Last year the General Assembly enacted Public Act 14-39, which required the Connecticut State Department of Education (SDE) to add “SLD-Dyslexia” as a separate primary disability category under the existing “specific learning disability” category on the individualized education program (IEP) form. Specific learning disability (SLD) is one of the thirteen enumerated disabilities under which a student may qualify for special education and related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). While the IDEA includes “dyslexia” as an example of an SLD, neither the IDEA nor state law define dyslexia. To address the implementation of Public Act 14-39, SDE formed a working group to develop a “working definition” of dyslexia. SDE recently released this “working definition” in an updated Frequently Asked Questions document and the definition is also included in the revised SDE IEP Manual.
According to the working definition:
Dyslexia is included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004) as a specific learning disability. Dyslexia impacts reading, specifically decoding and accurate and/or fluent word recognition and spelling. Dyslexia is neurobiological in origin and is unexpected and/or inconsistent with a student’s other abilities often despite the provision of appropriate instruction. Dyslexia results from a significant deficit in phonological processing (i.e., a persistent difficulty in the awareness of and ability to manipulate the individual sounds of spoken language).
Typically, students with dyslexia have strengths and cognitive abilities in areas such as reasoning, critical thinking, concept formation, problem solving, vocabulary, listening comprehension, and social communication (e.g., conversation). Early identification and appropriate instruction targeting the underlying phonological processing deficits that characterize dyslexia may minimize its educational impact.
- Dyslexia is not primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disability; an intellectual disability; emotional disturbance; a lack of appropriate instruction; cultural factors; environmental or economic disadvantage; or limited English proficiency.
- Early identification of the characteristics of dyslexia is critical, leading to focused, evidence-based interventions, accommodations, self-awareness, self-empowerment, and school and life success.
- Without targeted, systematic and explicit instruction/interventions along with accommodations (e.g., accessible educational materials in content area subjects), students with dyslexia may have:
- reduced reading experiences that may impact the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge,
- difficulty with written expression, and/or
- difficulty learning a second language.
- Students with dyslexia may demonstrate additional behavioral and/or emotional reactions to their difficulty with learning to read.”
See Connecticut State Department of Education, Specific Learning Disability/Dyslexia Public Act 14-39 Frequently Asked Questions (Revised March 5, 2015) (emphases in original).
Importantly, neither Public Act 14-39, nor SDE’s new working definition supersede the existing state regulation relating to the identification of students with SLD. See Conn. Agencies Reg. § 10-76d-9(b). Identification of SLD, including SLD/Dyslexia, still requires, among other things, that the child “not make sufficient progress to meet age or state-approved grade-level standards [in the eight enumerated SLD areas] when using a process based on the child’s response to scientific, research-based intervention [SRBI].” Id. Moreover, like any other area of disability, a clinical diagnosis of “dyslexia” is not sufficient, nor necessary, to become eligible for special education and related services under SLD or SLD/Dyslexia.
In short, the evaluation process has not changed and eligibility for special education and related services has not expanded. Nevertheless, school districts are likely to receive new questions from parents about eligibility under the new SLD/Dyslexia sub-category and districts should ensure that they have team members with training and expertise in administering reading assessments and evidence-based practices for dyslexia.