By Ashley Shuler
INDIANAPOLIS — One in five individuals have dyslexia and Rep. Woody Burton, R-Whiteland, has authored a bill to address the issue inside Indiana classrooms.
House Bill 1108, which defines dyslexia and trains teachers to recognize it, would put students on the right reading and learning track early.
“My bill is designed to get the teacher to identify in the early stages — kindergarten, first grade — that this child may be a victim of dyslexia,” Burton said.
Dyslexia is a learning disorder that makes it difficult for students to accurately decode letters and words.
Nanci Perry, founder of Decoding Dyslexia Indiana and mother of two dyslexic sons, says defining the disorder within Indiana education law is the first step to appropriate intervention.
“Even though it tends to be the most common learning disability teachers encounter, we don’t call it by name,” Terry said. “Giving it a name gives teachers the freedom to get training.”
As of last year, 18 states have adopted some form of law defining dyslexia.
Many schools avoid using the term “dyslexia” and instead use the term “specific learning disabilities.”
As a result, Perry said, schools “aren’t using intervention specific to that learning need.”
“It’s not easy to get services within a school system for a disability that doesn’t legally exist,” Perry said.
Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, recommended an amendment to the bill to include dyslexia identification training as a requirement for current teachers and for new teachers taking their licensing exam.
The amendment passed 12-0 on Thursday.
“While it’s so important that we’re training the teachers of tomorrow,” Austin said, “we also have thousands of students in classrooms today and thousands of teachers currently in the field, many of whom who have had no opportunity to develop the knowledge and skill to recognize dyslexia or know how to provide appropriate instruction.”
According to Burton, the dyslexia identification training for teachers would be brief.
“The training I’m talking about is not a full college course,” Burton said. “You can teach it to someone in a matter of a few hours in a seminar to identify the signs of children with dyslexia.”
Austin also hopes to launch a statewide early screening pilot training program.
The pilot training would be voluntary and would take place at the nine Education Service Centers across the state.
Ohio’s Department of Education enacted a dyslexia pilot program in 2011 requiring school districts to provide early screening and intervention services for children with risk factors for dyslexia.
The program’s goal is to give reading assistance to children exhibiting signs of dyslexia and to evaluate whether or not the programs can reduce future special education costs.
“If we can identify early and intervene appropriately, I just think the financial impact will be huge,” Perry said. “There will be fewer referrals into special education. We will see people getting help early instead of wondering why they are struggling on ISTEP and still not making the scores.”
If the legislation becomes law, school districts would incur the cost of the teacher training program.
Costs of creating rules to evaluate teachers who completed the course are expected to be within the State Board of Education’s existing budget.
Nichole Freije, chief executive officer of the Dyslexia Institute of Indiana, said the bill aligns with her institute’s mission that “every individual is entitled to reach his or her potential.”
“We’re excited that our teachers are going to, hopefully, have the tools they need to be able to identify early and seek appropriate help for someone,” Freije said.
Ashley Shuler is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.
Correction: This post has been corrected from its original version. An earlier version misspelled Nichole Freije’s name. Click here to see all our corrections.