Pending Dyslexia Legislation in Massachusetts

by Nancy Duggan, MA. S.C.

Decoding Dyslexia Massachusetts (DD-MA) began a campaign in 2012 to raise dyslexia awareness across the state through collaboration with parents, educators, and neuroscience researchers. The effort has made steady progress in building dyslexia awareness in the parent, educator, and policy-maker communities.

Initiating Legislative Action

Since 2013, dyslexia legislation in Massachusetts has come further along than ever before.One of DD-MA’s goals goals has been to initiate legislative changes that would help students get early services by providing the scientific context for dyslexia and the need for early identification.

The legislative process in Massachusetts includes a two-year session. We have worked together to navigate the process. Public Dyslexia Hill Days, private meetings, and multiple public hearings have provided legislators with:

  • an understanding of the challenges that families face,
  • the need for educators and students to get support,
  • the relevant neuroscience research that supports our mission.

Dyslexia legislation has come further along the path than ever before. The 2016–2018 legislative session started with four proposed bills, H.330, H.2872, S.294, and S.313, that can be called “dyslexia legislation” pertaining to education. These bills were supported, in combination, by over 50 different members of the Massachusetts 190th General Court, the official title of the State Legislature.

Special thanks goes out to the initial sponsors who drafted this legislation, Rep. Alice Peisch of Wellesley and Rep. Chris Walsh of Framingham, chair and vice-chair, respectively, of the Joint Committee on Education; Sen. Bruce Tarr and Sen. Barbara L’Italien; and the legislators who petitioned alongside them. The vibrant team of
DD-MA students, parents, educators, and neuroscience researchers are responsible for calling attention to this issue as a passionate, respectful, and informed team of advocates for improved outcomes, and these legislators are working together to take action.

The Legislative Process

The legislative process in Massachusetts requires a hearing, which took place on July 11, 2017.  Families joined a powerful team of experts who explained to the legislators in live testimony and with written testimony the need for dyslexia legislation, particularly the importance of early screening and identification, a clear and accurate understanding in schools of what dyslexia is, and that evidenced-based instruction, teacher training and professional development are needed.

DD-MA worked with families across the state and multi-disciplinary experts to ensure that the testimony was scientifically sound, broad-based, including social-emotional outcomes, academic outcomes, and teacher, educator, and administrator support.

Whats Next?

DD-MA is very pleased that the Joint Committee on Education has released legislation favorably that addresses dyslexia and early screening. Both the House and the Senate will consider the same version in each chamber. When the new draft language is public, it will be posted on theMassachusetts State Legislature website. Once the redrafted bills, with new numbers, are made public, the clerk will also post which committee will be next to consider the legislation.

For the time being, parents, students, and educators can continue to advocate for dyslexia awareness and the need for the legislation to pass by building a positive and informed relationship with your State Representative, State Senator, and their legislative staff.  Share with them your personal story and express interest in the outcome of dyslexia legislation.

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Nancy Duggan is the Executive Director of Decoding Dyslexia Massachusetts.

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