Legislators must act now to pass legislation to screen for and support students with dyslexia

By: Jeff Cobb, Director of Government Affairs, The Education Trust-Midwest

Improving early reading is one of The Education Trust-Midwest’s highest priorities. Students who cannot read by third grade face a considerable disadvantage towards achieving academic success in later years. Unfortunately, in 2019, less than half of Michigan’s 3rd graders demonstrated proficiency in reading.

Michigan is one of the few states in the U.S. that had been losing ground in early reading prior to the pandemic. This trend is evident across the board, impacting all students regardless of race or income, despite passage of the Read by Grade Three law in 2016 which was designed specifically to ensure that all students were reading at grade level by third grade.

One of the key gaps in Michigan’s early reading efforts is the failure to properly screen and provide adequate resources to students with dyslexia, which is a common barrier to reading well for many children. It is estimated that 15 to 20 percent of Michigan students struggle with dyslexia and too often, schools fail to correctly diagnose and/or fail to provide the necessary instruction for these students.

The good news is that this is a correctable problem. Students with dyslexia can learn to become strong readers if given the right tools. That is why we have partnered with other literacy advocates to ensure that students with dyslexia receive the help they need to become successful readers. This has been a lengthy process, but we are gaining momentum.

Last year, Republican and Democratic legislators set their differences aside to come together and introduce legislation that would make significant improvements to the current law.

The proposed legislation would require school districts to screen early elementary school students for characteristics of dyslexia and provide a multi-tiered system of support to those students who exhibit those characteristics. The bills would also require districts to create an individual learning plan for these students and inform their parents.

Further, all teacher preparation programs in Michigan would be required to include specific instruction regarding dyslexia, and all current teachers would be required to successfully complete professional development on how to instruct students with dyslexia. The legislation would also create an advisory committee to develop a dyslexia resource guide to help schools implement all the changes to the law.

In March, the Senate Education Committee unanimously approved the legislation with the expectation that the bills will be voted on in the Senate before they recess for the summer. Similar legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives which is waiting for the Senate to pass its legislation before determining their next steps. We are grateful to our legislative partners who understand the urgency of this issue.

While some argue that the legislation is too prescriptive and that local schools should be able to do what they are currently doing, we know that in many cases, Michigan is not doing enough for students who have dyslexia. That is why we remain committed to working with our partners and the legislature to pass this long-needed reform. Our students cannot afford to wait any longer.