One in five students are struggling to read, and the nation’s public education system is doing almost nothing about it. The replacement to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program is failing students. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced NCLB, gives power back to the states so that educators can allocate the federal funding they receive as they see fit for its specific needs. The ESSA act was passed with bipartisan support in 2015. However, these state plans are leaving out a large percent of the student body.
Dyslexia affects 20 percent of students. Of the ESSA plans sent to the Department of Education, less than a quarter of the plans address screening and additional resources for the disorder. The learning disability impairs a student’s ability to process basic spoken and written language.
“Think about it, 20 percent of the population affected, dyslexia is probably the major cause for kids reading below grade level and if you read below grade level you’re just not going to do well in school and were not doing anything about this,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) told Red Alert Politics in an interview.
Students with the disorder have trouble listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, and spelling. Yet, these students are expected to take and pass standardized tests. Sen. Cassidy sat down with Red Alert Politics to discuss why he’s passionate about addressing this issue.
“Children typically are not screened for dyslexia, which means it’s not until fourth grade that it’s detected at which point they have to take a standardized test, and they can’t read. I mean, they literally cannot read,” he said.
Earlier this year, Sens. Cassidy and Chris Murphy (D-CT) passed a resolution that declared October “Dyslexia Awareness Month.” But for years, Cassidy and his family have been vocal advocates for both solutions and awareness to the learning disability.
“We should screen at first grade and when we screen at first grade begin to intervene then, so that if we do have a standardized test at grade four the child is able to read,” Cassidy said. “Novel concept right?”
To the senator, the battle with dyslexia is personal. In 2008, his daughter was diagnosed with it. Cassidy’s wife started the Louisiana Key Academy, a public, tuition-free charter school, for children with dyslexia.
“My wife has a public charter school for children’s dyslexia, and it’s so moving because the child would have been called ‘retarded’ by his friends at the other school and here he begins to flourish,” he said.
Typically, students with undetected dyslexia display lack of self-esteem and lash out as often the ‘class clown or troublemaker.’ The student struggles to comprehend the learning materials, shows frustration and acts out in the classroom, or begins to shut down socially.
“We have program failure, those kids are going to drop out,” he said.
The solution to the problem, Cassidy says, is universal screening starting in kindergarten and first grade that identifies dyslexia earlier before the education gap is created.
“My wife has a public charter school for children with dyslexia. Almost every one of them has failed in a public school. And having failed, [they] have come here to have their reading remediated. At some point, they’ll return, but that initial few years are pretty tough. We need to have more like that.”
In addition to universal screening, Cassidy wants to have more intervention for low-income families.
“If someone has money, they can put their child in a private school, paying tens of thousands of dollars for tuition. But their child’s needs are met. What is lacking is options for that single mom with three kids or just that intact family, but lower income,” Cassidy continued.
In America, the average public school classroom size is 22 students. Often undetected and untreated, statistics show 4.4 of them have dyslexia.