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School Committee Given Presentation on Dyslexia Guidelines

Recently the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has updated its guidance for how school districts should work with students struggling with dyslexia and they are close to what Burlington has been doing for many years.

The district’s methods for identifying that a student has dyslexia and then how to work with them was the subject of a presentation by BPS Director of Literacy Renee Sacco during Tuesday night’s School Committee meeting.

Sacco started by saying the field of education has come a long way in the past few decades when it comes to how

“When I was in the classroom, dyslexia was something you couldn’t say about a student,” she said. “They thought it was a medical diagnosis but things have changed and that’s not true anymore, it’s a more common term now.”

Sacco said this is good news because it gives educators more tools to help students struggling with dyslexia, which she defined as “a specific learning disability characterized by difficulties with accurate and or fluent word recognition typically with poor spelling and decoding abilities.”

Sacco said that with this more modern understanding, experts have come up with guidelines for working with students with dyslexia. The guidelines provide three things: A set of screening guidelines for all students, a framework of intervention for students at risk of dyslexia and other learning abilities and a comprehensive resource of evidence-based practices aimed at all educators to support students at risk of dyslexia and those identified as having dyslexia.

The screenings, given to all elementary grade students, answer three questions – Who is at risk? How significant is the risk? Which skills area needs support?

Sacco said once a student undergoes screening, educators can make an assessment to determine the best level of extra instruction and which areas should be targeted if necessary. Doing this can help students overcome the learning disability.

“We can provide intervention and with intervention the brain can rewire itself and form the connections it needs to form in order to have the language processing part of our brain connect with the visual processing part of the brain,” she said.

Finally, Superintendent Eric Conti said these state guidelines match what Burlington educators have been doing for years so it has been easy for the district to adopt them.

You can watch the full presentation here (go to minute 34).