Unpacking California's AB 1369 Dyslexia bill

By: STEVE BARNES, S.S.P., BSc, M.S.Ed, Director of Support Services for The Prentice School 

California’s new education law, Assembly Bill 1369, which requires schools to enhance their screening for dyslexia concerns in K-12 students, is changing how schools reach and teach learning-challenged children. Signed into law in 2015 and effective at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, AB 1369 directs school systems to ensure that their students with reading disorders or dysfunctions get the educational assistance they need to overcome those learning barriers.

Why California’s legislature passed AB 1369

Research shows that while some 220,000 of California’s K-12 students currently have an Independent Education Program (IEP) aimed at assisting them with a dyslexia type of learning anomaly, another 780,000 who need the support don’t have such a plan. Further, individuals with reading challenges are more likely to drop out of school, struggle with finding gainful employment, or land in jail. Providing early and comprehensive educational support services to remediate a dyslexic reading concern should help those children to avoid these distressing outcomes.

How AB 1369 addresses the challenge

The bill adds several nuances to California’s existing “special education” law:

– It adds the phrase “phonological processing” to the description of “basic psychological processes,” which currently includes (among others) attention, auditory and visual processing, developmental aphasia and dyslexia. “Phonological processing” uses the sound of letters and words to process language meaning, giving children with dyslexia deficits the learning skills they need when they process what they hear.

– It expands the population of students who are eligible for special education and related services by improving the screening skills necessary to identify them.

– It clarifies the definition of “educational services” for dyslexic students, which now reads,” … evidence-based, multisensory, direct, explicit, structured and sequential approach to instructing students who have dyslexia.”

Implemented statewide

The bill also requires California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) to issue guidelines for schools to use to identify and support students with dyslexia. Higher educational schools will also use the guidelines in their instructional materials for teacher training.

To generate the guidelines, the SPI convened a Dyslexia Guidelines Work Group, which hosted a multifaceted team of educational and scientific professionals at seven meetings held over the one-year period beginning April of 2016 and ending March 2017.

In Fall 2017, the group published the “California Dyslexia Guidelines,” which are intended to cover all aspects of identifying and assisting children and families who struggle with learning deficits caused by dyslexia. In addition to defining dyslexia as a “language-learning disability,” the guidelines also help adults understand how dyslexia differs from other learning challenges, the strengths and weaknesses exhibited by dyslexic children and adults, and how to approach teaching children diagnosed with the condition. Not least important, the guidelines also include support and information for parents and guardians of dyslexic children, as well as information related to assistive technology that can contribute beneficially to the learning process.

At Prentice, we are encouraged that the legislative attention to the concern of dyslexia is raising the public’s awareness about the condition, which, hopefully, will further erode the stigma that unnecessarily burdens our young learners.

Steve joined Prentice in the summer of 2017. He has experience with the IEP process, PBIS procedures and NonPublic School placements. He received his Pupil Personnel Services Credential, and has his Educational Specialist Degree in School Psychology and his Master’s Degree in Educational Psychology, both from Chapman University. His Bachelor’s Degree is in Sociology with a minor in Education from University of California, Santa Cruz. Mr. Barnes has a passion for building relationships with students and families and thinks it is incredibly important for students to feel heard. The Prentice School, located in N. Tustin, California, is a private, Certified Nonpublic School (NPS) through the California Department of Education, and is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Prentice offers an unparalleled learning experience to students with learning differences who possess average-to-high intelligence and whose needs have not been met in a more traditional classroom setting.