In October 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1369, California’s new dyslexia law that was passed unanimously in the Assembly and the Senate (and was cosponsored by then-assemblymember Das Williams). It contained two important provisions: 1) An additional way to qualify students for special education services (under “phonological processing”), and 2) directed the Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop dyslexia “program guidelines” to help educators provide services for dyslexic students.
These much-needed “program guidelines” will be a welcome addition for the delivery of appropriate services and approaches to education for the 20 percent of students who are dyslexic and who typically struggle in school with reading, writing and spelling. Currently, California’s classroom teachers, school psychologists, education administrators, special ed staff, and school board members are left to rely on their own experience and possible training when it comes dealing to dyslexia in our schools.
A 23-member working group to create these guidelines has been assembled; it is composed of medical and research professionals and advocates with expertise in dyslexia, as well as individuals who represent the many education organizations that opposed the passage of the bill, including the California Teachers Association, the California Association of School Psychologists, and the Special Education Local Plan Area.
They met last April, May, July, September, and November; the agendas and videotapes of the first four meetings are available for viewing on the California Department of Education’s website.
But interestingly, neither the agenda nor the videotape of the November 18, 2015, meeting were available on the site until late on Friday, January 13, leaving little time for review and research before the next meeting on the 17th.
At November’s meeting, working group members were informed by CDE official that several decisions about the guidelines had been made, including limiting the length of the online-only dyslexia program guidelines to 50 pages, limiting its FAQ section to 20 questions, and that CDE had deleted from the current draft of the guidelines any of the following aspects about dyslexia:
1) Research about dyslexia as a neurobiological condition;
2) Characteristics of dyslexia to help teachers identify it in a classroom;
3) Classroom accommodations to support dyslexic students without needing a special education placement;
4) The socio-emotional aspects of dyslexia that can be so debilitating to a student struggling in school.
These guideline deletions, as well as an unexpected and accelerated deadline for final submission to CDE, came as a surprise and had not been agreed to within the working group. This should be of great concern to parents and dyslexia advocates, like myself, who worked tirelessly for the passage of the legislation — even as the special interests in education worked to water them down, eliminating key provisions for early identification and teacher training. And they’re still at it.
The exclusion of the videotape of the proceedings from public access makes it more difficult for interested parties to comment directly on those proceedings, which have been described to me by a CDE official as “somewhat contentious.”
The working group is scheduled to have its sixth meeting next week, on January 17, and that agenda is not yet posted, either.
As a result, many questions now arise about the lack of transparency of the process, which reflect poorly on the public’s ability to have confidence in the eventual dyslexia guidelines that will emerge from it.
Since unrecognized and improperly addressed dyslexia is one of the prime reasons students struggle in school — and fail to reach their full potential — it seems to me that the California Department of Education should be working with well-informed parents, researchers, and advocates to develop the best possible program guidelines for our dyslexic students.
Instead, by all appearances, the interests of those who opposed the legislation appear to have succeeded in their determined efforts to diminish its effects. It’s unthinkable to me that anyone involved in education would support the status quo that is obviously not working in classrooms and school districts throughout the Golden State.
Clearly an explanation is in order — one more open and transparent than the process has been.
Contact the CDE at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cheri Rae is the director of the Dyslexia Community Foundation in Santa Barbara, CA, and the author of DyslexiaLand.