A Roadmap to Literacy

“At age nine, when it became obvious that my son was not growing out of his reading problems, I didn’t know what to do or where to go.”

“We hired the Reading Specialist from our school to tutor our daughter. After six months, there was no real progress. The Reading Specialist seemed as stumped as we were.”

“I trusted the teachers in school to teach my children to read. Aren’t they the experts?”

        Sound familiar? When a child experiences frustration when reading, parents naturally look for solutions. Many invest in countless hours doing internet searches, meeting with teachers, lamenting with other parents, and paying bills for tutoring that just doesn’t seem to work. Some go further. They push the teachers to do more, hire advocates, and then they confront the grim reality that the teachers in their school system, regardless of credentialing in reading or special education, have not been adequately prepared to address the needs of learners with dyslexia. Desperate, parents often turn to private schools or home schooling, hoping to meet their child’s needs. A lucky few connect with a Certified Academic Language Therapist (CALT) or other qualified dyslexia therapist*, and after extensive one-on-one instruction, are able to breathe a sigh of relief as their child eases into reading independence.

Against this backdrop, the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) took a bold step in 2016. Through the Center for Effective Reading Instruction (CERI, pronounced seer-ee), it began credentialing Certified Structured Literacy Teachers (Tier I) and Certified Structured Literacy Interventionists (Tier II). Further, IDA is credentialing Dyslexia Specialists and Dyslexia Therapists at the Tier III Level. This credentialing, at long last, gives parents and school systems a new way forward. Change will include hiring teachers, reading specialists, and special education teachers with the requisite literacy training to effectively teach all learners, including and especially students with dyslexia. Tier III interventionists will be made available to severe dyslexics, those able to read only with intensive, one-on-one therapy.

“Change will include hiring teachers, reading specialists, and special education teachers with the requisite literacy training to effectively teach all learners, including and especially students with dyslexia.”

This credentialing initiative builds on two existing IDA programs: the accreditation of university programs beginning in 2012 and the publication of the Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading (K&PS) in 2010. The accreditation of university programs gives school systems guidance on which new hires are trained to deliver structured literacy instruction for all learners, not just those with dyslexia. The Knowledge and Practice Standards spells out what teachers and interventionists need to know. If a teacher did not graduate from an accredited program, the K&PS can be used to direct courses of self-study or continuing education. Teachers now have clear directions on how to supplement their skills so they can better serve all students in their classroom; administrators can look for these credentials and skills when making hiring decisions; parents can request that professionals working with their children have documentation that these professionals have training specific to supporting struggling readers. For the DC area, public schools face a mounting challenge. While awareness of the needs of students with dyslexia is increasing and parents are pressing the need for improved services, not one college or university preparation program in DC, Virginia, or Maryland holds CERI accreditation. Human Resources Departments within school systems have the ability to pressure local university programs to pursue CERI credentialing. For now, teachers and parents in the DC area have to advocate that teachers employed by the school systems receive additional training to meet the K&P Standards.

“. . . teachers and parents in the DC area have to advocate that teachers employed by the school systems receive additional training to meet the K&P Standards.”

The DC Branch of the International Dyslexia Association is contributing to these efforts. In addition to our well-attended workshops and conferences, our Board has decided to combine its expertise in the publication of this newsletter. With each issue, we will address a skill from the Knowledge and Practice Standards. We will examine the skill, describe its importance to reading, and provide classroom or small group activities in support of skill development. Further, we will describe indicators of students who cannot develop this skill in their learning environment. This documentation will aid parents, teachers, and administrators in the decision-making process that may lead to Tier II and Tier III interventions.

Taken together, professional credentialing, accreditation of training programs, and the Knowledge and Practice Standards give hope to parents, teachers, administrators, and —most of all — students for improved literacy outcomes within our public education system. We know what it takes to teach students to read. It is our task now to make sure that these skills are available to all teachers and all students.

“Far too many teachers say they feel unprepared for the classroom after completing teacher preparation programs, yet we know that there is no more important in-school factor for student learning than having a great teacher, particularly in our highest-need communities.”  – Every Student Succeeds Act

*For a complete list of independent training programs, click here.

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