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Dyslexia screening bills set for second committee hearing

Conceptual image showing the viewpoint of a dyslexic person trying to read and the jumble of letters they perceive due to their diability
Conceptual image showing the viewpoint of a dyslexic person trying to read and the jumble of letters they perceive due to their diability

The Michigan Senate Education Committee is set to hear more testimony Tuesday on bills that would mandate screening students for dyslexia.

The legislation would require dyslexia screenings at least three times a year through the third grade. It would also require schools to create “multi-tiered support systems” for kids showing characteristics of dyslexia.

Bill package co-sponsor state Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said encouraging literacy is a top educational priority.

“That’s why we’re focused on how we can improve our literacy rates by weaving the science of reading and the latest evidence-based practices on literacy education into our assessments and into our classrooms,” Irwin said.

The package received a first hearing last week. During that time, lawmakers heard from young students struggling with reading and an adult who shared his story of making it through both high school and college graduation without being able to read at an adequate level.

But there wasn’t enough time to hear everyone’s comments during testimony.

Irwin said there’s been a lot of interest in the issue.

“It’s just very important for lawmakers who maybe haven’t been up to their armpits in literacy and dyslexia and the science of reading to hear not just about how the research shows we should move in this direction but there are real people who have been affected by our inattention to dyslexia,” Irwin said.

The list of those who wished to speak but didn’t have time to included John Severson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators.

Speaking Friday, Severson described substantial staffing issues at many schools and said expanded testing would be a significant extra lift. He said schools are too under-resourced to meet the requirements outlined in the bills as written.

“We believe what has been written has really good intentions. But we’re very concerned about the system. And we would be better to step back and look at the system a little bit more intentionally and focus on the gaps and the work across the state,” Severson said.

Severson said schools often identify dyslexia and other reading troubles in students during screenings done through Michigan’s Read by Grade 3 law.

Under that law, kids who are having difficulty reading are supposed to receive extra support.

Severson alluded to those existing systems meant to catch dyslexia.

“But the way the bill is written, it would take many more assessments and more people to deliver. And we’re concerned that that may pull away from the Tier 1 interventions that we’ve aligned to support teachers across the state,” he said.

It’s possible the bills could still see changes made before they reach a final vote in the state Senate, should they get that far.

Irwin said he’s expecting that, along with a few weeks to pass before state Senators decide whether to push the package out of the chamber.

“If there are little things that we can tweak to make things more clear, to make it obvious the direction we’re going in, I expect that we’ll continue to do that,” Irwin said.

The Senate Education Committee meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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