School: "Maybe Megan can't read because she can't focus."
“Megan is now in 4th grade. She could have been screened in Kindergarten. She could have been placed into a proper reading program right away instead of bouncing around several programs over four years.
I don’t blame her K, 1st, and 2nd grade teachers. Teacher preparation programs must teach teachers about dyslexia interventions and screening. I never want another student or family to have to go through what we have gone through to get a child the correct and proper reading program that they need in order to be successful and confident in school, and in life.” Megan's mother.
In 2014, Megan went to Kindergarten. She had a wonderful teacher who gave her confidence and a wonderful first year in school. My smart, sweet child was put in a “Speedy Speech” program and a Fundations reading group. Megan was still struggling. Her Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) score was a 0. Her Fountas & Pinnell score was still an A (lowest level). How could a child who was so smart, who was doing well in all other areas of school, not be able to read?
In 2015, Megan’s first grade teacher and reading specialist met with me during conferences. At this point Megan had been in several different reading programs. According to her data she was not progressing. I was told that Megan “is a sweet child but besides her reading issues, they were worried about attention issues.” Within a week following the meeting, Megan was seen by her pediatrician and began a low dose of ADHD medicine to control her “attention.”
In January 2016 we had our first IEP meeting. Megan’s first grade teacher stated that while Megan’s attentiveness in class had improved greatly, her reading performance had not. Megan was referred for a comprehensive education evaluation, and her results showed significant deficits for reading fluency, reading comprehension, phonics, and writing. She received an IEP label of “Multiple Disabilities and OHI.”
The multiple disabilities were Specific Learning Disabilities about reading. I was confused. I knew she specifically had Dyslexia. Why weren’t we saying that word? After the IEP meeting, I asked the Special Educator about that. “Megan has Dyslexia, correct?” She replied with “Oh definitely. But we can’t use that word on the IEP.”
For over 3 years I knew my daughter had Dyslexia when no one else did or was willing to admit. I have read up on Dyslexia and Wilson Reading Systems. So what next? I had no choice but to continue. I hired an advocate and Megan was to be re-assessed.
April 2018. Finally, 3 years after figuring out that Megan had Dyslexia, the school agreed with me. Her IEP says “Specific Learning Disability: Dyslexia”. The IEP team had Megan placed into the Wilson Reading System in April 2018 -- the same reading program I have had her tutored in since 2015.
By Kathleen Khoury, Megan's Mom
Very few schools use the appropriate balance of literacy components to teach reading, which is what is inherently wrong with the term "Balanced Literacy." If reading teachers, and especially special educators, are not given the support and tools they need to teach any one of the literacy components they are supposed to balance, that is unbalanced literacy.
By Marilyn Zecher, former secondary school classroom teacher, Prince George's County Public Schools, Maryland and Certified Academic Language Therapist
The opinion piece in The Washington Post on the Reading Wars gets a lot right; but some practitioners of “balanced” literacy get some things wrong. (Also see the comment section of the article.)
"There is also a distinct and fiery kind of resilience and fortitude that is born from such experiences. That is what I witnessed in the moments after Decoding Dyslexia MD’s bill was deemed dead—I saw a community ignited."
Observations on the Legislative Process
By Stacy Brocker, State Leader, Decoding Dyslexia MD, Howard County
George Orwell said, “Myths which are believed in tend to become true.” The philosophy many seem to subconsciously embrace is, “Myths which are believed in are true.” This may be why there was some resistance to HB 910, the Reading Screening & Interventions bill, during the recent Maryland General Assembly session. There are a myriad of myths surrounding struggling readers and dyslexia, and dyslexia advocates work tirelessly to dispel these myths and put reading research into the hands of policy makers and teachers.
Decoding Dyslexia Maryland (DDMD) is a grassroots organization of parents, teachers, students and community partners founded in early 2013. Volunteers donate their time and resources to fight for every child’s right to read and are bolstered by the advocacy of students, teachers, psychologists, private school leaders and research scientists who care about reading and who are frustrated by education systems that use programs and practices that are not based on the science of reading (20 U.S. Code § 6368 - Definitions).
Currently, at least 38 states have one or more dyslexia laws while 19 states have comprehensive dyslexia laws. These comprehensive laws include mandates for early reading and dyslexia screening as well as intervention, structured literacy teacher training for both pre-service and inservice teachers, a definition of dyslexia, and accommodations for dyslexia. Only a handful of states do not have any requirements for addressing dyslexia: Idaho, Maryland, Montana, Massachusetts and the Dakotas (https://improvingliteracy.org/state-of-dyslexia).
Decoding Dyslexia members pour over research about reading and dyslexia and often educate their local Boards of Education, Superintendents, administrators, and teachers meeting by meeting...by meeting. The numbers of students in need of support is growing. Research statistics show that dyslexia affects up to 17% of all students and many more struggle to learn to read in our public schools. Decoding Dyslexia is increasingly leading the charge to support parents in their efforts to learn about dyslexia, to gather research and data to support effective instruction, and to advocate for systemwide policy change for early screening and interventions that help all students.
