Tag Archives: International Literacy Association

Shady Dyslexia Agenda Accelerating

28 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/28/2021

An intricately connected network of organizations is controlling dyslexia discourse in the US and taking over dyslexia screening and remediation. Thirty-nine states now have adopted dyslexia laws. Most of these laws contain the International Dyslexia association’s (IDA) remediation recommendation of being “multisensory, systematic, and structured.” Researchers Jo Worthy et al state, “This approach is not well supported by research, but it is officially sanctioned through legislation in many states and has had a profound effect on policy and practice.”

IDA, the Academic Language Therapy Association (ALTA), and the International Multisensory Language Education Council (IMSLEC) are three big players. IMSLEC started as an IDA committee, and ALTA certifies dyslexia specialists in the multisensory language approach, which is consistent with IDA’s Knowledge and Practice standards for educators. IDA began certifying teachers in 2016, in addition to accrediting dyslexia teacher training programs. The websites of these organizations link to each other and to Decoding Dyslexia, a network of parent organizations with chapters in every state. The mission statements and lobbying materials used by all Decoding Dyslexia sites employ language from IMSLEC and IDA.

Using Parents and Students

Rachael Gabriel is Associate Professor of Literacy Education at the University of Connecticut. When large numbers of people showed up at legislative hearings in Connecticut, she became interested in their unusual engagement and strangely similar comments. Gabriel used critical discursive psychology, positioning theory, and narrative policy analysis to analyze the dyslexia law advocacy. She says, “I argue that this narrative can be understood as a conversion narrative, which drives a privatization agenda in which public schools become mandated consumers for a growing dyslexia industry, and in which the nature of instruction for students with reading difficulties is narrowly prescribed.”

Gabriel shares several extracts from the oral and written testimonies given at the legislative session on special education. The first extract is from a student who introduced himself as a 10-year-old who was “here to speak in support of Bill RHB 5562, An Act Concerning Special Education to get dyslexia recognized in the State of Connecticut.”

“I have dyslexia. Reading and math are really hard for me. I’ve had too many teachers that don’t understand how to teach me. Finally, this year I went to Lindamood Bell training and reading is getting easier.”

This is a typical message indicating public school teachers do not know how to teach students with dyslexia but finally he was saved. Interestingly the private company Lindamood Bell’s training credited with making it possible for him to read is not one of several private companies that qualify as IDA certified reading specialists. In fact they report that many of their clients have previously been failed by a certified company. The certified companies all use some version of the 1930’s Orton-Gillingham method whose phonics centered practice IDA calls “structured literacy.”

An important psychological motivator for parents of children struggling with learning to read is the repeated claim that dyslexia is a brain centered condition often associated with giftedness. Statements similar to the following extract from a written comment are common.

“This is a disability worth our investment of time It is the disability of Speilberg [sic], Einstein, and Steve Jobs . . . Honor us and embrace us. We are continually the great minds of every generation. We are the ‘game changers.’”

The idea that dyslexia is associated with other kinds of giftedness is a wives tale. Johnston and Scanlon from the University at Albany wrote in their 2020 research paper,

“Public narratives about dyslexia commonly claim that people classified as dyslexic have an array of special positive attributes such as intelligence or creativity – more so than those not so classified. There is virtually no scientific evidence for these claims.”

Although the parent organization Decoding Dyslexia (DD) does not have a centralized leadership, each of the state organizations shares information from DD and IDA. They uniformly call for:

  1. “A universal definition and understanding of “dyslexia” in the state education code.
  2. Mandatory teacher training on dyslexia, its warning signs and appropriate intervention strategies.
  3. Mandatory early screening tests for dyslexia.
  4. Mandatory dyslexia remediation programs, which can be accessed by both general and special education populations.
  5. Access to appropriate “assistive technologies” in the public school setting for students with dyslexia.”

Parents with babies who struggle with reading are vulnerable to manipulation. The widely distributed message that dyslexia is a sign of high intelligence must be appealing. These parents are informed that their public school teachers do not know how to teach dyslexics. They are assured that private companies certified by IDA can accurately screen for dyslexia and provide the kind of “structured literacy” that saves children from academic disaster. The result is that whenever laws instituting the Decoding Dyslexia agenda are proposed large numbers of parents show up in support.

