In 2005, an Ocean City mother started asking legislators, educators, and other parents to help address what she saw as the failure of New Jersey public schools to help children with dyslexia -- starting with her daughter.
Eight years later, Beth Ravelli has seen a state reading-disabilities task force created, a host of recommendations completed, and a half-dozen bills submitted to transform them into law.
The next challenge, she said, is getting the legislation heard and passed. “It’s been a long road,” Ravelli said this weekend, for both mother and daughter.
The bills were filed last month by state Sen. Jeff Van Drew and Assemblyman Nelson Albano, both Cape May County Democrats. They would require schools to conduct early screenings for dyslexia and other reading disabilities, train teachers in serving these students, and specifically define dyslexia as a reading disability in school regulations.
The bills mirror the recommendations of the Reading Disabilities Task Force that was created in 2010, in part as a response to Ravelli’s push and a growing awareness that such disabilities often go undetected and unaddressed.
Dyslexia isn't new. Some estimate that as many as 80 percent of all students classified for special education have some sort of language disability. But experts said dyslexia – defined as a specific difficulty in processing words and sounds -- is often lumped together with other learning disabilities and not always addressed with programs that can make a big difference in helping students overcome it.
“This has been going on for at least 20 years, if not longer,” said Gordon Sherman, a past president of the International Dyslexia Association and director of the New Grange School in New Jersey. “There is now lots of good research in place.”
The task force completed its work in August, with six recommendations, and its report was formally submitted to Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature in December.
“What we have in the document is very practical,” said Sherman, who served on the task force. “It’s not pie in the sky, and any school with good leadership can use it.”
State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf praised the task force and its report in his letter to the governor and legislators, but said the proposals would need more review.
“The Department will consider these recommendations, in light of cost constraints and other potential complications, and move forward with implementation where appropriate,” his letter read.
“The timely identification and effective management of reading disabilities is critical in effectively supporting the success of these children and in ensuring that all students in New Jersey are college- and career-ready,” Cerf wrote.
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