The Kansas Legislative Dyslexia Task Force voted and approved Thursday formal recommendations — including requirements for Kansas teaching candidates, universities and school districts — to next be reviewed by the Kansas State Board of Education.
The Task Force was initiated by Substitute HB 2602 in April 2018 after parents from Johnson County lobbied for legislation regarding dyslexia in Kansas public schools. Jeanine Phillips, executive director of Fundamental Learning Center in Wichita, sat on the Task Force with Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, as the only Wichita area representatives.
Research shows up to 17 percent of the population has dyslexia, a specific learning difference that affects reading, spelling and writing. According the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, 63 percent of Kansas fourth graders are not reading at the proficient levels, and dyslexia is one issue that contributes to these reading test scores.
Three Task Force committees delivered recommendations in their assigned areas in Topeka Thursday, and the recommendations were voted on and approved by the entire Task Force. Phillips sat on the Pre-Service & Inservice Recommendations Committee.
Committee recommendations are as follows:
• The Pre-Service & Inservice Committee recommended mandates ranging from having Kansas teaching candidates pass an exam on the science of reading to requiring Kansas public schools to have professional development opportunities regarding dyslexia and struggling readers. This committee’s recommendations also would require colleges of education in Kansas to provide education on dyslexia.
• The Screening and Evaluation Processes Committee recommendations would require every accredited school district to screen and identify students at risk of dyslexia with suggestions of what screening tools should be used.
• The Evidence-Based Reading Practices Committee recommendations would require accredited school districts to utilize structured literacy as the evidence-based approach to teaching literacy skills to all students and promote early intervention for students with characteristics of dyslexia.
The Task Force also requested to remain intact for three years to monitor implementation of the plan.
Phillips has advocated for dyslexia in Topeka 15 different years since 2000. Several times during this period, dyslexia legislation was proposed and failed to make it through the legislative process.
Phillips’ 25 years of experience in the dyslexia education field make her one of the area’s leading experts on dyslexia. She co-founded Fundamental Learning Center in 2001 with Gretchen Andeel, and in its history the dyslexia center has helped more than 100,000 children through services provided by those educated in its teacher training center and later at its private school, Rolph Literacy Academy.
“Having participated in this legislative process for so many years in this process, I have great appreciation to the parents who initiated, asked for and were granted a task force,” Phillips said. “I was greatly impressed by the individuals on the Task Force, who represented all kinds of different educational perspectives. The professionalism that this committee demonstrated is impressive. We worked well together, as diverse as it was.”
The Task Force was comprised of legislators, parents, public school administrators, privatized dyslexia educators, a secondary education professor, education service providers, educational advocates and attorneys.
Phillips said she remains “hopefully optimistic” as the recommendations are reviewed by the Kansas State Board of Education next week.
“It’s time that something happens,” Phillips said. “All this effort needs to produce a mandate that says kids can be identified as dyslexic in schools.”
Failure to recognize or help children understand dyslexia as a learning difference not only impedes their reading remediation efforts but also gravely affects children’s self esteem, Phillips said.
Phillips was recommended for participation on the Task Force by Keys For Networking, an organization with a mission to give Kansas parents the information and skills to keep children (with emotional, behavioral problems) at home and in school. She said the self esteem component is a major reason legislation must occur, and resources need to be developed to help parents who have children with dyslexia.