Mayor Adams unveils program to tackle dyslexia in New York schools

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Mayor Eric Adams on Thursday announced details of a plan to address a literacy crisis in New York City and, in particular, to serve thousands of children in public schools at risk of dyslexia, a deeply personal issue. for the mayor, who said his own undiagnosed dyslexia hurt his college career.

School authorities plan to screen almost all students for dyslexia, while 80 elementary schools and 80 middle schools will receive additional support to meet the needs of children with dyslexia. The city will also open two new dyslexia programs – one at PS 125 Ralph Bunche in Harlem and the other at PS 161 Juan Ponce de Leon. in the South Bronx – with the goal of opening similar programs in every borough by 2023.

Officials also plan to train all teachers and will create a new dyslexia task force. School leaders are demanding that principals adopt a phonics-based literacy curriculum, which literacy experts say is the most effective way to teach reading to most children.

“Dyslexia is holding too many of our children back in school but especially in life,” Mr. Adams said during a press briefing on Thursday morning, adding that it “haunts you forever until you can get the proper treatment you deserve”.

New York is facing a literacy crisis: Less than half of all students in grades three through eight and only 36 percent of black and Latino students passed state reading exams administered in 2019, l most recent year for which data are available. Research suggests that the coronavirus pandemic has only worsened these results.

The lack of easily accessible school support for children with dyslexia is an issue that concerns the mayor. He said his own dyslexia went undiagnosed for years because his mother didn’t have the information to get him tested. He recalls “not wanting to come to school every day because I just couldn’t keep up”.

Developing a universal dyslexia screening program in city schools was one of the few specific policy prescriptions the mayor offered during his campaign. He earmarked $7.4 million in his proposed budget to address dyslexia and other literacy issues.

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“We’re going to have the broadest, most comprehensive approach to supporting students with dyslexia in the country,” Adams said.

The new policy has been applauded by a group that has called for reading reforms in the city.

“The plans announced today could have a transformative impact if implemented well,” Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York, said in a statement, adding that the group looks forward to working with education officials to ensure “all children learn to read, no matter where they go to school.

It’s hard to say how many children have dyslexia in the city because the department hasn’t been able to consistently identify them, said Carolyne Quintana, vice chancellor for teaching and learning. But she noted that national figures estimate that one in five children have dyslexia.

Currently, getting help for children with dyslexia or other learning disabilities can be expensive.

Parents, principals, or other school officials should first refer a child for an assessment for dyslexia, to which the parents must consent. The education department then has 60 days to carry out an initial assessment. Then, officials determine if the child needs special education services and develop an individualized program.

Many families with greater financial means often choose not to go through this time-consuming process and instead opt for private lessons. Advocates and families say low-income families and Black and Latino families have a harder time getting their children identified and accessing services.

“The screenings are expensive, they cost hundreds of dollars, many families can’t afford it, especially in multilingual black and brown communities, those economically struggling communities,” Mr. Adams said.

Naomi Peña said she has four children with dyslexia and was one of many parents who helped start the Literacy Academy Collective, an advocacy group.

Under the new plan, all children in kindergarten through grade two will be screened for literacy three times a year. Acadience Learning, an educational company, will provide the screenings. Children in Years 3 to 10 will also be checked three times a year, but principals will have a choice of three screening options, Ms Quintana said.

If a child consistently scores below the benchmarks, they will be recommended for secondary screening, which will look for dyslexia and other language-related disorders, Ms Quintana said.

Once children are identified as being at risk, they will be referred for neuropsychological evaluation. Some schools have partnered with a nonprofit group, Columbia University Medical Center’s Promise Project, to help low-income families pay for the assessment, which can sometimes cost thousands of dollars.

Students will then either receive additional support at their current schools or enroll in one of two new programs, which will open this fall.

Additional support includes more intensive instruction infused with the Orton-Gillingham approach, which teaches reading with more practical methods that break words down into smaller, more digestible parts. District coordinators will work with all schools to adjust instruction and provide intervention for these students.

The Literacy Academy Collective will pilot second- and third-grade classes at PS 161 in the fall, and each class will have 15 to 18 students at that school, said Ruth Genn, one of the nonprofit’s co-founders. lucrative. The goal is to eventually open a separate school and work with children from kindergarten through eighth grade.

The Lab School for Family Literacy will run the program at PS 125, where two grade levels — first and second or second and third — will each have a separate class for struggling readers. Teachers of these classes will be trained in the Orton-Gillingham approach as part of an intensive 10-day program.

Schools Chancellor David C. Banks said the department will look to these schools to learn lessons as it expands dyslexia programs to other boroughs.

“They will be innovation labs for us,” Mr. Banks said.

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The full-day programs won’t be the first in town. Bridge Preparatory Charter School, which opened on Staten Island in 2019, is the first and only public school in the state created to help children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. City officials worked closely with school officials to learn more about programming.

The chancellor and other education officials have also spent time studying the methods used at the Windward School, a private school with campuses in New York and White Plains that primarily serves children with dyslexia. Ms Quintana said teachers at Windward School would train teachers from other schools to help children with dyslexia.

Under the new plan, school officials will require principals, who can choose their curricula, to turn to a reading curriculum based on the science of reading. Many are currently using one developed by Columbia University Teachers College scholar Lucy Calkins, which has been repeatedly criticized.

Officials will require principals to choose from a handful of phonics-based programs to include in their comprehensive reading programs, such as Foundations, Really Great Reading and Preventing Academic Failure, Ms. Quintana said.

Mr. Adams and Mr. Banks – two black men who attended the city’s public schools – said solving the city’s reading crisis, in particular eliminating racial disparities in achievement scores Literacy was a top priority. The mayor often talks about reading in relation to the school-to-prison pipeline, noting that about 30-40 percent of inmates have dyslexia.

State officials also brainstormed ways to help children with dyslexia.

Assemblyman Robert C. Carroll, who represents Brooklyn’s 44th District, co-authored a bill that would direct the state to form an expert panel to develop guidelines for universal screening, evidence-based curricular interventions and teacher training programs.

Mr Carroll said he was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was in first grade and then attended two specialist schools.

“Having this individualized, evidence-based, sequential, multi-sensory, and phonetically rooted program has allowed me to become a successful student, reader, and writer,” he said. The bill passed the state Assembly on Wednesday and is now awaiting a decision in the Senate.

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