What is Dyslexia? What are the Myths?

The idea of dyslexia has been around for more than 100-years, but there is still no widely agreed upon definition. That means there is no consensus method for screening for dyslexia. Johnston and Scanlon reported in 2020,

“The bottom line is that there are many definitions of, and theories about, dyslexia and simply no agreed-upon definition that allows schools, clinicians, researchers, or anyone else, to decide who is dyslexic in any valid or reliable way.

From an instructional standpoint, there is no practical distinction between those classified as dyslexic and others at the low end of the normal distribution of word reading ability in the early elementary grades.”

Variations of this statement are quite widely available. A 2020 article in Reading Research Quarterly by J. G. Elliot states,

“I argue in this article that despite a proliferation of scientific findings, our understanding of dyslexia is marked by serious weaknesses of conceptualization, definition, and operationalization that not only are unscientific but also lead to impoverished practice in schools, social inequity in understanding and provision for many struggling readers, and reduced life chances for millions of students worldwide.”

IDA and DD promote mandatory early screening for dyslexia but the commercially available tools they promote are not up to the task. A 2017 article by Vanderheyden et al noted,

“In education, it is not uncommon for error rates to range from 50%–60%, meaning if a school assesses 100 children for whom 20 are “true positives” (i.e., truly have dyslexia), then most of the 20 (approximately 16–18) will be identified, but 50 to 60 students will be identified as false positive errors in the process.”

IDA bases its recommendations for reading remediation on the “science of reading” (SOR). In 2000, the National Reading Panel report claimed that its recommended phonics based word decoding methods were based on science. This kicked off a phenomenon often referred to as the “Reading Wars.” In 2004, David Pearson from UC Berkley’s Graduate School of education commented about the raging war,

“For example, several scholars, in documenting the practices of highly effective, highly regarded teachers, found that these exemplary teachers employed a wide array of practices, some of which appear decidedly whole language in character (e.g., process writing, literature groups, and contextualized skills practice) and some of which appear remarkably skills oriented (explicit phonics lessons, sight word practice, and comprehension strategy instruction). Exemplary teachers appear to find an easier path to balance than either scholars or policy pundits.”

In other words, SOR is definitely not settled science. Which means the IDA’s “structured literacy” is not a consensus driven approach.

In 2016, the International Literacy Association asserted,

“Both  informal  and  professional  discussions  about  dyslexia   often   reflect   emotional,   conceptual,   and   economic   commitments,   and   they   are   often   not   well   informed by research. Our beliefs and practices should be  grounded  by  what  emerges  from  the  available  evidence  (Elliott  &  Grigorenko,  2014;  Vellutino,  1979;  Washburn,  Joshi,  & Binks-Cantrell, 2011)

As  yet,  there  is  no  certifiably  best  method  for  teaching  children  who  experience  reading  difficulty  (Mathes  et  al.,  2005).  For  instance,  research  does  not  support  the  common  belief  that   Orton-Gillingham–based   approaches   are   necessary   for   students classified as dyslexic.”

IDA and the research papers cited here claim that as much as 20% of kindergarten and first grade students have reading issues. However, if their school has a professional intervention approach – that could be any of the interventions discussed here – by the time students reach high school less that 2% still have reading issues. Is it possible that the high number of students with reading difficulties in America is because reading is taught at a developmentally inappropriate age? On international testing Finish students test extremely well in reading and they don’t formally teach reading there until age 7.

Conclusion

The IDA organization has many professionals in reading education and the point here is not that they are wrong about screening and intervention pedagogy. The point is that the agenda they are promoting is far from settled science. They should continue to promote their beliefs but they need to stop using a legal strategy backed by power politics to force schools into becoming mandated consumers.

America’s public schools are staffed with an enormous number of well trained and experienced reading instructors. Denigrating them is not justified and is bad for reading education.

The International Dyslexia Association and Decoding Dyslexia are no longer advocates for students and parents. They have become predators using legal strategies and political power to feed an expanding dyslexia industry.