Days before her new appointment, Interim Educational Deputy Commissioner Charlene Russel-Tucker filed testimony opposing bipartisan legislation House Bill 6517, An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Task Force to Analyze the Implementation of Laws Governing Dyslexia Instruction and Training, citing lack of capacity, expertise, and funding.
In June, 2019, a Dyslexia Task Force was appointed by the Connecticut General Assembly, pursuant to Special Act No 19-8, to assess, analyze, and make recommendations on issues relating to the implementation of laws governing dyslexia training and instruction in the state. On December 17, 2020 the Report of Findings and Recommendations by the Task Force to Analyze the Implementation of Laws Governing Dyslexia Instruction and Training indicated multiple deficits.
Since 2014, Connecticut has been able to identify dyslexia on a student’s Individual Education Program. Subsequently, there has been a 200% increase in identification. However, this only represents <1% of the state’s population. According to the International Dyslexia Association, the actual prevalence estimates of the population with dyslexia falls between 10-20%. Thus, we are not identifying up to 19% of students with dyslexia in Connecticut. In addition, the task force found a 75% gap in achievement scores between general education students and special education students in ELA scores in grade 8.
The task force also identified a deficit in reading specialists across the state, including Hartford which had zero reading specialists. Furthermore, the Task Force found that CSDE had no distinct plan of implementation, monitoring, or accountability for Connecticut’s dyslexia legislation. The Task Force reported that no agency (public or private) set frameworks, standards, benchmarks, accountability measures, and/or audit protocols to ensure the dyslexia legislation appropriately transitions from paper to practice.
These findings are of great concern and are addressed by HB 6517. Preparing pre-service teacher candidates aligned with a set of core professional standards in structured literacy provides a foundation of appropriate knowledge content that teachers will continue to possess and develop at the district level. Training teachers in structured literacy, gives them requisite tools needed to battle poor literacy skills and move student outcomes. This is particularly important as we emerge from the pandemic.
Aligning K-3 screening with evidence-based practices and research yields early identification and leads to appropriate intervention, and better outcomes for students, families, and educators. Literacy is a universal goal in education. Mental health difficulties, dropout rates, substance use, truancy, and low lifetime achievement are all disproportionately high in poor readers. The Literacy Foundation Project identified that 85% of juvenile offenders have trouble reading and that three fifths of the United States prison population, the largest in the world, cannot read.
There is evidence from the National Reading Panel that explicit instruction helps develop better readers. The International Dyslexia Association has recognized that students with dyslexia span all races, socio-economic variables, and include English and non-English language learners. Structured literacy is based on the science of reading. It is universally beneficial. HB6517 is legislation that supports educators and students with accountability and compliance. It addresses deficiencies in existing enforcement and accountability. We must stop engaging in and supporting methods that have been proven not to be best practice.
the State Department of Education is the agency with authority and oversight. Should they relinquish their responsibility due to lack of capacity, expertise and funds, then responsibility will fall solely to individual districts. Each district will need to revisit their budget because as it is incumbent they provide a free and appropriate education (FAPE). School districts do not have the liberty to claim lack of capacity, expertise, or funds as they are required to provide FAPE. If we cannot depend on the CSDE to provide oversight, regarding appropriate teacher preparation, certification, in-service for professional development, and screenings as required and as directed by HB 6517, then districts will continue to carry the burden alone. We will be a state of haves and have nots. Discrepancies will persist as those with resources acquire the necessary skills of structured literacy to support students while have nots continue to have poor outcomes. Regardless, no district has the means to train and retrain staff indefinitely.
In the past year, as a society, we have all learned to follow science as we battle a global pandemic. We have all had to learn to adapt, modify, adjust, and be flexible. We have come to a consensus that in order to be successful, we need to reach all members of our society. We need to be creative and innovative. We need to trust in science, evolve, and follow what the facts tell us. Now is the time to do the same with reading. Structured literacy is based on the science of reading and benefits all students. If CSDE does not have the capacity or expertise to do their job, and comply with HB 6517, then we must make sure they acquire what is necessary to perform their duties with fidelity and expertise. To do otherwise will unduly burden districts and continue poor outcomes.
Allison Quirion is the Founder of Decoding Dyslexia-CT.