Bill Stems from Ocean County Resident Who Pushed for Reforms
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Jeff Van Drew and Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz to require that school districts screen children for dyslexia and other reading disabilities at an early age, if they show signs of having a reading disability, received final approval today in the Senate. The bill now heads to the desk of the governor.
The measure (S-2442) is the key piece of legislation in a four-bill package sponsored by Van Drew to strengthen the support services provided in the public education system to those with these reading disabilities. The package stems from the advocacy of OceanCounty residents Beth Ravelli and her daughter Samantha, who was diagnosed with dyslexia through private testing. The two have pushed for awareness of the challenges facing those with reading disabilities since they moved from WeymouthTownship to OceanCity 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 bill approved today. Two other bills recommended by the task force were signed into law by the governor in August; a third measure was approved by the Senate and filed with the Secretary of State.
“We have fought for years to improve the system for identifying students with reading disabilities and to provide the kind of learning environment that they need to grow academically. We are finally seeing all of our hard work come to fruition,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May/Cumberland/Atlantic), who also served as a task force member. “Providing screenings in school districts will change the lives of students with reading disabilities, who will no longer have to struggle with reading and writing without some form of intervention. This is a huge step forward for our state, and it would not have happened if it wasn’t for the advocacy of Beth Ravelli, who fought to get her daughter better services. Because of her efforts, students across New Jersey will soon have access to the kinds of programs and services that they need to succeed.”
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 approved today would require school districts to screen children who have exhibited a potential indicator of dyslexia or other reading disabilities by the completion of the first semester in the second grade. Screening would also be required for certain students who enroll in a school district without a record of being previously screened for dyslexia or other reading disabilities. The bill would first apply to the 2014-2015 year.
“Children who have difficulty with reading, writing or spelling can improve exponentially if they are given the appropriate educational supports and instruction,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “By requiring that schools conduct screenings at an early age, we can make sure that students who exhibit potential indicators of dyslexia or other reading disabilities are provided with the resources that they need to excel academically.”
The additional bills in the package, passed by both houses of the Legislature, and signed into law or filed with the Secretary of State:
- Senate Committee Substitute for S2440/S2441, signed into law in August – Require the Department of Education to provide professional development to certain educators; the law requires 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, signed into law in August – Directed the state Board of Education to incorporate the International Dyslexia Association’s Definition of Dyslexia into special education regulations;
- SR91, filed with the Secretary of State in June – Urged 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 was intended to 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.
“We spend billions of dollars each year on education in New Jersey, yet there are still students who are being left behind because they are not receiving the services they need. The package we worked on 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,” said Senator Van Drew. “We know that students who have had reading disabilities identified early on and received supports in the school system have seen life-changing results. These services shouldn’t be available only to those children whose parents have the ability to move to a different school district, but they should also be provided statewide.”
The Senate approved S-2442 unanimously in June. The Assembly approved it by a vote of 80-0. The Senate voted today 38-0 to concur with Assembly amendments. It now heads to the governor’s desk.