DECODING DYSLEXIA - NJ
Educational Reform for Dyslexia in NJ Schools

NJ Legislation

What’s happening in NJ legislatively?

Here’s a link to help you better understand the process: www.njleg.state.nj.us/legislativepub/legprocess.asp

Find your local legislators at http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp

Because you asked … (by Liz Barnes, DD-NJ member)

So we are we now legislatively, you might ask? Well, this is my understanding of what has taken place and what we can expect. My disclaimer: I do not have any formal background in legislative issues nor in education. I am a very involved parent and I’ve just asked a lot of questions since being a part of DD-NJ!

New Dyslexia Laws:

If you have been following along or if you are new to our website, it is official … NJ now has 3 new dyslexia-related laws and 1 resolution.

A3606 Professional Development Law (actual law text)

A3608 Definition of Dyslexia Law (actual law text)

A3605/S2442 Dyslexia Screening law (actual law text)

The new laws then were sent to the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) to interpret and create recommendations and guidelines for individual districts to put into action. As of this writing (2/9/14), the NJDOE has not incorporated these laws yet into the education code nor written the regulations to follow these laws. DD-NJ will work to encourage the NJDOE to get this done as soon as possible so the laws are being used and correctly. On April 15, 2014 the NJDOE posted a letter to all districts about the new laws. While the letter does not give many specifics, at least they are giving the public schools notices that these laws exist now and will need to be implemented. Click here to read this letter … Letter from NJDOE.

Here is a little better explanation of what these laws can mean to you, the parents.

Dyslexia Screening Law:

This screening law has the potential to stop the continuation of ignoring warning signs in young children and letting them wait and fail before any intervention is done, if ever. Things parents need to know:
> Law doesn’t start until the 2014-2015 school year
> Law states that if a child shows indicators of dyslexia or other reading disabilities early, they have to be screened by the end of the first semester of 2nd grade. Here is a good list of indicators from the IDA [IsMyChildDyslexic]
> If the screening indicates the child may indeed have dyslexia (or other reading disability) then he or she will receive a comprehensive assessment of the learning disorder
> If the assessment confirms a diagnosis of dyslexia or other reading disability, then the child will receive appropriate evidence-based intervention strategies.
> Law does not state what will be done with children older than 2nd grade that show these indicators.
> We do not know exactly what the NJDOE regulations will be and how schools will deal with older children, if at all.

We admit that the change to the bill/law to allow screening to wait until possibly the end of the 1st semester of 2nd grade is not ideal, it is better than the nothing we have now. DD-NJ and others gave very strong testimony that the screening needed to be done in kindergarten, but the teachers/principals/school board lobbyists were able to push for the change during private meetings in order to allow the law to pass. DD-NJ was able to get the amendments to include a larger list of dyslexia indicators and include the words “evidence-based” for the type of intervention. It was a learning experience for those of us who have never been involved in legislative things in the past.

Parents of young children can use this law to work for them by looking for those indicators of dyslexia as early as possible. I would advise documenting the indicators you see and any others (like teachers, doctors, speech therapists, etc.) might note as well. It is my understanding that you would then be able to request your child be screened (as long as he or she falls within the age range) based on the law stating that if the child shows one or more of the indicators. Don’t wait and expect the school officials to tell you they see the indicators and will be screening (maybe some will, and maybe many will not). I believe that, especially in the beginning, the parents will have to initiate the process, so educate yourself and spread the word to others. We will know better how the law will be interpreted once the NJDOE completes their regulations.

Definition of Dyslexia Law:

Parents need to know that while the inclusion of the definition of dyslexia in the state code, is fabulous, it WILL NOT change your child’s special education classification (typically, Specific Learning Disability). Why? Special Education classifications come from the federal law, IDEA. NJ receives funding from the IDEA law when they use those classifications so if NJ creates its own Dyslexia classification, then NJ will have to fund that solely through NJ state funds. Not likely to happen.

So what good is it to have the definition in the state code for parents? Simply, districts can’t tell you that dyslexia doesn’t exist in NJ anymore because now it does … officially. That may not sound like much to some people, but for those who were told to their faces that dyslexia doesn’t exist, this is huge! Parents can openly use the word “dyslexia” in their conversations with their districts. Districts may still resist using the word themselves, but parents can take the lead on this. Parents can ask that it be included in some of the descriptions in the IEP (but not part of the classification). If parents get a private evaluation done, then I would recommend that you ask your evaluator to include the word dyslexia in his or her report and ideally, show how your child’s strengths and weaknesses are aligned with definition that is now in the NJ state education code.

Parents will still need to connect the dots, but it will be harder for districts to keep denying that your child is dyslexic. For instance, under the IDEA, Specific Learning Disability (SLD), is one of the classifications. Dyslexia is then listed as one of the conditions that SLD includes. Here is an excerpt from the IDEA law:

11. Specific Learning Disability

…means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; of intellectual disability; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

A parent could try to make the case that since one of the conditions under SLD is dyslexia and now NJ includes the definition of dyslexia in its state education code, then a child, who was diagnosed as dyslexic (probably from a private evaluation) should be given the type of interventions and accommodations that are proven to work with dyslexic children. Now, this might be a big stretch, but you never know. Parents might need to seek legal counsel or a professional advocate to make that kind of a case. But the bottom line is, this law should change the conversation that parents have had in the past with their districts.

Dyslexia Professional Development Law:

As for the professional development law (A3606/A3607), the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE), is putting together recommendations or guidelines for districts so they can comply with the law. Several members of DD-NJ met recently with two key officials in the NJDOE to discuss what DD-NJ felt would be the most important issues to include in the required professional development, now and in the future. Our ideas were well received and we hope to see those recommendations in the near future.

In addition, we were told that districts and individual professionals do not have to wait for the NJDOE’s guidelines because they will not be mandatory suggestions. Professionals can start getting their required 2 hours per year now. DD-NJ hopes that if professionals don’t wait for the NJDOE, that they will make good choices that will really better educate themselves on reading disabilities, including dyslexia. DD-NJ is in the process of considering what kind of professional development classes/lectures we can put together with qualified CEU providers so that professional educators will have good options.

Dyslexia Resolution (instructional certificate for teachers):

Also worth noting is that AR129 (SR91 Senate version) passed in both houses, so it official. This is a resolution that urges State Board of Education to develop an endorsement to the instructional certificate for teachers of students with reading disabilities including, but not limited to, dyslexia. The resolution has lots of good stuff in it, however, a resolution is only a recommendation and no one technically has to follow it. We haven’t heard anything as to what our NJDOE is doing with this resolution, but we are hopeful.

Other Bills still Pending …

Outside of these new laws, bill A1292 (previously A4247) has been reintroduced into this new legislative session by Asm Ronald Dancer (district 12). Click here to see the bill. This bill is about an assistive technology pilot program that will show that giving dyslexic students access to assistive technology will enable them to be exposed to higher reading level material (than perhaps their actual reading level) and be able to keep pace with their peers, which will allow them to be more successful in school. This bill will need to be posted to the Assembly education committee to begin the process. Stay tuned for DD-NJ action alerts to contact the chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.

For updated info on any active bill, go to the NJ Legislature website, http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/bills/BillsByNumber.asp, and type in the bill number you are interested in (i.e., A1292, etc.).

Thank you for YOUR continued help and support of all of DD-NJ’s legislative efforts!

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