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8.1 Introduction to Legislation Related to Dyslexia
- Please note that the phrases in bold font in the following section were added to help clarify certain acronyms or terms used in the letter and were not part of the original document
In October 2015, the federal Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) published a Dear Colleague: Dyslexia Guidance letter offering guidance to state and local agencies on the “unique educational needs of children with dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia” (OSERS, 2015). Although these conditions fall under the special education eligibility criteria of specific learning disability, the purpose of the letter was “to clarify that there is nothing in the IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia in IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP [Individual Education Program] documents.”
The OSERS letter also noted that “there could be situations where an IEP team [student’s parent(s) and the team of qualified professionals responsible for determining whether the student has a specific learning disability] could determine that personnel responsible for IEP implementation [special education teachers, classroom teachers and support services staff] would need to know about the condition underlying the child’s disability (e.g., that a child has a weakness in decoding skills as a result of the child’s dyslexia).”
The letter “reiterates that there is nothing in the IDEA or our implementing regulations that would prohibit IEP Teams from referencing or using dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia in a child’s IEP.” The letter also stated that “OSERS further encourages States to review their policies, procedures, and practices to ensure that they do not prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in evaluations, eligibility, and IEP documents.”
Since dyslexia is not one of the educational disability categories specified in federal or state law, a student with dyslexia is most likely to be identified with a specific learning disability if they meet eligibility requirements for special education services. (See Section 8.3 Federal Legislation for more information on determination of eligibility.) However, there is nothing in Colorado law or rules that prohibits the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia in any evaluation reports, special education eligibility documents, IEPs, or interventions plans. Here are two examples: “Joy has dyslexia, a specific learning disability, characterized by poor decoding and encoding skills.” “Wanda was seen by a private neuropsychologist who diagnosed mild dyslexia. Wanda’s READ Plan should include focused intervention for her identified phonemic awareness deficits that were also evidenced during READ Act screening.”
The term or descriptor “dyslexia” can be best used appropriately when:
- There is a need to delineate the specific type of learning disability in reading from other, less-specific learning problems in order to provide more-focused intervention.
- The more specific descriptor can help describe the student’s specific learning strengths and convey specific instructional needs (e.g., specific phonological processing weaknesses that require intervention in addition to reading, spelling, and/or writing instruction.
- The use of the term captures a cluster of features common to dyslexia and can lead to more-informed use of evidence-based instructional strategies found to be effective in the treatment of dyslexia (e.g., Structured Literacy).
In June 2017, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) published 5 Questions Parents and Educators Can Ask to Start Conversations About Using Terms Like Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia, available on the NCLD website.
In the next sections of this chapter, state legislation related to the identification of early risk for reading failure — as well as federal special education and civil rights legislation will be reviewed.