Nationwide Shift to Science of Reading Helps Students With Dyslexia
We are in the midst of a sea change in how educators teach students to read. The shift to science of reading-based reading instruction is sweeping the nation. Since 2019, 45 states and Washington, D.C., have passed legislation to reform reading instruction away from programs that have consistently failed to teach students how to read. Whole language, balanced literacy, three-cueing, and other reading methods have only succeeded in teaching about one-third of students to read proficiently.
However, we know 95% of students are able to read when they receive instruction based on the science of reading. So, what does that mean for students who need intervention or students with disabilities including dyslexia? Reading instruction based on Structured Literacy from the science of reading can help all students, including those with dyslexia and other disabilities.
Why Three-Cueing is Being Replaced
With the three-cueing approach, introduced in the 1960s, students are taught they should first focus on the meaning of the text when given prompts, such as “What makes sense?” “Can you think of another word that might work in that sentence?” Basically, this method asks students to guess at the word. However, neuroscience has revealed that is not the way children learn how to read. According to Dr. Mark Seidenberg, three-cueing is a way to teach children to identify words by combining multiple cues. “The problem with this approach,” he said, “is that it is a slow, unreliable way to read words and an inefficient way to develop word-recognition skills.”
Sometimes three-cueing is used instead of phonics. For the most part, three-cueing is being replaced across the country with state-based requirements to use science-backed instruction. However, there are places where the cueing system is used as part of a balanced literacy approach—also being abandoned for proven science-based reading programs in most states. In the end, three-cueing does not help students with dyslexia because children with dyslexia need explicit instruction to learn how to read.
Science-based reading instruction will almost certainly reduce the number of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Not all IEPs will go away, however. If a student still needs specialized reading instruction, accommodations, or assistive technology to learn to read beyond Structured Literacy, they are entitled to it by law—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The law is clear and requires scientifically based instruction to be used to determine appropriate support for students. In addition, most states have enacted dyslexia legislation to support the identification of and instruction for students with dyslexia. The laws require science of reading instruction for these students as well.
The identification of dyslexia is challenging. Particularly since the pandemic, distinguishing whether students are suffering from the trauma of disrupted learning or have a learning disability has grown more difficult. The Child Find process was similarly disrupted by remote learning and continues to challenge teachers and caregivers. As a result, recovery from the pandemic has complicated the process of identifying students with dyslexia and other learning disorders.
Due to the challenges of educator recruitment and retention, there are fewer specialists in schools post-pandemic when the need for literacy specialists and special education teachers are in great demand. The failure of literacy programs, such as balanced literacy and its three-cueing model and the shift to science of reading-based instruction is challenging most schools and districts.
Dyslexia and Structured Literacy
Students with dyslexia have difficulty with speech sounds, decoding words, and reading fluency. While there is no single test for dyslexia, screening can help identify students at risk. As an example of some of the new reading legislation beginning this school year, all Ohio K–3 students will be automatically screened for dyslexia.
Also this fall, Ohio schools must develop a Structured Literacy program requiring an explicit and systematic research-based approach to reading instruction. There are a variety of established Structured Literacy programs to choose from. To deliver this type of reading instruction, Ohio is requiring teachers receive 18 hours of training in Structured Literacy.
Ohio, like other states, is moving to Structured Literacy because it aligns with how students learn to read and is based on the science of reading. One potential impact from effective instruction may be a decreased need for overburdened specialists and special education teachers and programs, especially for students with dyslexia. These students may well be successful in a traditional classroom and no longer require special education services.
However, many students with dyslexia will continue to need the support of additional services provided through dyslexia legislation or special education even when Structured Literacy is used in the classroom. Structured Literacy may reduce the number of students who are referred for services, but by itself will not be enough for all students with dyslexia.
If students with dyslexia receive instruction rooted in the science of reading and delivered through Structured Literacy, they may not require individualized educational plans or 504 plans. The science of reading helps educators create personalized learning paths for students of all ability levels but is essential for students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities such as Developmental Language Disorders (DLD). Students with dyslexia—much like students with many other learning disabilities—benefit from an explicit, systematic reading program.
While some students may need additional intensive instruction, the beauty of using Structured Literacy to address dyslexia is that all students benefit from this type of explicit instruction. The research is clear that literacy instruction based on the science of reading will help students with dyslexia and students without dyslexia. Literacy leaders know it is time to update disproven and ineffective reading instruction to help more students become successful readers.
The Science of Reading Supports Students with Dyslexia
School literacy leaders are committed to ensuring teachers have the appropriate science of reading tools and programs to help students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities gain literacy skills. Leaders can:
- Learn about any state legislation focused on dyslexia.
- Empower teachers with science of reading-based professional learning that helps them learn literacy strategies that benefit all students, including those with dyslexia.
- Provide teachers with high-quality Structured Literacy learning materials.
- Monitor student progress. Literacy specialists and teachers must guide instruction with real-time data.
- Make systematic reviews of the process of identifying and responding to the needs of every student. It is important to improve educational equity at every school and district.
Learn more about the impacts of science of reading-based instruction and equitable practices to help raise your students’ literacy rates.
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