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New ND law, funding advance dyslexia education

New law, funding to advance dyslexia education

With recent passage of a new law and additional funding, North Dakota is moving toward earlier identification and intervention for students with a learning disability known as dyslexia.

House Bill 1131 added a dyslexia specialist to the list of professional credentials that can be attached to a teaching license through the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. The bill passed the House 89-0 and Senate 45-0 before Gov. Doug Burgum signed it into law April 1. The law change becomes effective Aug. 1.

Dyslexia is defined in state law as a neurological learning disability characterized by difficulties with accurate or fluent recognition of words and poor spelling and decoding abilities, independent of the individual’s general intelligence level.

The Legislature also provided another $250,000 in the 2021-23 biennium to continue a dyslexia pilot project that launched with a $250,000 appropriation in the 2019-21 biennium.

Rep. Michelle Strinden, sponsor of HB 1131, said the credentialing had been included in the pilot project bill she had introduced in 2019, but it was removed because at the time, the training for a credential wasn’t in place.

As a result of the pilot project, though, the University of North Dakota developed a three-course offering for obtaining credential training, which becomes available this fall, Strinden said. Dickinson State University also is creating credential training. Dyslexia learning centers, Haley’s Hope in Fargo and Inspiring Minds in Bismarck, already offer professional training.

Strinden said over the next few months, DPI will be developing guidelines for issuing the credential. She foresees elementary teachers and reading specialists, in particular, to seek out the credential.

Meanwhile, the pilot programs operate in southeastern North Dakota in the Kindred, Northern Cass, Lisbon and Enderlin school districts; West River Special Education, working with Bowman, South Heart, Killdeer and Belfield; and two elementary schools in the Grand Forks School District.

Strinden said the goal is to expand to add more programs to the pilot project. To obtain a pilot project grant, participants must have capability for dyslexia screening, have appropriate reading interventions identified, be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of the program and include a professional development component.

The professional development component is imperative, Strinden said.

“Staff development leads to awareness and knowledge to recognize the warning signs of dyslexia. It really will assist teachers in identifying those students and then also remediating those students,” she said.

Strinden said she would like to see the credentialing lead to better access to services across the state. She believes this can happen in working through each of the state’s eight regional education associations, which serve as hubs of expertise in the education field.

“My hope is that each one of our REAs would have at least one dyslexia specialist, so that those rural schools can reach out for training and professional development purposes for their teachers,” Strinden said.

Strinden encourages parents or others who know a student who could benefit from screening or evaluation to contact their school districts to get connected to available services.

“The sooner the better, to help our students reach their full potential,” she said.

“The earlier the intervention, the easier it will be,” said Anna Hoover, Williston, who has dyslexia and serves as outreach coordinator for the grassroots advocacy organization, Decoding Dyslexia North Dakota.

Hoover said dyslexia is not just a learning issue but a mental health issue. Anxiety and depression leading to unhealthy behaviors can be common in individuals whose dyslexia goes unidentified.

Hoover said she testified on the dyslexia legislation because she hoped her story would help make the learning disability real to legislators.

“This is really an issue. This really does affect people’s lives behind K-12. This affects adulthood and the rest of your life, and we should be supporting children at early ages,” she said.

Going forward, Strinden said, the Legislature will need to continue to maintain funding for reading education and educator proficiency.

She noted another education bill passed by the 2021 Legislature included language requiring schools to apply the fundamentals of the science of reading.

“There just has been a shift to a large degree not only in North Dakota but in the country about how we approach the teaching of reading, and that in the past there has been a whole-language approach applied to the teaching of reading, and the science of reading really is directing us away from that and more towards a systematic and explicit way of instruction.,” she said.

The 2021 legislation also places North Dakota farther down the path toward addressing dyslexia, Strinden said.

“We’re coming a long way. However, there are other states that have done more work in this area and have sort of paved the way for North Dakota,” she said. “But at the same time, I do see that over the course of the next few years, North Dakota is on a great path to catch up to our neighboring states.”

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