Dyslexia Task Force asks for coordinator funding

The Kansas Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia met Monday to review its progress and ask the state Legislature to fund a Dyslexia Coordinator position. Although the group’s work has been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, “We will continue to fight until every kid in Kansas has the opportunity to be a successful reader,” said task force Chair and State Board of Education member Jim Porter. 

The final meeting of the Task Force took place in the wake of a September decision by the State Board of Education to reject the Kansas State Department of Education’s recommendation to delay implementing some of the task force’s recommendations because the 2020 legislative session was adjourned early due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The shutdown prevented lawmakers from funding the roughly $90,000 annual cost for a dyslexia coordinator to oversee the development of a handbook and other work. 

The dyslexia handbook is scheduled to be discussed and possibly adopted by the State Board of Education at its Nov. 10 meeting. 

Task Force members Rep. Brenda Dietrich and Senator Ty Masterson formally moved the adoption of a motion to ask the 2021 Legislature to fund the coordinator position. Masterson recently announced he hopes to serve as Senate President beginning in January; Dietrich will move from the House of Representatives to the state Senate following her election on Nov. 3.  

Some of the dyslexia recommendations have been implemented and training has been developed by KSDE and made available to all education service centers. The training, developed and delivered by KSDE since March, has been free for schools and offered virtually and there are resources available for schools on the KSDE website. Some of the task force recommendations are on track, such as having candidates for teaching licenses by August 2021 pass an exam on the knowledge of reading. 

Monday’s meeting kicked off with an overview of the task force’s accomplishments. Dr. David Hurford of Pittsburg State University said the group’s work “will prove to make significant contributions to the potential for better reader skills.” Representatives of the state’s Regents institutions and private colleges reviewed how they are incorporating the task force’s recommendations into their teacher training programs.  

The state education service centers briefed task force members on their work to develop and deliver research-based training to Kansas teachers despite school buildings being closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.   

The centers said they will continue to 

  • Strengthen partnerships with university teacher prep programs to ensure research validated strategies are taught to all aspiring teachers, including secondary.  
  • Support schools in refreshing and implementing tiered systems of support, with more intense training for new teachers or those with low performance data.   
  • Help every teacher feel confident in teaching reading, and every building feel confident that their system is structured to achieve success for every student. 
  • Partner with the community stakeholders so that they have confidence in the effort under way. Patrons must believe in the system for it to be effective.     
  • Support schools in selecting and implementing structured literacy curriculum as a monitored requirement. Align trainings with the community selected curriculum.  
  • Provide foundational structures to ensure systems and practices stay in place despite turnover in leadership and staff.   
  • Recognize a KSDE Reading Czar or Reading Consultants strategically assigned to Service Center regions in the state to provide individual support based on data and analysis. The service centers would be a great place to host these professionals so that materials and training could be distributed in an efficient manner based on the needs in each region.  
  • Prioritize targets based on thoughtful reflection of the existing budget and long-range impact of each new initiative. 

Dyslexia advocates serving on the task force expressed skepticism about the credentials of the service center trainers and of the content of the training. The service center representatives pledged to ensure trainers have the proper background and certifications.  

KSDE Elementary Education Program Consultant Cindy Hanicke reviewed the timeline and implementation status of the task force recommendations. 

Porter said the state “is not where we need to be” in its response to dyslexia and while the pandemic is not an excuse for not responding to student needs, the virus certainly impacted the implementation of the task force’s recommendations.  

The Task Force was created by the 2018 Legislature to study how schools address dyslexia. The group was instructed to:  

  • Research and recommend evidence-based reading practices to address dyslexia or characteristics of dyslexia for use by schools; 
  • Research and recommend high quality pre-service and in-service professional development activities to address reading difficulties like dyslexia, including identification of dyslexia and effective reading interventions to be used in schools and within degree programs, such as education, reading, special education, speech-language pathology, and psychology; 
  • Study and examine current state and federal laws and rules and regulations, and the implementation of such laws and rules and regulations that affect students with dyslexia; and 
  • Identify valid and reliable screening and evaluation assessments and protocols that can be used and the appropriate personnel to administer such assessments in order to identify children with reading difficulties, such as dyslexia or the characteristics of dyslexia as part of an ongoing reading progress monitoring system, multi-tiered system of supports, and Child Find special education eligibility for students. 

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