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Nebraska: 20% of students dyslexic; what are schools doing?

Apr 9, 2023, Lincoln (NE) Journal Star: Are Nebraska schools making progress in serving students with dyslexia?

Heather Schmidt knew something was off when her daughter, Norah, was making gains in every subject — except reading — by the time she was in first grade.

“I asked her teacher, ‘Do you think she has dyslexia?’ And she said, ‘I don’t know, we don’t do that here,’” Schmidt said.

Norah, who is now a sophomore at Lincoln Southeast High School, eventually received interventions. But she deemed them ineffective, such as when a teacher would pull her out of the classroom with a stopwatch to time her reading.

“It’s hard, because when I was in fifth grade, I finally got through my first chapter book that a first grader would have read,” Norah said. This was before a key piece of legislation was passed in 2018, introduced by then-state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks. It created a step-by-step framework for Nebraska schools to increase support and services for students with dyslexia.

Five years later, it’s not clear whether all schools have been following the bill’s parameters. That’s why Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of the Omaha area says she introduced LB298 this year — because she doesn’t know whether schools are making progress.

“Schools don’t have to report to the Department of Education about how many kids they have with dyslexia, how many children they feel are having reading issues,” Linehan said. “They haven’t had to report any of it.”…

…About 20% of students in the U.S. have dyslexia, according to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.

It’s one part of the overall reading issues that students face in Nebraska and across the nation.

Roughly two-thirds of fourth grade students score below the proficient level in reading, both in Nebraska and nationwide, according to national assessment data released last year. The results also indicate that more than one-third of all fourth graders in Nebraska and the U.S. have below even a basic level of reading skills.

Linehan’s bill would require all school districts to collect and report information regarding dyslexia to the Nebraska Department of Education, which would in turn report to the Legislature.

The information would include the number of students in each school district who were tested for dyslexia, those identified as exhibiting characteristics of dyslexia and those diagnosed with dyslexia who have improved their reading skills as a result of that diagnosis. LB298 became a speaker priority bill in mid-March.

Schools have already been required to help dyslexic students under LB1052, the bill that passed in 2018. It also directed the Nebraska Department of Education to produce a technical assistance document on dyslexia as a statewide resource, which it has done.

Schools must provide each student identified with dyslexia with reading and writing instruction using an evidence-based, multi-sensory approach backed by dyslexia experts….

And finally, it required that all teacher education programs include instruction in dyslexia….

“A lot of parents were getting told when their first and second grader couldn’t read, ‘Oh, it’s OK. They’ll get better.’ Well, they don’t,” Linehan said. “(The bill) was a compromise in that the schools need to pay more attention and teachers need to be able to diagnose and recognize the signs of dyslexia, which are pretty basic.”

Linehan said she introduced her current legislation, LB298, because she was hearing from parents that dyslexia still is not being handled properly in some Nebraska schools….

Still, a shortage of staff, increase in student needs and lack of funding has led to delays in services and other issues in special education in Nebraska.

Rhone said state education officials, in partnership with local organizations, have “worked hard to create more knowledge around the identification of characteristics of dyslexia to ensure best supports for students.”…

If LB298 passes, Kern said Nebraska could drastically improve the way it serves students with dyslexia.

“When I talk to schools and districts, I say, ‘How confident are you in not having the data?’ “

Kern said. “Data will give you power and you’ll be able to really show change and make informed choices in your planning and in your resource allocation.”

For Norah, things are a bit easier now that she’s in high school, but she still needs accommodations, such as taking tests in a separate office with a couple of hours to complete them.

“I think it is really important for teachers to understand that some students have dyslexia and that it’s going to be harder for them to accomplish some of the goals they’re given,” she said. “They just need to understand and try and help out that student the best way they could, so they can learn in the best way possible.”


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