February 12, 2019
March 20, 2019


WORDS: Dr. Kirstina Ordetx

According to Florida Senator Gayle Harrell, “Reading is the most important skill that our students must learn to be successful.  They must learn to read and read to learn.” Having a family member with dyslexia brought the issue of struggling readers to the forefront for Harrell, who spearheaded HB 887 and advocated for changes in the law through Florida HB 7069. 

Harrell expresses her concern at the rate of third grade students who have consistently performed below grade level in reading over the past years. She is hoping that the new changes, which became a law in October 2017, will bring both the prevention and intervention that students with dyslexia desperately need to become successful, lifelong, readers.

Dyslexia is defined by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) as“a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is 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 provision of effective classroom instruction.”  

Research indicates that for the dyslexic student, IQ and reading are not linked.  In fact, where these students struggle with reading, they may excel in other areas like problem-solving, STEM, art, athletics, and music. Although there is no cure for dyslexia, there are proven methods to help students learn to read with specific strategies, recognition of spelling pattern and rules, and explicit instruction of phonetic concepts. 

Historically, parents of struggling readers have shared stories of raising bright and talented children who just could not read. For several possible reasons, the term dyslexia was infrequently identified or unsupported by specific services in schools across our country. Thanks to the unrelenting efforts of dyslexia advocates and the sponsorship of Senator Harrell, things are looking up for students who are at risk or identified with dyslexia in the State of Florida. The highlights in the law include:

  • Requires all teachers who provide reading interventions to hold a reading certificate or endorsement beginning with the 2020-2021 school year.
  • Requires school districts to provide elementary teachers access to training in effective methods of identifying characteristics of dyslexia.
  • Requires statewide screening in kindergarten.
  • Amends the core curricula to include evidence-based instruction including explicit, systematic, and sequential approaches to teaching phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and text comprehension using multi-sensory strategies.
  • Adjusted requirements for renewal of teaching certification to include 2 college credits of reading instruction.

Today, most states have added specific laws and updated their education statutes to clearly define dyslexia and provide guidelines to their school districts on how to identify students with dyslexia and implement appropriate intervention. This awareness will prompt support on what has been considered by many parents as an overlooked disability. 

Without proper identification, dyslexia does not often become evident to others until grade three, the time when students are expected to read with accuracy and fluency, and a clear indication exists that some are falling behind in reading. For these students, what may have started with challenges in recognizing the relationship between sounds and letters, rhyming, or blending sounds together to read simple words like ‘cat’, ultimately impacts all aspects of reading.  By grade three, the dyslexic student may experience impaired self-confidence, poor association with reading, and social embarrassment in the classroom.  Reading aloud, taking tests, and completing homework can become a daily struggle. 

Early identification is key. Intervention in the K-2 school years can assist students in building a strong foundation for reading through explicit instruction, better preparing them to tackle grade-level content and preventing the gap from widening.  In fact, nationally recognized authorities on reading intervention suggest that even an inexpensive screening process can identify at-risk children in mid-kindergarten with 85% accuracy and if intervention is not implemented prior to age 8, the probability of reading challenges into high school is 75%. Findings from screenings can be used to make informed decisions about intervention and progress monitoring.

One of the International Dyslexia Association’s top advisors, Dr. Louisa Moats, believes that learning to read is a complex linguistic achievement, and cannot be addressed in a few short weekly lessons. She says: “When it comes to dyslexia, access to specific interventions delivered by highly trained individuals is critical. Teaching reading is a job for an expert.”

Hence, it is recommended that students who have a significant reading challenges should be evaluated by a professional and receive the proper attention to develop tools and strategies to decode words in print at the earliest possible age.  However, we can postulate that the dyslexia-specific language in the state laws is a step in the right direction and that the universal screening, improved preparedness of teachers, and a closer look at scientifically proven interventions, will pave the way for a brighter future for all students. 

For more information about dyslexia and the laws in our state, please visit:

  • Dr. Kirstina Ordetx is a developmental specialist, who educates and conducts research on instructional approaches and strategies to help children and adolescents who face language-based learning differences and related exceptionalities to overcome their academic and social-emotional challenges.  She is the Head of the Pinnacle Academy and Executive Director of the Therapy and Reading Center of Lakewood Ranch.  Dr. Ordetx is a Certified Dyslexia Practitioner and a Board Member for the International Dyslexia Association Florida Chapter.  

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