Amended bill to strengthen dyslexia intervention in schools clears hurdle

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Brian Chilson

Sen. Joyce Elliott

A bill that would give teeth to a law that requires dyslexia screening and intervention in public schools passed by unanimous voice vote out of the Senate Education Committee Monday.

A version of the bill failed to pass last week. That vote was expunged before Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock), lead sponsor of Senate Bill 708, presented an amended bill.

In 2013 a law was enacted that required school districts to screen all students in kindergarten through second grade for dyslexia so that the necessary intervention services could be offered to students in need.

SB 708 would strengthen the reporting requirements of the law. Superintendents would be required to post information about the dyslexia program on a public school district website or in writing to parents. The bill would also codify enforcement measures. A public school district that failed to comply could be placed on probation and would have to post on its website or notify parents in writing the reason for its probationary status. The bill was amended to eliminate a Nov. 15 deadline for screenings and to limit the information that superintendents would be required to report. SB 708 no longer includes a deadline for screenings.

Elliott told the committee, "Of all the things we have done in here, all the the tests that we're talking of giving, all the classes that we're talking about making kids take, the seminal issue we have in our state is a reading issue. We can give the kids all the tests we want, but if they can't read it, that's a problem."

The National Institutes of Health defines dyslexia as a type of learning disability that impairs a person’s ability to read. It is not connected to a person’s IQ. “People with dyslexia usually have trouble making the connections between letters and sounds and with spelling and recognizing words,” an NIH website reads.

In the 2015-16 school year, there were 4,341 students in Arkansas identified with dyslexia, according to the 2015 adequacy study conducted by the state Bureau of Legislative Research.

This reporting is courtesy of the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network, an independent, nonpartisan news project dedicated to producing journalism that matters to Arkansans.

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