In April 2017, former Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt held a town hall meeting at Glasgow High School to discuss the educational accountability system.
When the floor was opened up to questions, Tiffany Ballard, a student from Western Kentucky University said, as someone with dyslexia, she was concerned that Kentucky wasn’t doing enough to ensure that all school districts treat dyslexia as a disability.
Pruitt said there was a dyslexia task force that was looking into that, but they didn’t want to rush anything, adding that one of the problems in education is “we make decisions too fast and it fails.”
Fast forward to January 2019, KDE released a K-3 Dyslexia Toolkit that provides educators and families with a resource to help meet learning needs of students with dyslexia, or those who display characteristics of dyslexia. This 20-page document can be found online at: https://education.ky.gov/specialed/Pages/Dyslexia-ToolKit.aspx.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis discussed this toolkit during a webinar Friday afternoon that KDE later posted online. He said this document comes in response to the Ready to Read Act (House Bill 187, 2018), which directed KDE to develop and share a toolkit for use by school districts and educators to help and serve students with dyslexia.
“This is incredibly important work,” Lewis said. “There are untold numbers of kids in our school districts across our state who unfortunately go undiagnosed with dyslexia.
“In many cases, these kids go undiagnosed because we haven’t had the preparation necessary to be able to identify those characteristics — or if we have identified those characteristics, kids haven’t been appropriately screened or we don’t have the tools, the capacity necessary to be able to serve those kids appropriately.”
Lewis said while this toolkit is just a first step in helping students with dyslexia, it does provide educators with resources to better understand what dyslexia is and how to help identify those characteristics.
Former State Rep. Addia Wuchner, who sponsored the Ready to Read Act, spoke during the webinar via phone.
“This has been a long time in coming,” Wuchner said, adding that this process began in 2012, when legislators were thinking of ways to give dyslexia a place in Kentucky statutes.
KDE has done a “tremendous job in putting together what the legislation from last year called for, and that was a toolkit,” Wuchner said. “Without that early identification of those characteristics, and the opportunity for further screening, evaluation” and interventions that will work, Kentucky educators “miss a large segment” of students with dyslexia.
Lewis said dyslexia occurs “across kids and adults of all backgrounds and all intellectual levels.”
“You should not assume that because a child has dyslexia, that that means that they necessarily have any type of intellectual impairment,” he said. “The key is, if we’re able to identify those characteristics and intervene early, we can provide kids with tools, with strategies to be able to function even with dyslexia — and not just function, but to thrive.”
Deputy Commissioner Amanda Ellis spoke during the webinar about the toolkit and how it can be used. She said the first section of the document helps define dyslexia, and it cuts out the “assumptions of what dyslexia is and what it is not.”
“We may not realize how it impacts even with numbers and just comprehension,” Ellis said. “There’s a lot of things that have different effects that we may not even realize.”
The next section, Evidence-Based Systematic and Cumulative Instruction, provides information about instructional approaches “that are best practices in the regular classroom setting," Ellis said. “We talk about different ways to organize students in smaller groups that do not isolate students with dyslexia, but really to enhance their learning opportunities while still meeting their individual needs.”
This section also addresses reading and writing strategies.
“The writing process itself is very complex,” Ellis said. “So students with dyslexia may struggle a great deal, not only with comprehending what they’re reading, but even in the written form of their comprehension and their learning.”
Classroom management strategies, including day-to-day approaches such as where students should sit, who they interact with and how they take assessments, can “help cut down on the frustration or the feeling of isolation,” Ellis said. “Very simple things that can be done that do not stifle the learning experience for the child.”
Other sections of the toolkit include Tiered Interventions and Supports, Professional Activities and Resources, Instructional Plans and Professional Learning. There is also an appendix with additional resources.
“I’m excited about the resource that we’re providing for educators,” Lewis said. “But I’m also excited about the conversation. This is an opportunity for us with the launch of these resources to reignite a conversation around dyslexia.
“It is our responsibility to serve those kids.”