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Dyslexia

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Introduction

The Iowa Dyslexia Task Force submitted its findings and recommendations relating to dyslexia to the Iowa Legislature in 2019. The task force shared its vision for public education for all students, while attending to the needs of students with dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia. The vision is as follows:

Every student in Iowa will attend a school where educators understand what dyslexia is and provide explicit, systematic reading instruction as both a part of universal instruction and in specialized interventions, and where every student has access to appropriate accommodations and assistive technology to support learning.

Guidance and resources developed by the Department and shared on this site are intended to support this vision. Resources will continue to be added as the Department collaborates with the Iowa Dyslexia Board and Iowa’s educational entities.

The Department’s dyslexia priorities

The Department’s priorities focus on areas of policy in which it has authority to provide guidance and technical assistance and align to the Iowa Dyslexia Board recommendations. Resources are developed with feedback and guidance from the board with a focus on practices that have the biggest impact on students with dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia. The following are Department priorities:

  • Priority 1: Develop guidance, tools and resources to help educators understand how the term “dyslexia” can be used in Iowa schools and how to partner with families about concerns around dyslexia.
  • Priority 2: Develop guidance, tools and resources for informal diagnostic assessment for students at risk for reading difficulties. Such assessments would be used to inform intervention including dyslexia specific interventions for students with dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia.
  • Priority 3: Develop guidance, tools and resources that detail the elements of explicit and systematic literacy instruction for students with dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia. Read What is Structured Literacy? from the International Dyslexia Association (IDA).

Dyslexia and Iowa schools

It is important that educators are familiar with the characteristics of dyslexia and are able to communicate with families about services and supports that may be needed. Below are some facts about dyslexia as they relate to students in school. 

Dyslexia means a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin, is characterized by difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities, and may include difficulties that typically result from deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction, as well as secondary consequences such as problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge (IAC 281—62).

Facts about dyslexia

  • It is estimated that as many as 15-20 percent of people have dyslexia (IDA).
  • Dyslexia results in difficulties particularly with reading/early reading, spelling and writing.
  • Dyslexia can have significant effects on the social emotional well-being of children. Families and educators can better support students as they work to become skilled readers and spellers by understanding these issues. Learn more about Social and Emotional Problems Related to Dyslexia (IDA).
  • Because dyslexia affects learning and social-emotional wellbeing, educators must be knowledgeable of the characteristics.
  • Some, but not all, students with dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia need intervention and/or disability-related services such as a 504 plan or special education program. It is important to work with families to identify the amount and types of support each student needs.

Talking about dyslexia in school

  • If educators notice characteristics of dyslexia, they can and should share their concerns with families. This does not mean they are diagnosing dyslexia. Educators can say such things as:
    • “I’m concerned that your child may have dyslexia. I’ve noticed the following characteristics… ”
    • “Your child scored below benchmark in reading and we’ve noticed some early indicators of dyslexia.”
  • Talking with a family about dyslexia does not create a financial obligation for the school. 
  • If a family has concerns about dyslexia, they should share their concerns with the school.
  • When a student has dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia, schools/educators should engage the student and family in the school’s intervention process.  
  • If a parent provides a private evaluation/report to the school/AEA that includes a dyslexia or learning disability concern, the school/AEA must respond to the family’s concern. The response should include: 
    • Reviewing the report, 
    • Seeking additional information, 
    • Discussing next steps to address the concerns, and
    • In almost all cases, starting disability suspect procedures
  • Private evaluations/reports must be considered as part of educational planning.

Dyslexia diagnosis

  • Dyslexia is typically a diagnosis provided by a private professional with appropriate credentialing. Professionals who assess dyslexia and specific learning disabilities have extensive training in assessment as part of a graduate degree in education, reading, speech language pathology, school psychology, psychology or neuropsychology.
  • While educators do not diagnose dyslexia, they are responsible for determining if students need disability-related services such as 504 supports or special education programming. 
  • Educators may refer families for private dyslexia services/evaluation. These supports are at the school’s expense if they are necessary as part of a 504 or a special education disability-related need.
  • Iowa uses a noncategorical model for special education. This means an evaluation is focused on students’ needs and whether they are eligible for special education, rather than whether students fall into disability categories. This does not mean schools cannot talk about a student's dyslexia diagnosis/characteristics of dyslexia. It is expected that evaluation teams are skilled and knowledgeable regarding all special education disability categories.
  • Individual Education Program (IEP) and 504 teams can and should openly discuss and document concerns regarding dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia in supporting a student’s educational plan.

This guidance supports Department Priority 1. Additional guidance and resources may be developed in collaboration with the Iowa Dyslexia Board and other educational entities.

