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Feds Sketch Out Details of Literacy Center for Students With Disabilities

30-SR-Literacy-Alabama-Reading-Initiative-selma-blog.jpgThe Every Student Succeeds Act, the successor to No Child Left Behind, promised the creation of a center aimed at reducing illiteracy among students in special education (among other provisions affecting students with disabilities).

Now we have an better idea of the scope and purpose of that center, thanks to a request for applications published last week in the Federal Register. 

The "Comprehensive Center on Improving Literacy for Students With Disabilities" (which will most likely have a snazzier name and acronym when funded) is intended to provide resources for students from early education through high school and will serve several purposes, according to the Register notice. The center will :

  • "Identify or develop free or low-cost evidence-based assessment tools for identifying students at risk of not attaining full literacy skills due to a disability, including dyslexia impacting reading or writing, or developmental delay impacting reading, writing, language processing, comprehension, or executive functioning;"
  • "Identify evidence-based literacy instruction, strategies, and accommodations, including assistive technology, designed to meet the specific needs of such students;"
  • Partner with parent groups to assist this particular group of students;
  • Develop or identify professional development for teachers, school leaders and other personnel that will allow them to understand early risk factors, implement evidence-based screening, and use appropriate instruction to meet these students' needs;
  • Spread the results of the center's work to states, districts, and schools. 

An interesting question to consider is how—or if—this center's work could expand beyond students who are officially diagnosed with disabilities. In 2015, about a quarter of 4th-graders without disabilities scored below basic on the National Assessment for Educational Progress. Students with disabilities are clearly doing worse—67 percent of them scored below basic—but there's a substantial minority of students who are not in special education who are still struggling to read. (Hat tip to the Advocacy Institute for crunching the numbers in a digestible format.) 

The center will be funded for approximately $7.5 million for up to five years, and applications are due July 25.

File photo: Kindergartners Jaylen Rivers, Jalisha Lee, and KenmaJ Shell, left to right, practice literacy skills with their teacher, Diane Daniel, at Southside Primary School in Selma, Ala in 2015—Julie Bennett for Education Week.

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