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Disability, Literacy Groups Unite On Common Reading Goal

The push to have all children reading on grade level by third grade must include students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, say two advocacy groups who have bonded over this common goal.

The Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, based in New Haven, Conn., has made grants to support children with learning disabilities and their families since 1992. The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a coalition of philanthropies and associations working towards improving literacy among low-income children. The two organizations have come together to promote a new initiative called "Don't 'Dys' Our Kids," which offers policy solutions for including students with disabilities like dyslexia in literacy promotion efforts.

For example, the groups promote the idea of early identification and research-based interventions for children with reading disabilities, including individualized learning profiles for struggling students. The groups also want to see improved training for teachers and more family engagement for parents of children with dyslexia.

Stewart Hudson, the president of the Tremaine Foundation, said that the organization's work also connects to the growing nationwide interest in early-childhood education. Identifying children with dyslexia early in their school careers is key to providing them with appropriate services, he said. The foundation provides grant support to the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute in Chapel Hill, N.C. The institute is working on a project called "recognition and response", which offers a method to identify young children struggling with preliteracy skills.

"What is revolutionary here is looking at dyslexia as part of a broader educational need," Hudson said in an interview. "We've been thinking about this for some time, and it seems so obvious to me that we should be making common cause with the larger literacy movement."

The organizations have also drafted several high-profile supporters with dyslexia, including Peter Shumlin, the governor of Vermont. Other governors with dyslexia include Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Phil Bryant of Mississippi. (Each governor's name is linked to a news story where they discuss their experiences with dyslexia.)

Shumlin and Malloy visited Washington to promote the initiative created by the two organizations. "My teachers were quick to write me off in the early grades, but once I was identified with dyslexia, I got the help I needed to succeed," Shumlin said at a press event. "I want to make sure that every child in Vermont has a chance to learn to read proficiently, graduate from high school and go on to college."

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