For some, it’s learn to read or die
Dyslexia is a growing problem in Minnesota, according to the National Reading Panel’s Report Card. “We’ve been at this almost 10 years now,” said Rachel Berger, founder and director of Decoding Dyslexia, MN (DDMN), whose own son was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of five.
“Imagine my shock and dismay when I learned [our own] public schools were not ready to say that word. They weren’t prepared to instruct him in the way he needed…or include his diagnosis within IEP documents.”
On Thursday, April 21, Berger and other advocates gathered at the State Capitol in St. Paul to provide life experience testimonies about dyslexia and explain why it is imperative to address the issue.
Decoding Dyslexia, incorporated in 2013, is a nonprofit grassroots organization supported by Minnesota families, educators and professionals concerned with the limited access to educational interventions for students within educational environments. DDMN also trains teachers to work effectively with students who have these specific needs.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports that as of this year 46% of White students in the third grade are proficient in reading compared to only 19% of Blacks. Berger noted that these statistics, while dismal across the board, can lead to two different outcomes depending on economic and social status.
“Struggling White students, like my son, often gain skills in reading because of the ability to afford private tutors,” stated Berger. “Many kids don’t have this access, and there is no fallback for them.”
This can lead to a downward spiral. “For literacy in my community, if you literally [don’t learn how to] read, you die,” said Khulia Pringle, of the National Parents Union, an organization supporting training for teachers and literacy for students.
“Many children who look like me experience the desperate impacts such as being referred to special education with an emotional behavior disorder,” continued Pringle. “They then end up getting suspended [from school], kicked out, and referred to the juvenile justice system, taking the troubled record into adulthood.
“In addition, generational poverty, housing disparities, economic and health disparities—that all accrues from lack of literacy,” said Pringle.
Elana Berg, an elementary school student, gave her testimony on her school experience with dyslexia. She recalled feeling “defeated and stupid” as her classmates were already reading chapter books. “Reading, writing and spelling do not come easy for me,” said Berg.
Berg stated during the rally that she spent six weeks being tutored for thousands of dollars but noted that everyone doesn’t have that option. “I worry about families who can’t afford private tutoring,” she said. “What will happen to those children who always struggle to read because they depend upon their schools?”
MN State Representative Heather Edelson was also diagnosed with dyslexia as a child and even held back in the third grade because of it. “It was terrible,” said Edelson, “and nobody knew why I couldn’t read. Then I found out my 12-year-old son had it. I was asked if me or my husband had a hard time reading and I immediately got defensive,” she recalled.
What she didn’t know was that dyslexia is hereditary. According to Nelson Dorta of Understood.org, about 40% of siblings of children with dyslexia “also have reading issues,” and if one twin is dyslexic, the other will have dyslexia about 55 to 70% of the time. Also, around 49% of parents of dyslexic children also have it.
However, 30% of dyslexic diagnoses are due to the environment. To help remedy this, DDMN supports bill SF2872, which will add $30 million to the current Minnesota Department of Education grant program for licensed teachers to take LETRS—a professional development program aligned with the science of reading—free of charge. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes), is currently in the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee.
“We can’t do this alone,” Berger said.
For more information on Decoding Dyslexia Minnesota, visit https://www.decodingdyslexiamn.org.
Ivan B. Phifer is contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org