Michigan Bills Aim to Crack Code on Dyslexia

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman | Public News Service
Dyslexia is characterized by difficulties with accurate word recognition and poor decoding abilities. Photo Credit: Magda Ehlers / Pexels

LANSING, Mich. — It’s estimated that at least 108,000 Michigan children have dyslexia, and there’s a new effort to help these students learn how to “crack the code” and become proficient readers.

Four bills have been introduced in the Michigan Senate to better prepare teachers to understand the characteristics of dyslexia, identify it among students and properly intervene.

Third-grader Mauve Janssens of Petoskey, age 8, recently was diagnosed with dyslexia and works with a teacher who understands the disorder. According to Janssens, her reading struggles emerged in kindergarten, as she felt the words “didn’t click” in her brain.

“Lots of my friends were in higher reading groups and I was in a lower one,” she recalled. “At that time, I felt like I would be a nothing and I couldn’t do anything. And now I can read bigger books. It’s easier and I feel like I can do anything!”

Michigan is the only state without a statewide strategy to specifically address dyslexia.

Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, sponsored SB 1173, which calls for the use of a universal screening assessment in grades K-through-3 to identify reading difficulties among students. He explained that, if dyslexia is detected, the school would provide a multi-tiered system of support.

“In the early elementary years, it’s especially critical that children learn how to crack the code,” said Irwin. “If they do not, there are severe academic and psychological ramifications.”

In addition, SB 1172 would create a Dyslexia Resource Guide Advisory Committee in the Michigan Department of Education.

The other two bills — SB 1174 and SB 1175 — outline requirements for teacher preparation and certification.

It’s estimated about half of third- and fourth-grade students in Michigan are reading and writing below grade level.

For four decades, Susan Schmidt has taught students with learning disabilities, as the owner of SWS Literacy Solutions in Greater Detroit. She sees these measures as useful, along with existing reading assessments, to help address the state’s overall literacy problem.

“This legislation really focuses on the assessments that are taking place, the quality of the assessments,” Schmidt observed. “Are they valid and reliable? And do they actually address looking for these difficulties with decoding and being able to do word recognition?”

October is National Dyslexia Awareness Month.