On May 12, 2015, the Maryland General Assembly and Governor Larry Hogan enacted HB 278 to authorize a Task Force to Study the Implementation of a Dyslexia Education Program in Maryland. The Task Force was established in response to parent, teacher, and student testimony that reading difficulties and dyslexia were not adequately addressed by public schools in Maryland. This massive undertaking resulted in a 135 page in depth report that includes a remarkable amount of scientific data, expert testimony, and current practices from school districts and other states.
The report included six detailed recommendations that could be implemented and measured in a six year Reading and Dyslexia Pilot Program for Kindergarten, first and second grade students. The Pilot included a summer reading institute for teachers and mentors and an itemized fiscal note. Unfortunately, at the close of the 2017 legislative session, the recommendations in the Task Force Report remained unaddressed.
This year, Decoding Dyslexia MD, to which I and my daughter proudly belong, focused its legislative efforts on accomplishing something the current public school system has not been able to do: Help all students learn to read by identifying their reading risk factors before they fall behind. Armed with the knowledge that other Decoding Dyslexia chapters won battles to change their laws, and with the Maryland Dyslexia Task Force report in hand, Decoding Dyslexia MD got to work.
Joining with other statewide advocates for children, Decoding Dyslexia Maryland and the MD School Psychologists Association, supported HB 910 as a first step in the process to implement the Task Force recommendations. Advocates partnered with Delegate Eric Luedtke and Senator Joan Carter Conway to introduce the The Reading Screening & Interventions Bill (HB 910/SB548). After more than four subcommittee meetings, the House Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved HB 910 with amendments that addressed technical issues and concerns of local districts. The House of Delegates passed the bill 135-1 and sent it to the Senate.
The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee amended HB 910 at the request of school districts, striking language that would have required schools to follow federal requirements to use reliable and valid screening tools. The amendments also removed language that required screening instruments to quickly assess specific, developmentally appropriate foundational reading skills. These skills are identified in reading research as highly predictive of future reading development, including reading difficulties such as dyslexia. The Senate version of HB 910 passed the full Senate 43-0 and differed significantly from the House version.
The journey came to a head this past Monday, April 9, 2018 on the last day session or sine die. It was a hair-raising 15-hour day of back and forth. Joined by other members of Decoding Dyslexia MD and representatives for the Maryland State Education Association, Delegate Luedtke and advocates persisted through various blocks and hold ups. Finally, House and Senate Conferees signed off on compromise language and the House of Delegates immediately voted YES at 11:38 p.m. Celebrations were quelled, however, when it became clear that the Senate had not done the same, thus killing the bill.
Decoding Dyslexia MD’s Facebook and Twitter feeds were filled with concerned constituents listening live from their homes to the proceedings and following the updates. Various DDMD county chapters were conferencing with each other. There is a distinct kind of disappointment when a proposal that could help all children, including those with dyslexia, is so close to being available and then is silently killed with no explanation. Fortunately, there is also a distinct and fiery kind of resilience and fortitude that is born from such experiences. That is what I witnessed in the moments after Decoding Dyslexia MD’s bill was deemed dead—I saw a community ignited.
People who prefer to think like Barbra Streisand, “Myths are a waste of time...and prevent progression,” will be the people who finally dispel the myth that young children cannot be screened for reading difficulties and be provided early intervention. Preventing reading failure by employing best practices for reading screening is backed by voluminous research. DDMD’s 2019 bill will also be informed by the recent partnership between the National Center on Improving Literacy and St. Mary’s County Public Schools to create a “Beacon Site Screening Pilot” project.
Decoding Dyslexia Maryland advocates look forward to a different result in 2019, and an energetic celebration as Maryland moves forward to support every student’s right to read.
About the Author: Stacy Brocker is mom to five and her daughter Abi, who is in high school, has dyslexia. Stacy is co-leader of the Howard County chapter of DDMD. If you would would like to learn more about a chapter near you, please visit our Local Chapters Page or Join DDMD today (it's free)!
Fixing the Reading Failure Model: Solutions that Work
My Name is Liz Hembling and I’m here to report on Baltimore County’s efforts to identify and provide early interventions for struggling readers and students with dyslexia:
When I started this journey, parents were fighting to even use the word dyslexia in Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS). I am happy to report that so much has changed.
BCPS has a head of English Language Arts who you will hear from later today. Her name is Megan Shay. They also have a head of Special Education (Rebecca Rider.) Those departments traditionally worked in silos. Ms. Shay and Ms. Rider decided to join forces and work together to address the dyslexia and reading failure issue in the school system. Together they developed a comprehensive plan to screen, identify, and remediate those children in early grades who have trouble with reading.
Ms. Rider and Shay decided to focus heavily on grades k-2. They wanted all classroom teachers to have a basic understanding of structured literacy so they can identify kids who may be struggling in their classrooms. They trained 807 teachers in LETRS, a course designed by expert Louisa Moats, to accomplish this goal.
They are using Dibels to screen all children early. All kindergarteners are universally screened for reading failure using DIBELS in Fall, winter, and spring. They will continue to screen in first grade if a problem is suspected. The idea is that any child flagged with an issue could receive appropriate instruction without delay.
