar with dyslexia to support educators going through the awareness training.

“I’m hopeful [reading specialists will] experience training that will ultimately help the struggling readers with dyslexia,” she said. “It’s getting the appropriate and effective interventions in place and getting it identified early that’s going to be the key to making a real impact.

“To me, this is another small step toward the big overall change that eventually can come.”

Expertise Needed

While the bill puts a standard in place, how it will be implemented is unknown.

Carol Fenn and Scott Kizner, superintendents of the Rockingham County and Harrisonburg public school systems, respectively, said they support the legislation because additional emphasis on and knowledge about dyslexia should help many struggling students.

However, they’re not sure how it will be determined whether a reading specialist has the knowledge about dyslexia to meet the criteria set in the law, and they don’t know how a specialist would get that training if they’re lacking.

Charles Pyle, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education, said the department is developing an online module to provide the awareness training required by the legislation approved last year and hopes to roll it out for use this year. However, it doesn’t work on new programs until the governor signs legislation.

An aide to McAuliffe did not respond to a message seeking the governor’s position on the bill.

Any costs associated with compliance with the law must be covered by the locality. No money was allocated for a training program in the state budget.

Fenn, a reading specialist who rose through the education ranks to lead the local division, said dyslexia training was a component of the master’s reading program she took through Virginia Commonwealth University, and she expects that’s the case with most master’s degree programs.

Special education and learning disability teachers, she said, also should have dyslexia training.

A special education teacher before he became an administrator, Kizner said he’s identified children with dyslexia and other reading disorders and agreed that doing so “does require a different level of expertise.”

Return On Investment

Harrisonburg City Public Schools, Kizner said, employs 25 reading specialists. Ideally, he’d like to have those with dyslexia expertise teach others so a team concept could be deployed to provide professional development training to other teachers.

“I’d like to see a team of professionals become a core group that could really specialize and help target children with dyslexia and teachers in the classroom,” he said. “Some kids who are struggling in reading might not be dyslexic, but some of the techniques [used to help dyslexics] probably would help them.”

Kizner said even if the state doesn’t provide funding to meet the mandate, he views dyslexia training as a good use of tax dollars.

“We spend a significant amount of money when kids struggle,” he said, “so if we can get more targeted and provide more support, I just see it as a win-win for everyone.”

Fenn said Rockingham County, which has 43 reading specialists, has implemented some dyslexia testing and assessment for students so remediation efforts can begin as soon as possible.

Raising awareness, she said, is key.

“Whenever we provide awareness and recognition to teachers but also to our community,” Fenn said, “that’s tremendous because you want to do better for students who are experiencing difficulties.”

David Burchfield, the county’s director of federal programs, said a dyslexia expert is being brought to the area later this month for a seminar with many of the system’s special education teachers and reading specialists.

McGlaughlin said Decoding Dyslexia Virginia has built relationships with delegates and senators over the last three years, and it hopes to work toward more comprehensive changes to help dyslexic students be identified sooner.

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Article By Vic Bradshaw - Harrisonburg Daily News-Record

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