Falling Through the Cracks is Harder on a Solid Foundation
By DeJunne’ Clark Jackson, MA, MAT, MEd, CALT
In recent days, the Louisiana Department of Education has found itself on the receiving end of $2 million from the Louisiana legislature, earmarked to combat an ongoing, significantly critical epidemic plaguing our state – early childhood literacy. And as a mother of a child with Dyslexia, this is huge!
For far too long, parents of students with reading disabilities have had a hard road to identification. This has been, in part, due to the nation-wide issue of how all children have been taught to read over the last decades or so. Because of the sweeping popularity of teaching implicit over explicit in the early years of learning to read, structured phonics instruction has all but withered and died, along with our children’s ability to be effective learners with long-term school success. Teachers and parents, alike, are discovering that we’ve been going about this all wrong. Students need phonics and phonological awareness instruction that is explicit, systematic, sequential, and cumulative – what we now know as components of the science of reading. Moreover, we know that students who struggle to read, dyslexic students specifically, need this same type of instruction.
Our students are behind in reading proficiency – meaning, they are not where they should be. The 2019 Nation’s Report Card (NAEP)1 shows that 74% of Louisiana’s 4th grade students are reading below grade level proficiency. The scores fair no better for 8th grade students with 73% scoring below proficient on the same national assessment. Louisiana has made no significant progress toward mastering grade-level competence since 2003, with the exception of a statistically significant difference in the 2015 assessment year.
Why is this so important? Because our kids are behind the nation in scores and, now, are even behind the state of Mississippi (no offense) – who had the only score increase from 2017-2019, surpassing all other states in meeting proficiency guidelines. How did they do it? They got serious about and began to fund reading initiatives in their state and the results speak for itself. But beyond being behind other states in the nation, so many of our students are behind within our own state.
If a student doesn’t know how to read, the long-term impacts can include higher drop-out rates, likelihood of school-related anxiety, low self-esteem, multigenerational illiteracy, adverse behaviors, adult illiteracy, poverty, etc. Unfortunately, this is the reality of most dyslexic students who do not have support.
Even as an educator myself, I recognize that we are failing our students. The time for education reform is always but it must be direct and targeted with the scientific evidence to back it up. We have that. We know what it is. In fact, the Center for Development and Learning along with legislators were able to work collaboratively to ensure that this was a priority — and WE need to make it a priority also.
When our state makes the decision to use the $2 million to build our teacher capacity and knowledge to be able to deliver solid, core instruction to all students, my dyslexic kid benefits. When our state chooses to utilize those dollars to ensure that each student, in each classroom, in each school, within each school district receives instruction aligned with the science of reading focused on the way our brains learn to read, my dyslexic kid benefits. When we begin to provide all educators with evidence-based training and discontinue the use of opinion-based, haphazard literacy instruction, my dyslexic kid benefits. When our state determines that our students need teachers to have ongoing support for implementation of this knowledge, my dyslexic kid (and your non-dyslexic kid), benefits.
Dyslexia instruction not only benefits dyslexic students, but it benefits all students. Now, though there is much work to be done with dyslexia in our state (that’s another soap box for another day), I recognize that this is a start and I’m optimistic that we are headed in the right direction.
Listen, it’s hard to fall through the cracks when the foundation is solid, right? We need to build that solid foundation that is stable enough to reach all students so that, when there is a struggling reader and dyslexic, we can dig deeper to provide those students, my student, with multisensory structured language therapy. This way, we can build upon and look toward the most streamlined, targeted, direct, and individualized method of instruction as a means for identification and intervention.
I once remember hearing someone speak on the benefits of reading to your children at home as a means to get kids reading. The one thing that blaringly stood out to me was that, while there are many benefits to reading, teaching them to read is not one of them. Kids don’t just learn to read by osmosis. We were born to speak not to read. This skill has to be taught and doesn’t come as easily to some. So, as such, I will continue to use my voice to speak about reading and I encourage all parents, educators, school leaders and legislators to do the same.
DeJunne’ Clark Jackson, MA, MAT, MEd, CALT
Vice President of Program Development
About DeJunne’ Clark Jackson: DeJunne’ is a warrior advocate and the proud mother of two amazing boys, one of whom has dyslexia. She’s worn many hats, past and present, as college disabilities coordinator, classroom teacher, school counselor, dyslexia practitioner, and family advocate. With an in-the-trenches approach, she leads the movement to tackle real-time issues of remediation for struggling readers. She serves as the Vice President of Program Development at the Center for Development and Learning.