The state of Arizona recently passed a new law to help kids with . And it was all because of two moms who wanted to advocate for their kids.
Jenifer Kasten and Meriah Houser both have children with dyslexia. They were concerned when they saw kids like theirs not being identified or helped early enough. Teachers weren’t getting the training they needed to understand and properly teach kids with dyslexia.
Many kids were also being left back in the third grade because they didn’t do well enough on a state-required reading exam. That exam is part of Arizona’s Move On When Reading program. And the law behind it said that kids whose score “falls far below” on the exam couldn’t move on.
The two women felt that wasn’t fair to kids with dyslexia, especially because these kids usually didn’t receive any specialized reading instruction before third grade. “Kids are not even diagnosed until third grade,” explains Kasten. “This makes it nearly impossible for them to pass or get the proper .”
Kasten and Houser met in August 2013 in an art therapy class meant to help their kids deal with school anxieties. They began discussing the problems with the current laws right away. They knew they wanted to make a change. And they knew that other states had already made changes to protect kids with dyslexia.
Both were active advocates: Hauser founded Decoding Dyslexia Arizona and Kasten is a member of that group and a blogger for Understood. But they’d never done anything like this before.
For about a year, the two worked on the project. They sent emails to the community about their ideas for a new law. Their supporters called their representatives. Expert witnesses came forward to help them. They worked with politicians and gained social support. And in January 2015 they began talking about the actual language for the bill.
The bill they proposed does several things to help kids with dyslexia. It gets dyslexia recognized under state law. It provides incentives for teachers to learn more about how to identify and work with kids with dyslexia. And it exempts children with dyslexia from being held back in third grade if they don’t pass the test.
The finished bill received “virtually unanimous votes at each stage of the process,” says Kasten. It was signed into law in April as SB 1461. And the law went into effect on July 3, 2015.
“I have a background in law and public policy, but until this experience, I never led a campaign from start to finish,” says Kasten. “It was intense and emotional!” Both women are excited about the change they helped create. But they say it’s just a beginning.
“Ultimately, we believe that all children with dyslexia are capable of learning to read by third grade if they are identified early and provided intensive, evidence-based instruction,” says Kasten. “That’s our goal—but we can’t get there until our state has trained teachers and provided adequate resources, and until all local school districts recognize what works and decide to do it.”
Kasten believes this new law is an important first step.
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Melissa A. Kay is a writer, editor, and content strategist in the areas of family, health, employment, beauty, lifestyle, and more.