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The Other Achievement Gap: Children With Learning Disabilities

Just in time for Learning Disabilities Awareness Month, a new report is out that discusses how to help more children with dyslexia become proficient readers.

Without these students—who combined with other students with learning disabilities make up about 5 percent of the school-age population—schools can't overcome the achievement gap, the report notes.

The report, commissioned by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, offers a number of recommendations for policymakers and educators. They include: high expectations for all learners with accountability measures that indicate how individual students are doing; early-childhood programs that prepare children for reading and identify young children at risk of having reading problems; curricula, instructional practices and tools, and assessments that are science-based and accessible to all students; and teacher training and ongoing professional development that incorporate findings from neuroscience as well as best practices for how to teach reading.

But how do you accomplish all of those things?

A related document called "Don't 'Dys' Our Kids," notes that new research finds that dyslexia isn't the result of poverty, culture, or developmental delays but a neurobiological condition. An educational approach that activates multiple areas of the brain, the report says, and gets students to communicate with each other has the best chance of succeeding. Teaching must be individualized to each learner to find the strategies that drive each person's brain most effectively.

The report favors response to intervention over IQ tests to identify learning disabilities, but points out that there are concerns about low-quality implementation of RTI.

In addition, it notes a split in the learning disabilities community over the best assessment tools, and whether students with dyslexia should be tested at all.

The new Common Core State Standards provide an opportunity for higher standards and better assessments for students with learning disabilities, and some advocates suggest linking students' education plans to the standards. Another opportunity: No Child Left Behind waivers. But those efforts could also undermine accountability for the achievement of students with learning disabilities.

Be on the lookout for a story that looks at that issue more closely by my colleague Michele McNeil next week.

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