By Decoding Dyslexia Maryland
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Recent student assessments show that 60% of Maryland students read below grade level (PARCC 2015). Subgroups, particularly special education, English learners and students in poverty, are failing to read at even greater levels: ONLY 7% of 8th grade students with disabilities read proficiently according to the National Assessment for Educational Progress results released in 2015. Students with disabilities are not incapable; rather, colleges and professional development programs are not providing Maryland teachers with the knowledge and practice required to teach reading.
Reading is a complex process – research continues to demonstrate the neuroplasticity of the brain and how to best teach students who learn differently. Research shows that 12-17% of the population struggle with neurological differences in the brain when it comes to reading. Yet many of Maryland’s schools of higher education continue to offer reading courses that either do not meet the state reading requirements or lack the content, practice and mentoring required to ensure that teachers have the depth of knowledge needed in the classroom.
Maryland’s new state superintendent must take a hard look at students who graduate with low literacy and the pipeline that feeds this failure. Reading is a basic human and civil right – it’s the tenant on which we base most of our higher education and work skills. All students, no matter which track they choose, need to be able to read and write proficiently.
Maryland pays for illiteracy on the backs of its poorest and least equipped citizens while taxpayers finance downstream impacts that include dependence, incarceration, low productivity, worker retraining, adult literacy, prison literacy and so on. If we invest in students and teachers now we can prevent much of the human and fiscal costs of illiteracy tomorrow.
An investment in a State Education Superintendent, who understands not only how students learn to read, but also how to change Maryland higher education, is an investment that will provide a return to teachers, students and taxpayers.
Maryland’s next superintendent must be able to work with higher education leaders to ensure new teachers have the knowledge and practice needed to teach at risk students. He or she must be able to provide guidance and leadership to our principals and district superintendents so that they can work with teachers to develop in-service professional development to better serve our at risk readers. We are all in this together and the Superintendent must be a strong leader and a consensus builder.
Specifically, the new Maryland State Education Superintendent should:
- Ensure that Maryland Higher education standards include the knowledge, practice, and assessment to ensure that all teachers can provide early, effective instruction to at risk students and students with learning disabilities. All teachers, pre-service and in-service, to include higher education professionals in Maryland education colleges and universities, must know how to identify and teach at-risk students how to read.
Several states require teachers to take a Foundations of Reading assessment before they can enter a classroom and/or be re-certified (WI, CT, MA, NC). But a test alone is not enough—in-depth professional development and university coursework, mentoring and practice MUST precede the assessment so that teachers can be both prescriptive and diagnostic to the individual student. Reliance on off-the-shelf programs does not serve students or teachers well.
- Ensure that the Governor and the Legislature implement the findings of the Dyslexia Education Task Force. The Task Force to Implement a Dyslexia Education Program in Maryland Public Schools is preparing a best practices report that will contain many of the following components:
- Screening and identification best practices and methodologies for students at risk for reading failure and the age which students can be identified;
- Intervention practices that are evidence proven to remediate and prevent reading failure;
- Recommendations for teacher and administrative training on reading failure, the foundations of reading and best practices for schools;
- Recommendations on changes to higher education standards so that new teachers leave university education programs prepared to teach ALL students to read, write and spell and to identify those who are at risk. Many teachers report that they do not have the knowledge and skills needed to teach reading.
Parents and teachers who attended the Task Force meetings provided consistent testimony that their children and students were not learning to read and that school districts across Maryland often implemented ineffective off-the-shelf programs. Parents and teachers reported that most of the reading interventions were applied too late, were not individualized to students’ specific learning needs and/or programs were applied without investing in professional development requirements of the reading interventions.
3. Ensure that the new Superintendent understands the grant and funding opportunities provided in the Every Student Succeeds Act and the READ Act. As the first-of-its-kind, the Comprehensive Literacy Center in ESSA will perform five functions to support students who are struggling to learn literacy skills due to a disability:
- Develop/Identify tools to detect challenges early
- Identify evidence-based literacy instruction, strategies, accommodations and assistive technology
- Provide information to support families
- Develop/Identify professional development for teachers on early indicators and instructional strategies
- Disseminate resources within existing federal networks
The Read Act, signed by the President on Feb. 18, allocates $2.5M in funding annually through the National Science Foundation to:
- Identify children and students with dyslexia
- Provide professional development for teachers and administrators of students with dyslexia
- Create curricula and educational tools needed for children with dyslexia
- Implement and scale models of dyslexia intervention
Maryland needs a superintendent who understands the challenges of children with reading differences and who knows exactly how to equip teachers and students for reading success. We need a superintendent who will work with parents and teachers to ensure that best practices for reading are in place.
Decoding Dyslexia Maryland is a grassroots organization that represents hundreds of families, students, teachers and related professionals concerned about the lack of appropriate reading instruction in Maryland public schools. Please visit our website at www.decodingdyslexiamd.weebly.com for additional information or contact us at DecodingDyslexiaMD@gmail.com