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Alabama’s New Dyslexia Legislation

Alabama’s New Dyslexia Legislation

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The Alabama State Department of Education introduced dyslexia amendments to the Alabama Administrative Code (AAC) in early October 2015. The AAC sets forth rules that govern Alabama’s public schools.

Previously in Alabama, there were no specific requirements for schools to even acknowledge dyslexia, much less screen students and provide dyslexia-specific intervention. Some school administrators even refused to use the word “dyslexia”. There was no early identification, and students with dyslexia were served only when their academic progress fell to the point the school would support them through special education. Even then, many dyslexic students who are bright, and have average to above average intelligence would not qualify for special education services. When you consider that dyslexia affects roughly 20% of the population, or 1 in 5 people, it is clear that too many Alabama school children were not being supported.

The first important piece of this legislation creates a legal definition of dyslexia for the state of Alabama.

According to the Alabama State Department of Education and the Alabama Administrative Code, dyslexia is defined as “a learning challenge that is neurological in origin and characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the delivery of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”
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With the passage of this “Dyslexia Bill of Rights”, the State Department of Education will make available dyslexia training, that must be accredited by the International Dyslexia Association, in the multisensory language approach to educators, who will then support other teachers in their schools. A multisensory approach utilizes all the learning pathways: seeing, hearing, feeling, and kinesthetic awareness. Additionally, classroom teachers will be provided on-going professional development using specific research-based strategies proven to be effective for students with dyslexia, to equip them to meet the needs of students with dyslexia in classrooms across the state.

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What Dyslexia Legislation Means For You

This bill will require each school district to provide dyslexia screening for any student who scores below the 25th percentile in reading on the universal screening currently being conducted with students in the district, and/or for any student upon teacher or parent/guardian request. Each school’s Problem Solving Team (PST), part of the Response to Intervention (RtI) framework, will determine appropriate dyslexia-specific interventions, monitor student progress, and report that progress to parents. Each school must provide dyslexia-specific intervention through general education classes, and provide access to assistive technology and other needed accommodations. This is a significant change for students with dyslexia, who previously only received support in most Alabama public schools if they were identified for special education, or had a 504 plan.

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It should be noted that these screenings do not constitute a diagnosis of dyslexia, but rather an indicator that the student may benefit from dyslexia-specific interventions aimed at remediating reading, writing, and spelling difficulties. If a student does not respond to the dyslexia-specific interventions offered by the school, other educational assessments might be suggested to allow parents the option of referral for special education services in the public school setting. Parents might also consider more frequent, individualized tutoring outside of what the school offers, or a different school setting altogether.
Boy read book
The dyslexia amendments also established the Alabama Dyslexia Advisory Council, which has worked closely with State Department personnel to develop these amendments and provide valuable resources for educators and parents. These resources, as well as a more detailed outline of the plan for Alabama schools can be found in the Dyslexia Resource Guide. Alabama’s new dyslexia legislation is progress for local families affected by this disorder, but we still have more work to do.

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[themify_box style=”lavender rounded” ]HargettABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Debbie Hargett is the Head of Greengate School in Huntsville. She has more than 28 years of experience in K-12 and post-secondary education. She holds a doctorate in Organizational Leadership, certification in Education Administration, and a Master of Arts in Teaching. She retired from Huntsville City Schools in 2012, having held positions as a classrooms teacher, coach, athletic director, assistant principal, principal, and consultant. She most recently served as an adjunct instructor at Faulkner University where she served as a Research Project Manager. [/themify_box]



View Comments (10)
  • It is way past due! I am Slingerland trained and have worked screening for and remediating dyslexia for twenty years. A simultaneous multi sensory approach and an abundance of learning strategies are the necessary components of a successful program. Teachers must understand the basic definition of dyslexia. The first yellow flag should go up if you here, “he can do it if he’d just try!” Humans are natural born learners. If if s child is not learning…there’s a problem. Hopefully we can now address the needs of the dyslexic population. Don’t screw it up because the dyslexic kids won’t say, “you’re screwing up this opportunity for me to learn”. They will only go back into their oppressive world and think, “I am stupid”. A harsh word but it’s what they think. Passing this law is great, but effective training for remediation is intense. I have my concerns….

  • What is “Fairness” in Education?
    Some teachers personally struggle with what fairness in education means when it involves children with learning disabilities. That struggle usually stems from a lack of knowledge and training in these areas (such as dyslexia). However, teachers who receive professional training on dyslexia typically do not struggle with the same emotional fairness conflicts that are seen in untrained teachers. Trained teachers know that fairness has nothing to do with other students. Trained educators know that the fairness doctrine covers 95% of a student’s time in the classroom, and not just during special education services. In fact, special education services represent a small adjunct to student support. The classroom teacher is responsible for implementing the majority of that support. Which brings me to my next point…..Fairness includes “access” to education. The term “accessibility” in education is misunderstood. Having accessibility to public education does not mean simply having access to textbooks, teachers and classrooms. It means having textbooks with readability, teachers with training on teaching to children with learning disabilities and classrooms that are friendly to the accessible environment. An example of accessibility is when a teacher slows down the pace of speaking and allows more time for response to questions. If the teacher speaks to the student at a pace that the dyslexic student finds difficult to process and the student does not have enough time to respond, then the teacher’s speaking pace and time spent awaiting a student’s response are “not accessible” and “not fair” to the dyslexic student. “Accessibility” and “Fairness” includes accommodations in reading, reading fluency, mathematics, writing and spelling, organization, pace reduction, extended time, homework, methods of marking and grading, testing, copying and note-taking, and format of reading materials worksheets, assignments and tests. (And don’t let anyone tell you it’s not). Parents need to know the types of accommodations that “level the playing field” and provide appropriate accessibility and fairness in education for their child. In my new book on dyslexia called “A Child’s Touchstone”, Dyslexia guidance for “less than perfect” Parents and Teachers, I describe these accommodations. Hope you enjoyed my comments. Warmly, Lorraine Donovan.

  • How do we screen the kids. My son needs this test. To test him is gonna cost me 500 dollars that Iddon’t have.

    • Contact Scottish Rite chapter nearest you. In 2001 when I had my son evaluated it was free. Also check out ‘reading for the blind and dyslexic’ to get books on audio recording. Voice recognition software, spelling buddy are some good resources.

    • You can receive testing for dyslexia at the Scottish Rite foundation in Huntsville Alabama free of charge. But there is a lengthy waiting list usually 8 to 9 months.

  • Scottish Rites Mason’s have reading difficulties & dyslexia as their area of community service. Google it and contact the chapter nearest to you. Testing and evaluation was free in 2001 when I got my son evaluated.

  • What are the guidelines for testing students? Should the parents be notified if their child is being tested? Shouldn’t there be a parental consent? Parent involvement?

    • Gina – parental consent and involvement is necessary to the process. There is a parental interview required to start the testing process.

  • What if your school hasn’t trained anyone is SPIRE and they aren’t even utilizing SPIRE (which is their dyslexia specific curriculum of choice)? How do we go about getting help for our daughter?

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