Response to dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia

Required screening

Iowa requires schools to assess all children for reading in kindergarten through third grade using an approved reading assessment. This is called universal screening. It allows schools to identify students at risk for reading concerns so that schools can provide early intervention. In most cases, universal screening will identify students with dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia who need intervention as well. See Early Literacy Implementation (ELI) for more information.

Parents may contact their local school if they have questions about their child’s screening results. See School/Area Education Agency Supports for Parents.

Recommended supplemental intervention

Some but not all students identified as at risk following universal screening need supplemental/intensive intervention. At risk means not meeting the grade-level benchmark for one of the two most recent screening assessments. A student can be at risk for a variety of reasons. For example, some students may be at risk because they haven’t had instruction yet while others might be at risk because they are having difficulty learning.

When a student is identified as being at risk following screening, schools should collaborate with families to:  

  • Analyze screening and progress monitoring data,  
  • Determine if there are other factors suggesting a learning concern (i.e., history of concerns in language and literacy development, history of concerns in school performance, dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia, and/or familial history of dyslexia and/or reading concerns), and 
  • Decide if supplemental/intensive intervention is needed. 

When intervention is needed, schools should provide additional informal diagnostic assessment of reading skills. For example, tests of phonemic awareness, phonics and fluency help schools make a good match between a student’s needs and intervention. Diagnostic assessment should be followed by sufficiently intensive explicit and systematic reading interventions. Interventions may be implemented as part of a Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) and/or the school’s required supplemental intervention system. Schools may engage in supplemental interventions for at-risk learners on a voluntary basis (IAC 281-62.6(6); IAC 281-41.312).

In addition to intervention, sometimes a student may need an evaluation for special education. Some situations suggesting a need for a special education evaluation include:

  • if supplemental interventions at home and/or at school are intensive and ongoing, 
  • if the student has a diagnosis, such as dyslexia, and is having difficulty at school, or 
  • if a student’s performance is particularly different from grade-level expectations and peers.

In these cases, schools are required to work with families to consider an evaluation for special education. Interventions, in this case, may occur at the same time as an evaluation. 

Parents should contact their local school if they have questions about their child’s screening results or the need for supplemental intervention. Families and schools should seek supports from their local AEA to determine if a student needs special education. 

Additional guidance and resources specific to students with dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia is a Department and Dyslexia Board priority and will be developed as part of Priority 2 noted above.

Required intensive instruction

When a student is identified as persistently at risk (not meeting the grade-level benchmark for two consecutive screening administrations), schools are required to provide intensive reading instruction (IAC 281-62.6). Intensive instruction must include:

  • 90 minutes of daily scientific, research-based reading instruction,
  • A reading curriculum supported by scientifically based research in reading. The curriculum must assist students in skills necessary to read including phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and
  • For students with dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia, the curriculum must also include strategies that formally address dyslexia.

What are the strategies that formally address dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia?

Explicit and systematic literacy instruction are the most effective strategies that address dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia. The IDA refers to this instruction as Structured Literacy (See What is Structured Literacy?). Explicit and systematic literacy instruction is necessary across all tiers (universal, supplemental and intensive) of MTSS. It is particularly necessary for learning foundational skills (e.g., phonological awareness, phonics, spelling and accurate oral reading of text). Research repeatedly shows that explicit and systematic literacy instruction:

  • Is essential for reducing the risk of reading concerns, and
  • Is the most effective set of strategies for addressing dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia. 

Schools are required to provide explicit and systematic literacy instruction for students with dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia who are persistently at risk. 

See the eLearning Effective Literacy Instruction Module from the Iowa Reading Research Center (IRRC). 

While a parent may request a specific reading program and schools must give careful consideration to parent requests, the choice of the reading program is made by the district based on each individual case.

Additional guidance and resources on explicit and systematic instruction is a Department and Dyslexia Board priority and will be developed as part of Priorities 2 and 3 above.

Required family involvement

Schools are required to engage families when their child is identified as persistently at risk in reading. They are required to provide parents a written description of:

  • the reading services currently provided, 
  • proposed supplemental instructional services and supports to address the reading concern, 
  • strategies for helping the child at home, and 
  • regular updates regarding student progress toward reading proficiency. 

Schools are required to collaborate with families in creating a parent contract outlining these reading interventions (IAC 281-62.4(4)).

Parents should contact their local school if they have questions about intensive interventions.