Shay and Rider also started an ambitious plan to train certain educators in Orton Gillingham. They initially trained 61 teachers, and then expanded the program to 95 so that every elementary and middle school has an OG trained educator. They plan to expand even further. The person who has been training their staff is none other than Fran Bowman. Fran is a fellow in the Academy of Orton Gillingham Practitioners and Educators and is considered one of the highly regarded experts in this field. The feedback from BCPS teachers who have taken her course is outstanding. We are hearing reports from teachers who are now making more progress with their students in several months after receiving her course than they have in several years with the same student.
This training has had an amazing impact on the students in our county. I want to read you a letter from one mom so you have an idea of how these investments are impacting families in our schools:
LETTER FROM A MOM: CHEYANNE’S PROGRESS LEARNING TO READ: THANK YOU BCPS
All through kindergarten, Cheyanne received special education and was pulled put for reading and math. After a year she could only read 4 words: The, A, And, and She.
We practiced at home and wrote words to memorize them; but she wasn’t learning. Cheyanne was severely behind all of the other kids in her class. I was so upset.
Fast forward to 1st grade. At the first IEP meeting of the year, our case manager agreed that Cheyanne wasn’t making progress. She suggested that we begin with an Orton Gillingham based approach to reading instruction. I had never heard of OG, so after researching it I noticed it was to go-to approach for students with dyslexia.
Cheyanne’s special education teacher invited me to observe a lesson. I was crying tears of joy because I had never seen my 6 year old read a sentence on her own. They were very focused on each other, it was one on one, and fast moving. Allowing me to watch was great because now I know how to help her at home. Thank you Baltimore County.
In three months using Orton Gillingham methods, she has learned to read more words than she learned over the entire year on Kindergarten and the first few months of 1st grade. Cheyanne can now read words like mat, mop, mob, and with.
I don’t know how else she would learn to read without this knowledgeable teacher. I am grateful for her special educator – we finally have hope; we finally have something that works; we finally have identified dyslexia! Structured literacy programs, like Orton Gillingham, saved my daughter’s life.
On Sunday, November 19, parents and teachers listened to presentations at the Chelsea School to learn more about dyslexia. The Next Steps for Dyslexia Networking Forum featured experts and informed parents who know the challenges of trying to “figure it out.” Just as every learning difference has its unique elements, each family’s journey is also unique. However, there are laws and resources that can help educators and families find the best path forward.
The Next Steps Forum featured Attorney Nicole Joseph, with Nicole Joseph Law who provided attendees with an overview of special education law and rights under both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504). Ms. Joseph covered the special education process including identifying a disability; school system and outside evaluations; developing IEPs; reviewing progress; and options when there is disagreement and also included specific advocacy strategies for students with learning disabilities like dyslexia.
The next presentation, by Laura Schultz, Parent and Decoding Dyslexia Maryland State Leader, provided an overview of the Maryland State Department of Education Technical Assistance Bulletin on Dyslexia, Dysgraphia and Dyscalculia. She provided information on how interested families and teachers can use this document to ensure that students are identified and receive instruction and accommodations for success in school. See the Facts Sheets page for more resources for families and schools.
Amy Siracusano, Literacy Integration Specialist, Calvert County Public Schools explained to attendees exactly what early effective instruction should look like. Ms. Sircusano is a firm believer in making sure teachers are trained using structured literacy to teach all students how to read using diagnostic and prescriptive approaches to teach foundational reading skills.
Laurie Moloney, CALT, DCIDA President explained what effective instruction would look like for a student with dyslexia and said that the more severe the dyslexia, the more comprehensive and intensive the intervention typically must be. She provided an overview of the specific elements of instruction that can dramatically improve outcomes for severely dyslexic students who struggle even after receiving a targeted intervention, including those considered to be Orton-Gillingham-based.
About the Presenters:
Nicole Joseph: Nicole provides legal representation for children with disabilities in the special education process from eligibility and IEP development through administrative hearings. She is also the proud parent of an amazing dyslexic child.
Amy Siracusano is a Literacy Integration Learning Specialist in Calvert County Public Schools and a teacher member of Decoding Dyslexia
Laurie is an academic language therapist in private practice serving moderately to severely dyslexic students.
Maryland student reading performance is subpar -- 60% of students read below grade level -- that is 6 out of 10 students. 93% of special education students read below grade level (9 out of 10 students) and these students are not only capable of learning to read, they also supposedly receive "specially designed instruction" to get them to grade level proficiency.
Many Maryland school districts acknowledge that they have a problem with reading and writing literacy and are making changes to inservice teacher training, curricula choices and program purchases for reading. Other Maryland school districts deny there is a problem and continue to be happy with their students' poor reading performance and high rate of required college remedial reading coursework.
The Kirwan Commission -- an Effort to Change MD Education & Funding
Jeanne Brady Saum w/ Decoding Dyslexia MD waited her turn to speak at the 10/25 public meeting and was presenter 58/61. The microphone broke at speaker #56 but she persevered and spoke without a microphone at the end of a very long day. Her remarks are included here to ensure that she is heard. #saydyslexia #soallcanREAD