Tincy Miller: Be Careful Before Making Any Legislative Changes to Texas’ Dyslexia Law

The Story of the Texas’ Dyslexia Law

By Tincy Miller

AUSTIN, Texas (Texas Insider Report) — 
My story begins in 1958 when my oldest son was born (the oldest of four). Thirteen years later in 1971, he rebelled… thus begins my journey: A journey that Robert Frost referred to in the last paragraph of his famous “The Road Not Taken” poem:
 
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I…
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Or as the famous baseball player, Yogi Berra said: “When you arrive at a fork in the road, take it.”

In seeking the answers to my son’s problems, I found myself going back to academia for the answers – by age 19, we had discovered he had an IQ of 145, along with a form of dyslexia called dysgraphia.

By then, my journey had taken me to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital (TSRH,) where I became an Academic Language Therapist earning my Masters in Reading from Texas A&M Commerce.  During the eight years I taught in the Reading Laboratory at TSRH Highland Park Presbyterian Mediative School, as well as one-on-one teaching with children with dyslexia and related disorders, I became passionate about these precious children who traditionally fall through the cracks… just like my son.

In 1983, Texas passed the most comprehensive reform in public Education requiring higher expectations of students and teachers.  It became known as the famous “No Pass, No Play” law. Texas' 1,200 school districts were mandated to have students study and pass before they had the privilege of playing a sport, such as: football.

Needless to say, the schools were pretty upset.  There was a glaring omission; no safety net for the children I knew and taught – the very ones who were traditionally forgotten in the public school system.

Therefore, I made up my mind to try and find a way to help them.

As Joyce Pickering, chairman Emeritus of the Shelton School in Dallas, states:  “These children are very gifted. They are the students who think out of the box, our future entrepreneurs”.

In 1984, the Governor of Texas appointed me to serve on the new appointed State Board of Education.  A four-year term to then revert to an elected board in 1989.  In January of 1985, three bills on Dyslexia came to my desk.  I sent them over to Dr. Lucius Waites at TSRH for his advice.

He sent them back and said to: “Go for it!”

The Texas Legislature meets every odd year from January to May. I only had 5 months to work on these bills.  Thanks to my husband, Vance, who loaned me his lobbyist to teach me how to work the legislature, we were able to facilitate the passage of two out of the three bills.

The original bill (HB 157, 69th Legislature) defined dyslexia and related disorders mandating screening and treatment by the local school districts. The second bill (later repealed) mandated continuing education for teachers on dyslexia and related disorders.  The third bill that failed related to college courses on dyslexia being required.  The bills were authored by Sen. Ted Lyon and Rep. Bill Hammond.

An unhappy teacher called to tell me that when I leave the State Board of Education (SBOE,) the law will be repealed. Whereupon, I told him that I wasn’t leaving – 26 years later I served as an elected member of the SBOE, and made sure that the Dyslexia Law was implemented.

The following is the chronological order of its implementation: 

December, 1986: Texas Education Agency sent a letter to all school districts explaining that the law needed to be implemented at all grade levels. (K-12).

January, 1987: The State Board of Education approved the first procedures and guidelines. In 1987 the 70th Legislature repealed the professional development law because it was connected to the career ladder and the teachers did not want to be evaluated to earn extra money.

March, 1990: Special Education teachers (who did not want the law,) called for a public hearing on the law. Over 800 people – parents, students, teachers & administrators – attended from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and testifyied by a two to one margin that, “yes” the dyslexia law was needed, and rules were needed to implement the law because school districts were not implementing the law.  (By the way, this was when there were no cell phones, computers or faxes to get the word out…we did it the old fashioned way: writing letters and making telephone calls to our friends).  This was truly democracy in action – the grassroots can make a difference. 

In 1991: 72nd Legislature passed HB 1314, Accommodations for the students with dyslexia was allowed.

In 1992: First Dyslexia Handbook was approved by the SBOE and published by TEA with an overview of state and federal requirements, including a question and answer section.

In 1993-1994: First State Coordinator position was created in Region Service Center X with the approval of then Comm. Skip Meno.  The first state coordinator was Jo Polk followed by Cindy Hipes, Helen Macik and Brenda Taylor.  SB 7 was passed requiring accommodations for testing dyslexic students.

In 1995-1997: Important years for Texas.  George W. Bush was elected as Governor of Texas and took on reading by inaugurating his reading initiative with $80 million.  This law became known as “No Child Left Behind,” and stated that all children will read by 3rd Grade.

During this time, because it had been ten years since the education code had been written, the legislature mandated the entire education code be rewritten for public schools again. Realizing our Dyslexia Law could be lost I made a very important call to the author, former Sen. Ted Lyon, for his help in getting the Dyslexia Law rolled over into the new education law. Thanks to his friendship and support, former Sen. Ted Lyon, was able to get this done.

During these two years (1995-1997,) our SBOE was in charge of updating all state curriculum (K-12).  Thanks to my good reading teacher friends, they helped me find the best qualified teachers to serve on the committee to rewrite and update the Reading Curriculum (K-12,) resulting (historically) in the passage of the first phonics-based Reading Curriculum for Texas.

Ten years later in 2009, we were again able to update the 1997 Reading Curriculum with a stronger explicit scientific-research phonics-based curriculum, and those reading textbooks for 2010-2011 were adopted.   Part of the $80 million covered Summer Reading Academies and Dyslexia Academies for teachers K-3rd  grade (until the money ran out.)

Proving phonics works, in 2003, 98% of all third graders passed the State TAKS Reading Test.  Since our Dyslexia Students need phonics, the new updated research-based phonics curriculum in Texas reinforces their learning to read, write and spell.  

In 1997 the Legislature passed the Student Success (Funding) Initiative and Reading Diagnosis for early identification of reading difficulties, such as: Dyslexia and related disorders (TEC 28.006) Informal screening was developed for the early identification.

Also, Commissioner Mike Moses approved $300,000 for Dyslexia Coordinators in all 20 Region Service Centers.
 
  • In 1998… the Dyslexia Handbook was updated.
  • In 2001… another update of the Dyslexia Procedures and Handbook.
  • In 2003… TEC 7.028 (b) Limitation on Compliance Monitoring was passed.
In 2004, as a result of a longitudinal study by TEA, Bundling Accommodations for Assessments were implemented.  The purpose? To be able to test our students with Dyslexia with three bundling accommodations without invalidating the state test.
 
  1. Oral reading of proper nouns
  2. Oral reading of questions and answers on multiply choice, and
  3. Extended time over two days.
Results went from 9% to 41% success for elementary through middle school students. (longitudinal study continues with High School students).

In 2007 and 2010, Texas' Dyslexia Handbook was revised to include the current research of the experts in the field of Dyslexia with page numbers to support early intervention and quality training of teachers with the ability to prevent reading failure by 95%. And the new Licensure Law passed (on the third try (’05 and “07) in 2009 81st Legislature (effective, Sept. 1, 2010).

In closing, I am reminded of the words of Emerson:

“Do not go where the path may lead. Go where there is no path and leave a trail.” This has been an incredible journey of how one very important law to keep our students with dyslexia from falling through the cracks of public education was implemented – and I am so glad I took that path or fork in the road.

It has truly made all the difference – for millions of children and families members across America.

Tincy Miller represented Dist. 12 on the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) for more than 30 years.  A Member from 1984 until 2019, she was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to serve as SBOE Chair from 2003-2007.
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