It’s a matter of small steps, but those pressing for more awareness about how best to teach students with dyslexia got some good news recently.
First, the state Department of Education released a long-awaited handbook of guidance and resources on dyslexia for schools and parents, as compiled by experts and educators specifically for New Jersey.
Then came some legislative gains, including the Senate’s and the Assembly’s approval and Gov. Chris Christie’s signing of a resolution declaring October to be Dyslexia Awareness Month.
The designation is largely symbolic, but advocates said it is another sign of progress in what has been a long fight for greater attention to the reading disorder that affects tens of thousands of New Jersey students.
“It further opens up the conversation,” said Liz Barnes, a leader with the advocacy group Decoding Dyslexia NJ and a parent of a child with dyslexia. “If you think of other causes like autism, things like this really open up the eyes of parents and students.
“There’s still a whole lot to do, but it starts becoming a more regular conversation,” she said. “With awareness comes change.”
Barnes’s group and others have been pushing for years for a host of measures, breaking through in 2013 with the passage of bills that require schools to now screen every student for reading disorders and also to include and define dyslexia in state regulations as a specific disorder.
The handbook was a key next step, taking more than a year to compile but hailed by parents as a critical resource for schools and families. For example, it lays out a helpful checklist for schools to follow when screening students.
“It’s not a requirement, but if a district isn’t doing these things, they may want to rethink what they are doing,” Barnes said.
Meanwhile, more legislation may be on the way. One bill gaining sponsors in both the Senate and Assembly would require new elementary school teachers seeking certification to pass a written test that includes the “foundations for teaching reading” and the “diagnosis of reading difficulties.”
A second bill would create a three-year pilot program that provides assistive technology in teaching students with dyslexia and other reading disorders.