Van Drew Bill Package To Require Screening For Dyslexia, Improved Training For Teachers Heads To Senate

Package Stems From Advocacy of Ocean City Family

TRENTON – A four-bill package sponsored by Senator Jeff Van Drew to improve the system for diagnosing dyslexia and other reading disabilities in children, and to strengthen the support services provided in the public education system to those with these disabilities, was approved unanimously today by the Senate Education Committee. The key pieces of the legislative package would require that school districts screen children for dyslexia and other reading disabilities at an early age and make mandatory specific training for educators in areas that would better prepare them for teaching children with reading disabilities.

The package stems from the advocacy efforts of an Ocean City family that has fought for years to improve New Jersey’s education system. Beth Ravelli and her daughter Samantha, who was diagnosed with dyslexia through private testing, have been pushing for awareness of the challenges facing those with reading disabilities since they moved from Weymouth Township to Ocean City in an effort to obtain better services. Their work resulted in the creation of the New Jersey Reading Disabilities Task Force, which was formed by legislation sponsored by Senator Van Drew and led to the bills approved today.

“With the billions and billions of dollars that we spend on education and all that we do to ensure students are provided with strong supports in the school system, kids are still falling through the cracks,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May/Cumberland/Atlantic), who also served as a task force member. “We have been working for years toward improving the system. Now that the task force work is complete, we are finally moving forward on reforms that will better ensure that students who struggle with a reading disability are diagnosed early and provided with the resources they need to succeed. At the end of the day, the work we have done is going to help a lot of children and their families.”

Dyslexia is a learning disability that causes core difficulties with reading, writing and spelling. It is the most common learning disability in children, affecting students of all backgrounds and intellectual levels. Students with dyslexia can effectively learn and succeed with appropriate educational interventions and teaching methods for their specific learning disability. However, effective educators of students with dyslexia need considerable knowledge, skills, training and expertise.

The bill package seeks to provide additional supports to students and teachers. The bills would:

• S2442 – Require that each student enrolled in a school district is screened for dyslexia and other reading disabilities no later than the student’s completion of the first grade; students who would have been enrolled in kindergarten or first grade during or after the 2013-2014 school year who initially enroll in the district in grades two through six would also have to be screened when there is no record of prior screening;

• Senate Committee Substitute for S2440/S2441 – Require the Department of Education to provide professional development to certain educators; the bill would also require that certain school personnel annually dedicate two hours of their required professional development to the screening, intervention, accommodation and use of technology for students with reading disabilities, including dyslexia;

• S2439 – Direct the state Board of Education to incorporate the International Dyslexia Association’s Definition of Dyslexia into special education regulations;

• SR91 – Urge the State Board of Education to develop an endorsement to the instructional certificate for teachers of students with reading disabilities and to establish eligibility and training requirements for the endorsement; the resolution would direct the BOE to work with colleges and universities in the development of instructional programs for candidates for the endorsement. A State endorsement to the instructional certificate for teachers of students with dyslexia will help ensure that children in New Jersey who struggle with this learning disability have access to teachers specifically trained in appropriate instructional methods to help them learn and achieve at their fullest potential.

“Many children are affected by dyslexia and other reading disabilities but are not being diagnosed properly or at an early age,” said Senator Van Drew. “This package takes a comprehensive approach to addressing the inadequacies that exist in the system to ensure that we have better diagnosis and support services available to students across the board – not just those who are lucky enough to find a school with good programs. This is about providing appropriate services and preparedness in schools statewide to ensure a brighter future for all of our kids.”

The bills now head to the full Senate for a final vote before heading to the governor’s desk. Except that, following Senate approval, SR91, would be signed by the President of the Senate and attested by the Secretary, and copies transmitted to each member of the State Board of Education.