Goal of Proposed NJ Bill Is Educational Equity Through Empowering Teachers
New Jersey educators, parents, and legislators have long supported early identification and intervention for students that struggle with reading. A bill introduced in the General Assembly last spring seeks to build on that momentum.
By law, New Jersey students who exhibit one or more potential indicators of dyslexia or other reading disabilities must be screened no later than the end of the first semester of second grade. The law also states that in the event of a dyslexia diagnosis, an appropriate evidence-based intervention must be provided.
This year, Assemblyman Dan Benson introduced the New Jersey Equity in Education Initiative (NJ A5601) to fund a New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) effort to provide all students with equal and equitable access to education. The bill was sponsored by literacy nonprofit organization Learning Ally. Educational equity is based on the belief that every student deserves a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education, particularly those students who have been historically underserved.
Bill A5601 aims to provide the necessary support and training to effectively equip teachers to help all students, regardless of background or disability. According to Assemblyman Benson, "Students who struggle with reading and other forms of specific learning disabilities often go undiagnosed until they are failing in school. Some are never diagnosed nor receive services. Early identification and intervention with students showing signs of dyslexia are critical for improving their outcomes."
The bill would appropriate $2 million to the NJDOE to establish the Equity in Education Initiative. The DOE would be tasked with building "capacity in the statewide system of support for school districts, charter schools, and offices of the executive county superintendents of schools to provide early intervention services and support for students with specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, with a focus on improving outcomes for students in all education settings." Further, the bill seeks to identify effective models for diagnosis and treatment of specific learning disabilities.
In the bill, there is a strong emphasis on equipping teachers with the skills and support to deliver equity in education. Under the initiative, the NJDOE would "develop effective professional development for educators on evidence-based instruction and strategies informed by research to reduce the impact on long-term educational outcomes."
Pairing early screening with professional development for teachers will be key to the initiative's success. As the bill states, "The most effective treatment for students who struggle with reading and related language problems is early diagnosis and skilled teaching."
Lexia® already supports New Jersey's educators with literacy data, resources, and professional growth opportunities to enable early identification and intervention for students with dyslexia. Funding from this bill could allow the NJDOE to further support educators with a training program that directly aligns with the objectives of the Equity in Education Initiative.
Research has shown that student gains in literacy are the result of an interaction between teacher knowledge of literacy and teacher skill with instructional practices. Lexia's equity-focused training programs provide the research and knowledge for strong literacy instruction.
Lexia’s LETRS® (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) blended literacy professional learning addresses four critical outcomes for effective literacy instruction: understanding the science of reading, converting research to practice, enhancing teacher effectiveness, and transforming literacy instruction. By understanding the “why” behind science and evidence-based research, educators can effectively know how to aid students in learning to read.
To help teachers put that knowledge into practice with students in the classroom, Lexia®Core5 (K–5) and Lexia® PowerUp (6–12) solutions provide individualized instruction to support students' foundational literacy skill needs while dovetailing with teacher information and resources to support face-to-face instruction.
For older students in grades 5–12 who struggle with grade-level text, LANGUAGE! Live® is an age-appropriate, comprehensive, evidence-based reading intervention for the struggling adolescent reader. This blended solution weaves together foundational skills development and complex text with strategic thinking.
Of course, achieving equity in education must go beyond literacy while recognizing that for Emergent Bilinguals, literacy is critical for overall academic achievement. Lexia® English supports K–6 students' English language development through academic conversations. The program integrates speaking, listening, and grammar in the subjects of math, science, social studies, general knowledge, and biographies.
Assemblyman Benson's bill was introduced in May 2021 and is currently with the Assembly Education Committee. If enacted as is, the Commissioner of Education would designate an executive county superintendent of schools to administer the New Jersey Equity in Education Initiative. The commissioner would also select one institution of higher education to identify existing evidence-based resources, professional development activities, and other efforts currently available at the state, federal, and local levels, as well as develop new evidence-based resources and activities.
Progress of the bill through the New Jersey General Assembly can be tracked here.
–Jon Hummell, National Manager of State Initiatives, Lexia Learning