Bipartisan group of senators introduces child literacy legislation during National Dyslexia Awareness Month

LANSING, Mich. — In honor of National Dyslexia Awareness Month, a bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday held a virtual press conference on legislation to improve child literacy in Michigan.

Sens. Jim Runestad, Lana Theis, Jeff Irwin and Dayna Polehanki recently introduced four bills to address factors that currently affect literacy performance for many children throughout the state.

Senate Bill 1172, sponsored by Runestad, would establish a five-member advisory committee tasked with developing a dyslexia resource guide.

“Michigan is dead last for helping students with dyslexia succeed, which is contributing to our failure to bridge the literacy gap, leaving students and families discouraged and hopeless,” said Runestad, R-White Lake. “We’ve put these bills together with folks who understand this struggle firsthand, and my bill will establish an advisory committee to employ their experiences and knowledge in guiding the department.”

The legislation focuses on identifying and intervening to help students with dyslexia, a learning disability that is characterized by difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition and by poor decoding abilities. These bills will help ensure that educators are adequately trained to understand dyslexia, to identify students early on who are struggling with learning the code, and to teach these students to break the code.

In addition to Runestad’s measure, the bill package includes:

SB 1173 (Irwin). Would require school districts to screen children during kindergarten, first grade, second grade and third grade for reading difficulties using a universal screening assessment. If the assessment indicates that a child is experiencing difficulty learning to decode, the school district shall ensure that a multitiered system of support (MTSS) is provided.

SB 1174 (Theis). Would require teacher preparation institutions to offer instruction on the characteristics of dyslexia, the consequences of dyslexia, evidence-based interventions and accommodations for children with dyslexia, and methods to develop a classroom infrastructure that meets the needs of students with an MTSS in place.

SB 1175 (Polehanki). Would only allow new teaching certificates to be issued to individuals who have received instruction on the five areas outlined in SB 1174.

Language and literacy specialist Lauren A. Katz, who has a doctorate in literacy, language, and learning, praised the bills.

“This legislation has far-reaching potential,” Katz said. “Michigan children, no matter where they live or how much money their parents have, will receive instruction and intervention that is grounded in cognitive science. And they will receive this instruction and intervention early — during a critical window of time, before negative consequences have kicked in.”

Dyslexia affects an estimated 5-10% of the population, which is anywhere from 108,000 to 217,000 children in Michigan alone. There are proven solutions to treat children with dyslexia, but early intervention is key.

“Over 50% of third and fourth graders in Michigan are reading and writing below grade level. Learning to read and write is the foundation for success in our society, and difficulty with reading holds kids back in every area of their lives,” said Irwin, D-Ann Arbor. “Despite the importance of literacy and the prevalence of dyslexia, Michigan has no statewide strategy to screen and treat the most common language-based learning disability in existence: dyslexia.”

The package of bills has been referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Career Readiness.