Lawmakers Advance Dyslexia Task Force

Kansas Rep. Tom Cox, a co-sponsor of the original dyslexia bill, speaking on the House floor in a file photo.

By John Celock

Kansas lawmakers advanced legislation Thursday that would create a task force to develop new programs to address dyslexia.

The state House of Representatives voted to pass legislation that would create the task force – consisting of lawmakers and educational experts – in order to address dyslexia among the state’s students. The task force would put forward recommendations to the Legislature and the state Department of Education on how to address dyslexia screenings and education plans.

“The goal of it is to recommend evidence based reading practices to address dyslexia,” Rep. Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka), who was presenting the bill on the House floor.

Dietrich, a former schools superintendent, said that 25 percent of students are not reading at a proficient level by the third grade and one of the areas that needs to be studied is how to increase early intervention on these reading issues, including dyslexia. She said the House Education Committee heard testimony from 15 parents about the need to increase screenings and programs in schools to address dyslexia education.

The task force – which will have six meetings this year if approved – would develop a series of recommendations for how the state can move forward to address the issue. Dietrich noted that the state Board of Education would retain final authority on any curriculum changes. She also said that the task force would study ways local schools districts can address dyslexia screenings and teaching and that the report would also look at ways teachers can be trained to address dyslexia.

The dyslexia task force legislation was developed by the House Education Committee as an alternative to a dyslexia screening bill introduced by Reps. Shelee Brim (R-Shawnee) and Tom Cox (R-Shawnee). Dietrich explained that the committee believed a task force was needed to study the measure and develop a series of recommendations prior to more formal legislation being adopted.

The Kansas measure is part of a growing amount of state level legislation addressing dyslexia nationwide. According to the advocacy group, Dyslexic Advantage, currently eight states – Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota – do not have laws relating to dyslexia.

Dietrich said that one of the issues that needed to be addressed was that historically students with severe dyslexia were placed into special education programs and given an individual education plan addressing dyslexia. Federal law allows for IEP’s for dyslexia. She said the issue now relates to students in the general education program in schools.

“Most of these kids went into special education with IEP and now we’re seeing kids being in general education and teachers needing to do intervention,” Dietrich said.

Several lawmakers took to the floor during the debate to describe family experiences with dyslexia. Rep. Don Schroeder (R-Hesston) talked about his son and sister both having dyslexia and having to deal with being misdiagnosed early on.

Schroeder said that in his son’s case, he had to put so much effort into being able to read words on a page that he would not able to say what he just read, which caused teachers to believe he other educational issues.

“People who are dyslexic, their minds are wired differently,” Schroeder said. “They learn in a different way. It is about time that we took a look at some of these things and teach these kids how to read.”

Rep. Chuck Weber (R-Wichita) talked about his daughter having dyslexia and now being a special education teacher. He questioned Dietrich on whether the state Board of Education has been addressing these issues in the past. Dietrich said that the committee worked with the board on the legislation, including the switch to a task force to study the issues before moving ahead on other legislation.

Weber questioned why the state Board of Education needed legislation to prompt a study.

“This has been a problem that has been going on for years and years and I wonder why our state school board hasn’t done anything,” he said.

Dietrich said that it was important to get the task force off the ground in order to develop a blueprint for the state to move forward.

“We need to have some urgency with this,” she said. “We need to look at reliable screenings.”