(TRENTON) – A legislative package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Nelson Albano (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland), Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr., (D-Middlesex), Mila Jasey (D-Essex/Morris) and Andrew Andrzejczak (D- Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland) to supplement professional development for special education public school teachers in order to enhance the education of students with dyslexia and other reading disabilities was approved Monday by the General Assembly.
Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability characterized by difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition and poor spelling and decoding abilities, resulting in core difficulties with reading, writing, spelling and sometimes spoken language. An estimated 15-20 percent of people have language-based learning difficulties. An estimated 70-85 percent of students in special education for a learning disability have dyslexia, making it the most prevalent learning disability in children.
“All children need basic reading and writing abilities to succeed in school and in life. Children with dyslexia can learn effectively with appropriate teaching, but if the instruction is inadequate, it can have devastating consequences that will follow these children into adulthood,” said Albano. “This struggle can cause significant stress, lead to poor self-image and discourage students from continuing with school. Early identification, support and sustained targeted services for students with dyslexia are essential to increase academic success and allow these students to reach their full potential.”
The first bill (A-3606/3607), sponsored by Albano, Diegnan, Jasey and Andrzejczak, requires 20 hours of professional development devoted to reading disabilities for public school teachers. Current state Board of Education regulations require all active teachers in a school district to complete 100 hours of approved professional development every five years. Under this bill (A-3606/3607), at least 20 hours of that professional development would have to be made up of instruction on the screening, intervention, accommodation and use of technology for students with reading disabilities, including dyslexia, during each five-year professional development period.
The bill (A-3606/3607) also requires the state Department of Education (DOE) to provide professional development opportunities related to reading disabilities to school district personnel. Under the bill (A-3606/3607), the state DOE must provide professional development opportunities related to reading disabilities, including dyslexia, to a variety of school district personnel. These opportunities would be designed to account for the various manners in which different school district personnel interact with, and develop instructional programs for students with reading disabilities.
“Informed and effective instruction by skilled teachers, especially in the early grades, can prevent or alleviate the severity of dyslexia and related reading and language problems,” said Diegnan, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee. “Students with dyslexia require suitable instruction and educational interventions for their specific disability. In order for educators who teach children with dyslexia to be effective, they need considerable and specialized knowledge and skills, and adequate training to recognize early signs of risk and provide successful teaching methods.”
The second bill (A-3608), also sponsored by Albano, Diegnan, Jasey and Andrzejczak, directs the state Board of Education to incorporate the International Dyslexia Association (IDA)’s definition of dyslexia into its special education regulations. Current state board regulations list dyslexia as one of the specific learning disabilities that may impair a person’s ability to understand or use language or perform mathematical calculations, but do not specifically define it.
Under the bill (A-3608), the state Board of Education would incorporate the IDA definition which reads as follows: “Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”
“All children, regardless of disability, should be given the educational means to succeed. We send our children to school and trust that their teachers will give them the right instruction to do just that. The better equipped our teachers are, the better our children will learn,” said Jasey. “These measures are meant to help and empower children who may have a harder time in school because of their reading disabilities, by making sure that their teachers have the necessary expertise and skills.”
The third measure (AR-129), a resolution sponsored by Albano, Diegnan and Andrzejczak, urges the state Board of Education to develop an endorsement to the instructional certificate for teachers of students with reading disabilities including, but not limited to dyslexia; (2) establish eligibility and training requirements for the endorsement; (3) and work with colleges and universities in the development of instructional programs for candidates for the endorsement. Under each type of teacher’s certificate, there are endorsements. The endorsement identifies the specific subjects or grade level that the certificate holder is authorized to teach. Under the resolution (AR-129), the endorsement would be specific to reading disabilities and would require specific training and eligibility.
The resolution (AR-129) also encourages the board, in developing the endorsement and its eligibility and training requirements, to consider the recommendations contained in the International Dyslexia Association’s 2010 publication Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading, as well as requirements developed by other states, such as Texas, for certification of individuals who work with students who have dyslexia. The resolution would take effect immediately.
“No child should fail to meet his or her full potential because they did not receive adequate instruction in school. A reading disability is only an impediment to academic success, if it is not met with efficient, specialized instruction,” said Andrzejczak. “A state endorsement, along with the other measures proposed in this package, would help ensure that these children will have access to teachers who are specifically trained in appropriate instructional methods to help them learn and succeed.”
The bill (A-3606/3607) was approved 76-0, the bill (A-3608) was approved 75-0 and the resolution (AR-129) was approved 76-0. The measures now await further consideration by the Senate.