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Michigan Dept. of Education publishes dyslexia handbook to guide teachers, academic officials

small child reading a book
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As the school year starts, the Michigan Department of Education has put out a new guidebook for teachers and other school officials to improve the literacy skills of students showing characteristics of dyslexia.

The disorder typically causes difficulties with reading.

Kim St. Martin is the director of the Michigan Multi-Tiered Systems of Support Technical Assistance Center.

She also works with the Department of Education and led the writing and development of the handbook. WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with her about how the resource will be used.

Interview Highlights

On how the guidebook will be used

The purpose of this handbook was really to start establishing some common language and some common understanding related to things like dyslexia, the research behind how to actually teach students how to read, how to write, ways to support literacy acquisition across all learners, considerations for professional learning that teachers and administrators will need to be able to support students in their reading and writing development. And then we also developed the handbook to speak specifically to special education, eligibility and services for learners that may be demonstrating characteristics of dyslexia.

On legislation proposing screenings for dyslexia

We have had a very robust effort to ensure that there is a continuum of supports for all learners to prevent and accelerate reading difficulties that does begin with using assessment data like screening data. To be able to say, is there some thing that's telling us that a child may be in need of additional supports? A screener is just a dipstick. It is like putting a toothpick in the middle of a cake, to be able to say, is there something going on? Is this something that we need to pay attention to?

On what parents can look out for that may indicate reading difficulties for their child

For example, at the preschool level, if you have a child that talks later than most children of the same age, that could be, does not mean it is, but it could be indicative of characteristics of dyslexia. We do have a table that outlines the particular grade level and goes all the way up even into the adolescent years into grades four through 12. Again, just as a potential indicator of something for parents to say, "Gosh, is there something that we should be working together collaboratively with the schools to begin to look at addressing, through intervention and other types of supports?

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: As the school year starts, the Michigan Department of Education has put out a new guidebook for teachers and other school officials to improve the literacy skills of students diagnosed with dyslexia.

The disorder typically causes difficulties with reading.

Kim St. Martin is with the Department of Education and led the writing and development of the handbook. She joins me now. Thank you for being here.

Kim St. Martin: Thank you so much, Sophia. It's great to be with you.

Saliby: Can you speak on why this resource was created for educators?

St. Martin: The purpose of this handbook was really to start establishing some common language and some common understanding related to things like dyslexia, the research behind how to actually teach students how to read, how to write, ways to support literacy acquisition across all learners, considerations for professional learning that teachers and administrators will need to be able to support students in their reading and writing development.

And then we also developed the handbook to speak specifically to special education, eligibility and services for learners that may be demonstrating characteristics of dyslexia.

This handbook is very much highlighting some of those potential indicators or characteristics of dyslexia.

I do want to say, Sophia, that when you started the conversation, this handbook is really talking about the characteristics of dyslexia, not necessarily the diagnosis of dyslexia. And I think that that's an important distinction to make because it is, it could be easily misunderstood or confusing. This handbook is focused on characteristics because within the school setting, educators, school psychologists do not have the ability to diagnose dyslexia.

However, we do absolutely know enough from the research and know ways in which we can identify and prevent reading difficulties. And we know enough from the literature that there are certain characteristics that may be potential indicators of dyslexia. So, this handbook is very much highlighting some of those potential indicators or characteristics of dyslexia.

Saliby: There are measures in the state legislature being considered that would require things like mandatory screenings for dyslexia and enhanced teacher training to identify those characteristics.

Are those the types of initiatives that need to be put in place to help these students, in your opinion?

St. Martin: Yes. I mean, the good news is that within the state of Michigan, we have had a very robust effort to ensure that there is a continuum of supports for all learners to prevent and accelerate reading difficulties that does begin with using assessment data like screening data.

A screener is just a dipstick. It is like putting a toothpick in the middle of a cake, to be able to say, "Is there something going on?"

To be able to say, is there some thing that's telling us that a child may be in need of additional supports? A screener is just a dipstick. It is like putting a toothpick in the middle of a cake, to be able to say, "Is there something going on? Is this something that we need to pay attention to?"

So, we're very much an advocate of supporting early identification, prevention and intervening. It actually aligns with the Michigan Department of Education's Strategic Education Plan. Goal two is to improve early literacy outcomes. This has been something that we've been focused on for quite some time, certainly isn't just because of the most recent bills.

Saliby: For parents and with school starting, are there any signs they should be watching out for maybe with younger learners that might indicate dyslexia or some difficulties with reading?

St. Martin: Within the guidebook we do provide, it's a lovely table, and it identifies some of the potential indicators, the potential characteristics of dyslexia.

For example, at the preschool level, if you have a child that talks later than most children of the same age, that could be, does not mean it is, but it could be indicative of characteristics of dyslexia. We do have a table that outlines the particular grade level and goes all the way up even into the adolescent years into grades four through 12.

Again, just as a potential indicator of something for parents to say, "Gosh, is there something that we should be working together collaboratively with the schools to begin to look at addressing, through intervention and other types of supports?"

Saliby: What are some ways parents can support their children if they get a dyslexia diagnosis?

St. Martin: When learners are diagnosed with dyslexia from the individuals with the appropriate credentials, they certainly need to talk to the school district. Parents should be coming in and being able to share the information that they've gathered.

Parents absolutely need to be side by side with their student's educator, with the leaders and being able to design ways to support learners because we know that it takes a partnership between the school and the home.

And the school will also work together with parents to have a, to really look comprehensively at the student's, what type of supports are they being provided? How is the learner being provided reading intervention? Is it intensive enough, meaning is it designed to be able to accurately identify the areas that they still need more support in? And is it happening at the frequency, in the amount of time needed to accelerate their outcomes?

Parents absolutely need to be side by side with their student's educator, with the leaders and being able to design ways to support learners because we know that it takes a partnership between the school and the home.

Saliby: Kim St. Martin is with the state Department of Education and led the writing and development of the Michigan Dyslexia Handbook. Thank you for joining me.

Saliby: Thank you, Sophia.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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