Reading is the foundation upon which all other learning takes place. Unfortunately, too many of Michigan’s students are struggling to read.

Our most recent report shows that early literacy rates are now lower than they were almost 20 years ago. Without changing the status quo, many students will continue to fall behind in reading.

The Education Trust-Midwest has long advocated for research-based policies to address Michigan’s reading crisis, and we see opportunities with recently introduced legislation to address one of the most common barriers to reading: dyslexia. Over the previous two legislative sessions – and building upon years of research, we have worked with policymakers and early literacy advocates to create a better system to identify and support students with dyslexia. Senate Bill 567 and 568 are the culmination of that work.

Michigan’s current Read by Grade Three law is not designed to specifically meet the needs of students with dyslexia – estimated to represent 15-20 percent of all students — and that needs to change. Schools must improve their process for identifying students with the characteristics for dyslexia and most importantly provide those students with the tools they need to be successful readers.

Here are key ways:

Building upon the Read by Grade Three law

The Read by Grade Three law, which was signed into law in 2016, is aimed at ensuring all students know how to read by the end of third grade. However, many students are still not reading successfully, including students with dyslexia. Recently, SB 567 and SB 568 have been introduced to strengthen the Read by Grade Three Law. They do so by improving how we screen and identify students that need support.

Under the proposed law, schools would be required to use valid and reliable screening assessments to identify and monitor early elementary students who struggle with decoding and word recognition. By integrating this screening within the existing law, it will avoid taking additional time away from instructional time.

Once identified, schools would be required to use a multi-tiered system of support to help students who display the characteristics of dyslexia. These evidence-based supports will focus on the needs of the students and include changes to how instruction is delivered. If students require additional help, they could be placed in targeted small groups to receive more intensive support or receive personalized instruction according to an individual reading intervention plan.

 Empowering Teachers

All teachers need relevant information to inform their instruction and interventions. In addition to the screening and interventions, this legislation aims to empower teachers with knowledge about effective literacy instruction based on the science of reading so that all students can become proficient readers and writers. All teachers should be empowered with the knowledge of how the reading brain works, effective instructional strategies and how to support students with dyslexia.

The legislation would specifically require teacher preparation programs to begin incorporating information on dyslexia and how to support students struggling to read. The Michigan Department of Education will require these programs to include learning about structured literacy grounded in the principles of the science of reading.

Current teachers would also receive professional development to ensure they are equipped to use data from the screening assessments, use structured literacy and use a tiered approach when applying interventions to address students’ individual needs. The proposed change will fully equip teachers with the tools they need to be successful.

All Kids Can Read

Reading at grade level should be a basic and fundamental right students hold within our educational system. For each child to reach their potential, they must be proficient readers and writers. Students with dyslexia deserve the same opportunities as their peers. We know that not all students have access to evidence-based reading instruction and interventions equitably. This legislation is critical to improving that access and ensuring that all students have the opportunity to achieve at the highest levels.