State lawmakers work on improving education for dyslexic students

“Reading is a cornerstone of education,” State Senator Paul Boyer (LD-20), sponsor of a bill that would designate a dyslexia specialist for all school districts and charter schools, said. “I just want to make sure that every student in the state of Arizona…[really] just has the ability to read and enjoy literature and to live a fulfilled life.”

According to the International Dyslexia Association, twenty percent of students in Arizona schools struggle with dyslexia or another reading related disability, and a study of inmates in Huntsville, Texas, showed that almost half of the prison population was dyslexic.  

“Now it’s time for Arizona to join 42 other states that already have dyslexia screenings requirements,” Courtney LeVinus, International Dyslexia Association board member, said. “Screening for risk factors associated with dyslexia can be completed in as quickly as five minutes or as many as 20. The cost can vary between $0 and $50. We can learn and benefit from these other states and what they have tested and what they have implemented.”

Senate Bill 1318 does not require specialists to diagnose children with dyslexia, but rather identify risk factors and identify the parents so they can get the proper intervention earlier in life.

They’ll be screened [in] kindergarten,” Boyer said. “If a student does have a risk factor for dyslexia, the parent would be notified and can take it over from there. They’ll have that information at their fingertips and they can use the proper interventions for them so they cannot be well behind their peers.”

Kate Witt, a current sophomore at the University of Alabama, was diagnosed with dyslexia in the sixth grade.

“My dyslexia was not known for a very long time. It affected me emotionally, it affected my academics, I thought I was stupid for most of my life,” she told the Senate Education Committee. “School was really hard, and I felt like a failure and I know there are other kids sitting in school today that feel that way and I know they’re sitting there and I’m here to help them. I would have panic attacks before I read aloud in class and studying was tremendously exhausting. A prescreening in kindergarten or first grade could change that. It could help the children who are dyslexic through their school and not have to go through the emotional trouble that I did.”

According to Achieve60AZ, only 44 percent of third graders in Arizona scored Proficient of Highly Proficient on the AzMERIT English language arts assessment.

“All of the literature suggests that if a student isn’t able to read by third grade, they are going to struggle throughout their entire time through twelfth grade and in many cases, they might not even graduate,” Boyer said.

S.B. 1318 passed the Arizona Senate unanimously and will now go through the House.

Emily Richardson

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