By Jocelyn Brisebois
In October 2018, Massachusetts legislators passed a law requiring school districts to begin testing students for dyslexia. In practice, supporters hope for dyslexia screening to replicate the screening process used for vision and hearing testing of students in public school districts. The purpose of the law is to ensure early identification and subsequent accommodations, modification, and additional early intervention educational services. Schools will test students in subject areas such as phonemic awareness and naming speed and will be required to adopt “evidence-based dyslexia remediation” programs.
With the passage of “An Act Relative to Students with Dyslexia,” Massachusetts law G.L. c. 71 has been amended to include the following section:
Section 57A: The department of elementary and secondary education, in consultation with the department of early education and care, shall, subject to appropriation, issue guidelines to assist districts in developing screening procedures or protocols for student that demonstrate 1 or more potential indicators of a neurological learning disability including, but not limited to, dyslexia.
In passing the act, legislators reasoned that many students in Massachusetts have been falling behind in school due to the school district’s failure to diagnose students with dyslexia. Further, Senator Barbara L’Italien noted, “…identification and teaching will not cost additional money. It would probably be cheaper than the extraordinary levels of funding for remediation.”
As school districts begin to develop plans to implement the requirements under the new law, many administrators have departed from paper tests, and have instead looked to new and innovative technology to use for screening purposes. For instance, a company called Lexplore developed a dyslexia screening tool that pairs eye tracking cameras with AI and algorithms based upon the understanding that eye movement is a prominent way to diagnose dyslexia. The tool allows analysts to follow and trace the reader’s eye movement as he or she reads to track for regressive movements and irregular pauses, which is typical of a dyslexic reader. While the paper tests surrounding this method of diagnosis are complicated to understand, challenging to read, and too often inaccurate, Lexplore claims that its product has a 95% accuracy in diagnosing dyslexia. However, despite the added subjectivity and reliability of technological testing, the high price of products like the tool created by Lexplore has prevented its use in most public schools.
With the passage of the new screening law, Massachusetts school districts should consider what affordable technology might be available to help test students for dyslexia in a more accurate and timely manner than traditional written tests.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.