By Barbara L’Italien
Children with dyslexia often go without the essential support they need in order to succeed in our traditional public schools. Although research shows that when students with dyslexia get the method of instruction early in their educational careers they frequently become very successful students, Massachusetts does not provide specialized training, teaching strategies, or evaluation process for teachers of students with dyslexia. Additionally, many educators have not been taught how to recognize the early signs of dyslexia. The result is that thousands of children with dyslexia suffer in silence after being labeled below-average or lazy. These children do not get to enjoy learning in the same way their peers do, and their fear of constantly asking for help with deciphering words can result in long-term effects on their literacy.
The need for legislative action is clear. The demand for dyslexia-specific instruction far exceeds the number of seats available at the Landmark School. Providing accessible methods to help teachers better understand how to instruct students with dyslexia should be a priority, as should early evaluation of students who show signs of dyslexia. We want all students to work at grade level, and we know that kids with dyslexia can do this if they are properly supported.
For these reasons, I have sponsored a bill (S.312) to address the special education needs of children with dyslexia. The bill has four important components: (1) an optional endorsement for teachers who wish to be trained in teaching strategies for students with dyslexia, (2) adding a standardized definition of dyslexia into our special education statute, (3) a requirement that schools provide early evaluation of young students showing signs of dyslexia, and (4) a requirement that students with dyslexia have access to teachers who have earned the dyslexia endorsement.
This bill is not perfect or all encompassing, but it has begun a statewide conversation on the importance of providing high-quality instruction for students with dyslexia and how to best equip our hardworking educators with the tools they need to help children with dyslexia succeed. I want to honor our children and educators that advocate for students with dyslexia through this bill. We will use their experiences and the research to advance dyslexia education in our schools and ensure children with dyslexia excel in their educational careers. If you agree that this legislation is needed in our Commonwealth, I encourage you to contact my office to discuss how you can help advocate on behalf of this issue.
Barbara L’Italien is the mother of four children and is the State Senator for Andover, Dracut, Lawrence, & Tewksbury. Her career in advocacy and public service also includes eight years as a State Representative and Government Affairs work in the State Treasurer’s office and at the Arc of Massachusetts.