Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law this week mandating schoolchildren who exhibit some signs of dyslexia or other reading disabilities be screened for the conditions before they leave the second grade, and if they test positive, receive proper help.
The law, which will be in effect next school year, is due in part to lobbying by Ocean City resident Beth Ravelli and her daughter Samantha. They have fought for about nine years to get better services for children with dyslexia and other reading disabilities.
“We are thrilled,” Beth Ravelli said earlier this month, when the bill cleared the state Senate. “This is just a load off my shoulders.”
Samantha was in third grade and could not read when the Ravellis began their quest. Now a 16-year-old high school junior, she is learning sign language as a second language.
The bill was locally sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Van Drew and former Assemblymen Nelson Albano and Matt Milam, all D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic.
“Providing screenings in our school districts will ensure that a student with a reading disability is identified early and that all students are provided access to the programs and services that they need to succeed,” Van Drew said in a statement. “I want to thank Beth and Samantha Ravelli for their advocacy over the years as we fought to ensure children, no matter where they lived, received the services they deserve. This wouldn’t have happened without their dedication and hard work.”
It is one of several proposals relating to learning disabilities pushed by the lawmakers.
The first, signed into law in August, requires two hours of teachers’ professional development be dedicated for screening, intervention and accommodation for students with reading disabilities. Another law requires the state Board of Education incorporate the International Dyslexia Association’s dyslexia definition into special education regulations.
A Senate resolution filed in June urged the state Board of Education to develop eligibility and training requirements for a reading-disabilities endorsement for teachers’ instructional certificates.
“We spend billions of dollars in the state each year on education, yet there are still students who are falling through the cracks,” Van Drew said in a statement. “Taken together, the reforms we worked on will provide systematic change in our school districts.”
The law Christie signed Tuesday requires the state commissioner of education to notify boards of education about the different screening tools available, as well as guide boards on the proper ways to intervene for those diagnosed in the screening. The tests must be administered by a properly trained teacher or staff member.
Screenings would start next school year but be mandatory by the 2015-16 school year for students in kindergarten through sixth grade who had not yet been screened.
Students who test positive for one or more learning disability indicators must undergo a more comprehensive assessment to confirm the diagnosis. Once confirmed, the law requires boards of education provide a variety of intervention strategies to the student. These include intense instruction on phonemic awareness, phonics and fluency, vocabulary and reading comprehension.
It is unclear how much the law will cost. The state Office of Legislative Services said costs would vary based on the districts’ screening methods and services. Assessments could cost more than $4 million, and intervention costs could range from $15 million to $155 million statewide.
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