Getting ahead of special education | Guest Column

By Lauren Wall

My comment is on the issue of special education cost overruns and the issue of having to dip into the general fund, as addressed in a recent San Juan Journal article titled “Working to Increase School Funding at the State Level” by Heather Spaulding. I hope that our district receives increased funding for Special education services, as proposed in House Bill 1436 and Senate Bill 5311 but, in the meantime, I feel like we need to look at how can we decrease the number of children that are in Special Education in our district to begin with.

One such intervention is shifting the English language arts program in our district from balanced to structured literacy. With up to 160 students in our district having dyslexia and with dyslexia being the top diagnosis for learning disabilities, it makes sense to ask, how can we better serve these children? How can we give them a strong foundation so that they do have a reduced need or no need at all for additional services as they move through the grades.

The International Dyslexia Association states that “There is evidence that classroom instruction in Structured Literacy reduces the number of students requiring more intensive support in small-group or individualized settings.” In other words, when you don’t give students what they need to succeed in the Tier 1 setting, you create a larger number of children that need services through Title I or specialized designed instruction in the Special Education setting.

Wilson Fundations is a great program and is based in the Science of Reading. I am so pleased that our district uses this program. This program is used for only 30 minutes a day though and we need to ask ourselves, why aren’t we using a curriculum that works well alongside foundations instead of employing strategies that are in complete contrast to it? Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study is not structured literacy, it is not supported by peer-reviewed, high-quality studies and it has received a failing grade by EdnReports. Leveled readers are also not supported by research. Our children deserve better. They deserve a comprehensive structured literacy approach.

Our district has the capability to shift from the current model. With the right instruction, students with dyslexia can read at grade level. They may never need the services of Title I or Special Education. On the other side of that story is a child who continues to fall further and further behind and needs specialized services to reach grade-level competency. I want the district to take a preventative approach to learning and hope, in time, that this approach will also improve the financial health of our district.