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Communication Issues Turned Behavioral Issues: Schools Must do Better

I recently read an article about students with Communication Disabilities being denied safe access to education.  As an advocate, I see this often with children that use assistive technology for communication but also with students that have significant learning disabilities.  Many youngsters with significant learning disabilities have language deficits (a major part of communication) that seriously impact their reading skills and executive functioning skills.

Children with any kind of communication learning difference are underserved by virtue of the lack of support they require for success. Such as, 1-1 support either in school or for remote learning.  During COVID 19 and remote learning, this has become even more of a struggle as parents are trying to not only work, but to provide their child the support related to language and communication struggles. Students should receive this support when in school, but, unfortunately, normally do not even when they are in school in-person.  As children grow older, communication issues often result in behavior issues, due to the inability to communicate!

I recently worked with several children who do not read at grade level and have learning disabilities (LD), thereby, are being “sucked up” into the READ Act (which says children will read at grade level by third grade).  Fat chance!  If there is a true learning disability, most, but not all, with LD never read at their grade level. The READ Act went into action in 2012.  Since then, there has been only a 2% improvement in reading scores of children with learning disabilities in Colorado. The statistics of this Act were so dismal that they prompted a total revision of the law after 8 years of no progress.

In 2019, the statistics on the READ Act were sadly lacking in meeting the vision of the act when passed in 2012.  The vision for the READ Act for children in K-3 school, was that by third grade every Colorado child would read at grade level with interventions supported by funds from the State. When enacted, roughly 38% of students in k-3, read at grade level.  After 5 years, there was a rise to only 40%.

A Colorado State Senator from Carbondale, Bob Rankin said, “Only 40 percent of our kids are reading at grade level at third grade” (explaining the push to overhaul the program). “It hasn’t changed in the years that this has been in place — eight years. This is a national problem. We’re not the only state dealing with this.”

Consequently, the READ Act was “overhauled” beginning in 2019 and finalized in March 2020 with the acceptance of the rules governing the new READ Act.  It has many new features, including a requirement that teachers implementing plans complete  evidence-based training in teaching reading. The Colorado Department of Education states that “Colorado school districts are required to ensure that all K-3 teachers complete evidence-based training in teaching reading as a result of changes to the Colorado READ Act in SB 19-199*. Following a six-month extension approved by the State Board of Education**, all kindergarten through third-grade teachers must complete the teacher training by Jan. 31, 2022. Districts, BOCES, and charters that do not meet the requirements will be ineligible for READ Act funds for the 2022-23 school year.”

Moving forward, I encourage families to attend to their child’s reading skills.  READ Plans, if one is developed (parents are not always included in the development) should monitor their child’s reading at each of the grade levels and parents should see the percentages improving consistently.  Keep in mind that the goal is to read at grade level by the end of third grade.  Statistics offered by the State say that if not reading at grade level, there is the strong possibility that the child “will be more likely to drop out, end up in prison and develop feelings of low self-worth and other mental health issues.”

*Senate Bill 19-199

**State Board extends deadline for READ Act teacher training 

Submitted by Cg La Scala
Resources of information for this article come from The Colorado Sun, Colorado Public Radio, and the Colorado Department of Education website.

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