Dyslexia screening bill dies in committee; chair vows to make it right

Suzie Glassman

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Senator Janet Buckner as a Republican. She is a Democrat.

By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver

(Castle Rock, CO) Colorado’s senate education committee members voted 6-1 to indefinitely postpone a bill that would’ve mandated universal dyslexia screening for all K-3 students, effectively killing any potential legislation.

Bill sponsors Faith Winter and Kyle Mullica faced opposition from the get-go. Several education groups, including the Colorado Association of School Executives and the Colorado Education Association (the state’s main teachers union), were unhappy with a provision calling for creating an independent ombudsman’s office.

The ombudsman would have been responsible for evaluating the effectiveness of Colorado’s READ Act-mandated interventions, curriculum, and screening measures and reporting concerns to the education commissioner and state board.

The office would have also allowed parents to file complaints about a lack of or delay of screening and inadequate progress with intervention.

According to Chalkbeat, Lori Cooper, president of the Colorado Association of School Executives coordinating council, said the ombudsman part of the bill was “absolutely insulting” and unnecessary.

Winter apologized to the education committee, saying the bill should never have called out different organizations but maintained that early diagnosis and intervention are critical to children’s academic success.

“Thirty-nine other states have screening for dyslexia. I think we can figure out how to do it in Colorado,” said Winter.

Mullica choked up recalling his experience when his daughter struggled to read. He said she started to question her self-worth, asking him if there was something wrong with her.

While his family had the resources to help her, he said he knows other families don’t, and it’s unacceptable to let students fall through the cracks.

The chair promises to continue discussion

Education Committee chair and Democratic senator Janet Buckner told the bill's sponsors, "it’s not over tonight, and we’ll do whatever we can to assist you.”

Sen. Buckner, whose daughter has dyslexia, said she’d been actively working on dyslexia most of her life and will keep working to find a path forward.

Buckner said she wants to look at the state’s reading laws (specifically the READ Act) to see if universal dyslexia screening is included, making a bill unnecessary.

School districts must measure students’ early reading skills in phonemic awareness; phonics; vocabulary development; reading fluency, including oral skills; and reading comprehension.

Deficiencies in any of those subsets can indicate a child is at risk for developing a significant reading deficiency, including dyslexia.

Yet, advocates argue that some state-approved assessments don’t test all five components and base a student’s risk on a composite or aggregate score rather than specific skills.

Children with dyslexia compensate for weakness in one area, like oral reading fluency, by excelling in others, like reading comprehension. The imbalance bumps a student's overall score enough that they aren't flagged and monitored more closely.

Are state-approved tests screening for dyslexia?

While the state board of education recently approved five interim tests that are meant to address universal screenings for reading deficiencies and dyslexia, some fall short or require more than one test to provide a comprehensive risk assessment.

According to Colorado's department of education, 31 districts covering 52,074 students use i-Ready to screen for reading struggles.

The state board of education approved the diagnostic’s newest version for inclusion on its list of approved assessments, despite evidence that it doesn’t assess oral skills, an essential indicator of dyslexia.

Curriculum Associates (which owns i-Ready) acknowledged this weakness in its application stating, “The Colorado Dyslexia Working Group (DWG) has provided recommendations regarding dyslexia screening for K–3 students with the intent of combining the K–3 universal screening process with dyslexia screening.

"To simultaneously address universal screening and dyslexia screening requirements in Colorado, K–3 students should be administered both the i-Ready Diagnostic and recommended i-Ready Literacy Tasks.”

Those who supported the dyslexia screening bill believe it’s not likely that all K-3 students will get both the reading diagnostic and the additional screener, especially since Curriculum Associates estimates its i-Ready Literacy tasks will take around 20 minutes per student to administer.

The state’s next most-used assessment, STAR Early Learning, also requires two tests to meet the criteria outlined in the law, but only the Early Learning test is on the approved list.

And I-Station/ISIP, which tests around 28,000 Colorado students, only tests text fluency and not oral skills.

Those pushing for legislation around dyslexia screening say a bill is only necessary because loopholes like these continue to miss identifying struggling readers at a time when the cost of intervening is at its lowest.

Chalkbeat reported, “Lindsay Drakos, a co-chair of the statewide dyslexia advocacy group COKID and one of the people who helped shape the bill, said the legislation isn’t meant to add more screening to most teachers’ plates, but rather to ensure they’re using the right screening tools — those that will simultaneously satisfy current state reading rules and identify kids at risk for dyslexia.”

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I'm a reporter covering the Douglas County School District in Colorado.

Denver, CO

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