California to Push Help to Students with Dyslexia

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The Los Angeles Unified school board jumped ahead of a new state law last week and instructed the school district to immediately create a plan to train teachers on the leading learning disability in California: a reading impairment known as dyslexia.

The demand by the board of the second-largest school district in the U.S. was hailed by parent advocates as a signal that districts across the state, and potentially the nation, might finally provide interventions that help students with dyslexia learn to read. Effective interventions are available, but most school districts nationwide do not provide them widely, citing the cost of training, according to advocates for students with disabilities.

“We know what works,” said Pamela Cohen, a teacher in the district and a member of Decoding Dyslexia California, a parent advocacy group that has led state and national efforts to improve services. “It’s time to put the pedal to the metal.” She described her child’s anguish at not being able to learn to read and her own frustration at not being able to get help from teachers or school specialists.

Instead, her son received private tutoring for dyslexia starting in 2nd grade — $90 an hour, twice a week, for four years — because Los Angeles Unified did not provide assistance, she said. Few families can afford to hire an outside specialist. “This is a civil rights issue to me,” Cohen said. “We know that thousands of families in LAUSD cannot and should not have to pay out of their pockets so their children can learn to read.”

Dyslexia is estimated to affect roughly 15 to 20 percent of the U.S. population, according to the International Dyslexia Association — which would mean about 1 million children in California schools. Once known as “word blindness,” dyslexia is a neurological disorder that makes it difficult to “sound out” words by matching letters with sounds. Brain imagery has shown that people with dyslexia process word identification differently. The disability is unrelated to intelligence.

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