By Rep. Mike Sanders
Recently I invited educators, reading specialists, parents and others to the state Capitol to tell me and other legislators about their experience in parenting or working with students who are dyslexic and to discuss possible solutions.
We heard several heartbreaking stories of children who were bullied at school or pressured by parents and educators because their disability was undiagnosed and misunderstood. We heard the story of Nathaniel who truly wanted to learn, but who just could not read at the same level as his peers and fell further and further behind in school. Not understanding that his brain was not properly decoding the letters and words on the page, his teachers thought he was rebellious and obstinate or lazy. They made him skip recess and class parties because he was behind on his work. He watched as his classmates enjoyed ice cream and other treats that he was denied because he had not finished assignments. He was pleaded with to just try harder – not a technique the works for dyslexia. Nathaniel eventually gave up sports and other activities that provided him an outlet and eventually dropped out of his public school. Today, he learns through an online program at home. Even now that he’s been properly diagnosed and is receiving help, he still battles with anxiety and depression.
The saddest part is, there is no need for this to have happened to Nathaniel or any of the other thousands of students who have dyslexia. We have the evidence-based research that shows us which screening tools actually help teachers recognize these students in early grades when intervention is most successful. One issue, of course, is cost – there are hundreds of areas of need that pull state dollars. Another issue is getting school districts and the state Department of Education on the same page as to which screening tools and reading programs are necessary, are actually evidence based and proven to work, and that best serve the needs of students. We hear about local control, but we need to make sure we are selecting services proven to work.
All of this was the focus of an interim study I held before the House Appropriations and Budget Education Subcommittee. I invited members of Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma who worked with me on House Bill 1228, which passed the Legislature earlier this year and was signed into law by the governor. This law will provide professional development for teachers beginning in the 2020-21 school year to help them recognize students with dyslexia and determine how best to help these students to put them on a better pathway toward learning on pace with their peers.
My interim study also looked at a possible next steps, including adding screening for these students and examining how that might be funded. I also think a good argument could be made for requiring our teaching colleges to add courses that train teachers in how to teach reading, particularly those that are entering early elementary classrooms.
We also heard from educators, reading specialists and administrators from the state Department of Education to explain what currently is being offered to students with dyslexia and what will best help them moving forward.
I was encouraged by the presentations. It seems we know the tools that work. Now we have to work on funding them and getting them into each elementary school in the state. This will help us properly identify dyslexic students and get them on a path toward reading.
Reading is not just another subject; it is the foundational skill for all other learning. If a student can’t read, they can’t perform well in science or history or even math. Add to that studies that show students with dyslexia are at a higher risk of dropping out of school or holding a job that earns them a living wage or studies that show our prisons are full of people who cannot read. Many of our prisoners may in fact be dyslexic.
And yet, with the proper screening and interventions at an early age, the same research shows that 90 percent of children can learn to read. We owe it to them to give this skill.
Remember, I am always available. If I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.