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Opinion: We need to do more for children with dyslexia

Jim Runestad

Iganmie tyrnig to rade in a wrlod wehre lal yuro wrsod aer jmubled.

If you are a “normal” reader, the sentence you just read makes no sense.

But for the estimated 108,000 to 217,000 children in Michigan with dyslexia, it is how the sentence “Imagine trying to read in a world where all your words are jumbled” might look.

Dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition and by poor decoding abilities.

As someone who has learned to overcome the disorder, I understand that if it is not addressed, it can be debilitating, especially for schoolchildren.

As someone who has learned to overcome the disorder, I understand that if it is not addressed, it can be debilitating, Runestad writes.

The problem is particularly acute in Michigan. We are dead last for helping students with dyslexia succeed. This is contributing to our failure to bridge the literacy gap and is leaving students and families discouraged and hopeless.

In conjunction with National Dyslexia Awareness Month, three of my Senate colleagues and I introduced bipartisan legislation to tackle this problem. The bills focus on identifying and intervening to help students with dyslexia.

The legislation would help ensure that educators are adequately trained to understand dyslexia, to identify students early on who are struggling with learning the code, and to teach these students to break the code.

My bill would establish a five-member advisory committee of individuals who understand the struggle firsthand. The committee would employ their experiences and knowledge to develop a dyslexia resource guide.

Other bills in the package would:

► Require school districts to screen children during kindergarten, first grade, second grade and third grade for reading difficulties using a universal screening assessment. If the assessment indicates that a child is experiencing difficulty learning to decode, the school district shall ensure that a multitiered system of support (MTSS) is provided.

► Require teacher preparation institutions to offer instruction on the characteristics of dyslexia, the consequences of dyslexia, evidence-based interventions and accommodations for children with dyslexia, and methods to develop a classroom infrastructure that meets the needs of students with an MTSS in place.

► Allow new teaching certificates to be issued only to individuals who have received instruction on the areas outlined above.

In developing the bills, we worked in consultation with experts in the field, including Lauren A. Katz, Ph.D., one of the founders of the Literacy, Language, and Learning Institute in Ann Arbor.

Dr. Katz said the legislation has far-reaching potential.

“Michigan children, no matter where they live or how much money their parents have, will receive instruction and intervention that is grounded in cognitive science,” Katz said of the bills. “And they will receive this instruction and intervention early — during a critical window of time, before negative consequences have kicked in.”

That last part is important, because while there are proven solutions to treat children with dyslexia, early intervention is key. Michigan currently has no statewide strategy to screen and treat dyslexia, the most common language-based learning disability in existence.

This is unacceptable.

Senate Bills 1172 – 1175, sponsored by Republicans and Democrats, are now before the Senate Committee on Education and Career Readiness. The measures would implement this desperately needed strategy and provide solutions.

And they would drastically improve the lives and future of hundreds of thousands of Michigan children and their families.

State Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, represents Michigan’s 15th District.