Mandatory Dyslexia Screening for all Massachusetts Kindergarten Students

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On behalf of the 300+ members of the Massachusetts Branch of the International Dyslexia Association (MABIDA), I am writing to express our support for the following dyslexia legislation:    

  • Senate S.294 and S.313
  • House H.330 and H.2872

International Dyslexia Association members in Massachusetts are educators, service providers, evaluators, parents, and adults with dyslexia. We work with, care for, and/or were children with dyslexia; we know first- hand the challenges that students with dyslexia face, and we are committed to helping them thrive.

Why we support early childhood screening

We know that children who read well in the early grades are far more successful in later years, and those who fall behind often stay behind when it comes to academic achievement.  If we can identify those students who are at-risk for reading difficulties and then provide them with the corresponding early intervention programs, it will have significant and long-lasting implications for their future success.

We hope to avoid a frequently-occurring paradox: Intervention for struggling readers is most effective in kindergarten and first grade, yet most students are not properly identified and provided with appropriate instruction until second or third grade.  In fact, early screening can help target foundational literacy skills in regular classrooms in an appropriate way that improves reading outcomes for dyslexic students.

 In the book Straight Talk About Reading, Hall and Moats (2006) state the following:

Early identification is critical because the earlier the intervention, the easier it is to remediate. Inexpensive screening measures identify at risk children in mid-kindergarten with 85% accuracy. If intervention is not provided before the age of eight, the probability of reading difficulties continuing into high school is 75%.

 We support screening for the following key indicators that are foundational skills for all readers:

  1. Phonemic Awareness (PA)
  2. Rapid Automatized Naming (RAN); and
  3. Letter Sound Knowledge

Screening at age five is good for all.  Finding students at age five that have a deficit in these key areas allows schools to provide early-targeted interventions.

Why we support a scientific definition of dyslexia
We know from brain imaging studies that dyslexia is neurobiological and present at birth. Accepting the science-based definition from the National Institute of Health (NIH) would guide teachers and parents with the latest references on early intervention .

 A definition would cost no money. Dyslexia is listed under IDEA and should be properly defined scientifically based on neuroscience. The U.S. Department of Education recently issued guidance stating that is was appropriate to name dyslexia accurately.

Why we support highly effective general and special education teachers
We know that not every student with dyslexia will require special education. We want to ensure that all teachers—general and special education—have the skills they need to use the scientifically-based reading research and evidenced-based practices to instruct and remediate students with dyslexia, develop appropriate Individualized Education Programs, and enable students with dyslexia to effectively access grade-level curricula.

Why we support including a dyslexia expert on the early literacy expert panel We know that dyslexia is a complex subject, and that many teachers developed their expertise outside of standard teacher training programs. We want to ensure that the state’s early literacy expert panel is able to incorporate current research about dyslexia into their work. A dyslexia expert would be a helpful additional to their group.

What is the International Dyslexia Association?
The International Dyslexia Association’s mission is to create a future for all individuals who struggle with dyslexia and other related reading differences so that they may have richer, more robust lives and access to the tools and resources they need.  We are committed to providing teacher training, information and support, and the funds needed to support our initiatives.

*Hall, S. L., & Moats, L. C. (2006). Straight talk about reading: how parents can make a difference during the early years. New York: McGraw Hill.