Required dyslexia-related supports for students beyond third grade

Students who are persistently at risk in reading at the end of third grade must continue to receive intensive reading instruction until grade-level proficiency is met. Interventions may be implemented as part of a MTSS and/or the school’s required supplemental intervention system (IAC 281-62.10(1); IAC 281-41.312)

Additionally, schools are required to address student needs through:

  • differentiated instruction, 
  • supplemental interventions, and
  • for those students with disabilities, supports tailored to their needs. 

Parents should contact their local school with questions about interventions and their local AEA with questions about whether their child may have a disability.

Disability-related services

Section 504

Section 504 requires schools to determine on a case-by-case basis whether a student has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (and therefore has a disability). A specific learning disability, including dyslexia, may substantially limit a major life activity. A student diagnosed with dyslexia would qualify for a 504 plan if the condition limits a major life activity. For most students with dyslexia this would include such things as speaking, learning and working. This list is not exhaustive and there are other life functions that may qualify a student for a 504 plan.

It is important to note that a student may have a disability and be eligible for a 504 even if the student earns good grades.

If you have questions about how to seek an evaluation for Section 504, contact your local school.

Special education

Dyslexia is a condition under the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) category of Specific Learning Disability. Not all students with dyslexia need special education services. A student qualifies for special education if dyslexia impacts one or more of the performance domains in their educational environment and results in the student needing specifically tailored instruction.

See Special Education Child Find Process Guide for Parents (FEP) and Iowa Special Education Eligibility and Evaluation Standards. 

Contact your local AEA about how to seek an evaluation for special education.

Accommodations

Students who have dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia and are in need of classroom support may need to be provided with accommodations for access to classroom content and assessments. Accommodations are adaptations or changes in the classroom and/or the way school tasks are presented that help students with disabilities access general education content and environments. Examples of accommodations for students with dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia include: text-to-speech software, speech-to-text software, spelling checker, graphic organizers etc. Accommodations for assessments should align as closely as possible to those used during instruction. For more information see the IDA Fact Sheet on Accommodations.

Parents should contact their school, IEP team or 504 team with questions about accommodations. If unsure what supports are needed, review ASK Resource Center’s comparison of Section 504 and IDEA, contact ASK Resource Center or your local FEP.

Dyslexia supports

Local supports for families

ASK Resource Center - As one of its projects, ASK serves as the Iowa’s Parent Training and Information Center (PTI). They provide objective advocacy, information, resources and impartial training for parents and children. They work in partnership with professionals to establish and meet high expectations for children with disabilities.

Iowa Area Education Agencies (AEAs) - Iowa’s AEAs partner with local school districts to help all children learn to read. They provide professional learning and support schools in early intervention efforts. Teachers may contact their local AEA staff to help design instruction for students with dyslexia/characteristics of dyslexia. Educators and families may contact their local AEA staff if they have questions about eligibility for special education services. See Iowa Dyslexia Resources.

Each of Iowa’s AEAs employs staff with both family and educator perspective to collaborate directly with parents, schools and agencies outside the educational system. See Family Educator Partnership (FEP).

Iowa reading Research Center (IRRC) - The purpose of the IRRC is to improve the literacy proficiency of preschool through twelfth-grade students. In addition to a broad range of literacy resources, they provide dyslexia specific resources. The IRRC offers free assistive technology consultation for families of children with dyslexia and other reading disabilities. The IRRC is a part of the University of Iowa College of Education and operates in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Education.

Training for educators

Required

The following educational personnel are required to complete the IRRC Dyslexia Overview Module by 7/1/2024 or within one year of employment after 7/1/2024. 

  • Any person employed by an AEA who holds a license, certificate, statement of recognition or authorization other than coaching.
  • School district personnel with the following endorsements:
    • PK-K teacher, prekindergarten-kindergarten classroom (103)
    • PK-K early childhood special education (262)
    • Elementary special education (260; 263; 264)
    • Prekindergarten through grade 3 (100; 106)
    • Birth-grade 3 inclusive settings (1001)
    • Dyslexia specialist (1761)
    • English as a second language (104)
  • School district practitioners and paraprofessionals assigned as:
    • Title I teachers (102; 148; 176)
    • Title I paraprofessionals under ESSA

See the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners Endorsement List.

Recommended

The following dyslexia related IRRC modules are recommended:

See the IRRC eLearning page for additional modules for evidence-based reading practices.

Iowa dyslexia specialist endorsement

The dyslexia specialist endorsement is a 1.5-year (18 credit hours) endorsement approved by the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners in collaboration with the IRRC. The endorsement program is offered through the University of Iowa, College of Education. The endorsement focuses solely on dyslexia and the reading development of students with dyslexia.

Additional guidance regarding the role of dyslexia specialists will be developed in collaboration with Iowa AEAs.

Resources

Statewide resources

Family resources

Educator resources

Educational administrator resources

National resources