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What does it mean?

There was big news coming out of our state this July, but you may have missed it: California will start screening children in grades K-2 for reading risk, including dyslexia. This is huge – dyslexia often goes undetected, and is correlated with low reading scores – and it is undetected more with students of color

FIA joined FULCRUM and other dyslexia screening advocates to speak up in favor of this bill passing and we are proud to be one of a number of organizations who signed on to support the bill. I personally gave public comment in Sacramento to our legislators about the importance of required universal screening for our children because I am so passionate about this. For families, if your young child is struggling to read NOW is the time to advocate for a dyslexia screening from your school. 

Read more about the details and why this important victory has taken so long in the Education Week story below. 

California Joins 40 States
in Mandating Dyslexia Screening

By Elizabeth Heubeck
July 12, 2023 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom this week signed into law a bill that will require schools to implement universal screening in kindergarten through 2nd grade for reading delays, including the risk of dyslexia.

With the bill signing, the nation’s most populous state joins 40 others that have laws requiring dyslexia screening in early grades. These brief evaluations determine a student’s level of risk for reading problems in general and the potential risk of dyslexia, according to the National Center on Improving Literacy, and are not intended to replace more thorough assessments that can diagnose reading disorders.

Screening advocates in California are celebrating the long-anticipated decision.

“Required universal screening marks a great achievement for California, making early intervention possible and is a first step in addressing reading failure,” wrote Megan Potente, co-state director of advocacy group Decoding Dyslexia CA, in a blog post.

A state slow to adopt policies related to evidence-based reading

The legislation has been a long time in the making, and marks a change for a state that has a long history of back-and-forth on reading instruction. Its 1987 language arts framework helped usher in whole language across the state—an approach that prioritizes meaning and context clues over systematic instruction, and that dyslexia advocates say can hinder children with reading challenges from making progress.

This February, Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-Burbank), presented legislation around dyslexia screening—the fourth attempt to get such legislation passed in California, according to Potente. Compared to many other states, California in recent years also has been slow to adopt other policies related to evidence-based reading.

Notably, California was not among the 18 states and the District of Columbia that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, signaled plans to make the “science of reading” a policy priority by announcing the use of American Rescue Plan funds or other COVID stimulus money to support early literacy work, including evidence-based reading instruction, as reported by Education Week.

The science of reading refers to a large body of cognitive and neuroscience research on how children learn to read. Generally, teachers instruct children systematically through sound-letter combinations and how they combine to make words. All the while they’re building students’ vocabulary and knowledge about the world to help them understand what they read.

California has generally resisted the recent movement towards shifting reading instruction through legislation. In a 2022 Education Week analysis of state legislation and policy on evidence-based reading methods, California had only instituted mandates on teacher preparation and teacher certification. Other states have also changed professional development and coaching, assessment, materials, and/or instruction and intervention.

Resistance prevented earlier passage of screening mandate

The California Teachers Association, the state teachers’ union, has resisted previous legislation on dyslexia screening. An excerpt from a June 2021 memo to the state assembly’s education committee reads: “[The legislation] is unnecessary, leads to over-identifying dyslexia in young students, mandates more testing, and jeopardizes the limited instructional time for students.”

This past March, CTA spokesperson Claudia Briggs made clear the union’s concerns over proposed mandatory dyslexia screening.

“There aren’t enough screeners,” she said. “It’s taking up class time [for teachers to screen].”

Gathering support, momentum

Gov. Newsom’s revised budget announcement this May allotted $1 million to fund the screening program—including a panel that would select a screening tool, relevant teacher training, and requisite screening of all children in kindergarten through 2nd grade for risks of dyslexia and associated reading delays, beginning in 2025-26. The funding helped ease the union’s concerns about implementation.

Potente echoed praise for Newsom. “His support really was the difference-maker and it resulted in important discussions about how to make K-2 screening for reading difficulties, including risk of dyslexia, culturally and linguistically appropriate to meet the needs of California’s diverse population,” Potente wrote in an email.

In addition to the governor’s backing, Decoding Dyslexia CA garnered support for the legislation from more than 50 local organizations.

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Families in Action for Quality Education (FIA) was founded in 2019 and now has grown to serve over 16,000 district and charter school families. FIA has graduated over 500 parents, youth, educators, and school board members from our leadership institutes to advocate for access to quality education across the city of Oakland. For more information and to sign up, visit FIA’s website, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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