4 ways to lead a dyslexia initiative
This is part four of a four-part series about what educators can do to identify, assess and accommodate students with dyslexia. You can also read Part One: Identifying students with dyslexia, Part Two: How to find for a dyslexia screener and Part Three: Supporting students with dyslexia.
All but seven states have adopted dyslexia as its own category of special needs, but not all of those states require districts to have a plan in place to support students with dyslexia. Whether it is mandated or not, I believe that administrators have a responsibility to act. Here are four ways administrators can take the initiative to improve the classroom experience for students with dyslexia.
1) Advocate for legislative change.
If your state doesn’t have legislation regarding dyslexia, administrators can start conversations with their state school boards. Your state office of education wants students to excel at reading, so this is a great place to start.
2) Provide professional development.
I find one of the biggest impediments to excellent instruction is often not lack of materials, but lack of training in how to use those materials effectively. To create a plan for professional development, administrators can access the K–3 reading program materials that are available on most state office of education websites. Many states are beginning to offer dyslexia training materials, so it’s just a matter of implementing and providing ongoing support to the training. Becoming familiar with the critical elements of reading instruction that are promoted by your state and district education offices will help you create a plan for professional development.
Another valuable resource is the company providing your school’s reading materials. Most districts and schools work with a reading company that provides materials for instruction. The creators of structured literacy programs want students and teachers to be successful in using their materials, and they usually provide excellent instruction on how to use their program.
An aspect of professional development is making sure that teachers understand how the state assesses their students. Every state has mandated testing that monitors the quality of instruction and determines the future funding of programs. In grades K–3 and often beyond, most states require a reading assessment such as Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, otherwise known as DIBELS, to measure various components of reading readiness and capability.
Even if a teacher is not technically responsible for administering DIBELS at their particular grade level, the data will show why a student might be struggling in their classroom. It’s important that administrators make sure every teacher understands how DIBELS is administered and what the data reveals about reading readiness and competency.
3) Screen for reading difficulties.
It doesn’t matter if the school year has already started. Screen your students, look at the data and start with the students who are in need of the most remediation. Work your way up to the next level of students who are behind until you’ve accounted for all of the students in your building. Anything less than this means that someone isn’t being served. I know this may sound challenging, because it is, but it is also appropriate, and the only response that has a chance of changing reading outcomes.
Free screeners are a great place to start. The results will show educators if their students exhibit the universal symptoms of dyslexia, including difficulties with phonemic awareness and problems with rapidly and automatically naming known letters and letter sounds. The screener will not diagnose, but if results show that a student is at-risk for having dyslexia, the next steps in the conversation will be handled according to state laws governing dyslexia screening and diagnosis. Refer to part two of this series, How to find a dyslexia screener, for more information.
4) Raise awareness among parents and students.
Include dyslexia awareness in your parent nights. Consider handing out materials such as a dyslexia handbook from your state office of education during parent-teacher conferences. Most parents are aware and concerned about how well their student is reading. The more aware parents are of the characteristics of dyslexia, the more likely they will be able to recognize dyslexia in their child.
Throughout their school experience, students are educated on a number of social and environmental issues, and as the most common reading disability, dyslexia should be added to those discussions. Many Decoding Dyslexia chapters have student advocates who are trained to give research-driven presentations at schools and events. The more teachers and administrators know about dyslexia, the more parents and students can be made aware.
Once educators, parents and students are familiar with the characteristics of dyslexia, the more likely they are to identify it early. It’s an administrator’s responsibility to make sure every student has the best possible chance of success.
Donell Pons is a reading and dyslexia specialist in Salt Lake City, Utah. Pons started her career in education when her youngest son was diagnosed with dyslexia. She has a master’s degree in education and teaching from Westminster College, along with a certification in special education. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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