Warmest wishes from all of us at the
Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity.
2019 is off to a busy and very exciting start.
The recent unsettling scandal around college admissions has cast a shadow on an innocent, hard-working, group of students who had nothing at all to do with the cheating but may suffer repercussions from the slimy behavior of others. The scandal reflected the actions of parents who had their non-learning disabled children claim to have a learning disability so that they could cheat -- have someone else fill out the answers to their child's exam. Here double damage was done--not only violating any sense of honesty but also doing potential great harm to a large group of innocent students -- those who have true learning disabilities such as dyslexia and are highly dependent on accommodations to display their knowledge on tests such as the ACT and SAT.

Dyslexia is real -- powerful neurobiological evidence indicates that people who are dyslexic, no matter how bright, read by a different pathway, one that takes them more time. The fast-paced automatic neural circuit is not available to dyslexics so they must take a secondary, slower pathway that will eventually allow them to decipher the printed word but at a cost of additional time. Of course, dyslexics themselves would strongly prefer not to have to take this route but they have no choice. Although often still feeling rushed, the accommodation of extra time allows the dyslexic reader to compensate for having to rely on these slower, non-automatic neural pathways.

Having accommodations doesn't give a test-taker the answer, but it allows his/her brain the time it needs to read the question and access the higher-level thinking and reasoning systems that help the dyslexic use the context to figure out a word. And while people who are dyslexic have trouble decoding and reading rapidly, they often have an excellent vocabulary and strong comprehension. This is in accordance with our Sea of Strengths model, which recognizes the paradox that is dyslexia -- a weakness in decoding words surrounded by strengths in higher level thinking. It takes time to access these strengths and so just as a diabetic requires insulin, a dyslexic requires extra time so that the test is a true measure of his or her ability and knowledge rather than a reflection of their disability.

Accommodations are not meant to give dyslexic students a leg up on their classmates, but rather to level the playing field. The most critical accommodation for a dyslexic reader or test taker is simply allowing extra time. And contrary to the popular myth that extra test time would help all students, the evidence clearly indicates that only those with dyslexia benefit significantly from additional time.

As Dr. Sally Shaywitz has said in Overcoming Dyslexia, "Dyslexia robs a person of time; accommodations return it."

In fact, the most significant barrier to fairness is the difficulty students with disabilities have in obtaining the accommodations they are rightfully entitled to by law.

Indeed, many students do not request accommodations because of the stigma still attached to the issue. As Aditi Juneja wrote in Vox, "Through my academic career, I was in the privileged situation of being able to pay for test prep, having time to study for these tests, having access to medical care, being able to afford to take tests multiple times. I had teachers and professors who respected my self-advocacy and didn't try to deny me access to my education. Yet still, the shame surrounding my condition prevented me from seeking accommodations later in my schooling."

YCDC sees very many bright dyslexic students. It is difficult to describe the agony these young men and women go through in deciding if they are going to apply for accommodations -- they do not want to be viewed as different and would prefer to be with everyone else when they take a test. These students are faced with a painful choice -- do they request accommodations (and risk being viewed as either not very smart or using the system) or do they not request accommodations and have the test fail to measure their true ability and serve instead as a reflection of their disability.

Accommodations are provided as a matter of federal law. The Americans with Disabilities Act, first enacted in 1990 and then updated in 2008, prohibits unjustified discrimination based on disability. It is meant to level the playing field for people with disabilities, including those 20% of the population who are dyslexic. The law reflects the strong scientific knowledge of the impact of dyslexia on bright people who can think very well but whose neural systems for reading do not permit fast, automatic reading.

Dyslexia has been known for over 100 years, and an updated and accurate definition (an "unexpected difficulty in reading") has now been codified into federal law. We understand it better because the science has progressed, and we now know that dyslexia is accompanied by its own powerful strengths. We must not allow the bad actions of a few people trying to cheat the system to stall or reverse our progress. That would be the deepest and longest-lasting damage resulting from this scandal.

It is also an opportunity to consider an important question: Are standardized tests the best indicator of a student's potential? Perhaps not. There is a growing recognition among experts that the standardized tests themselves are not the best and most appropriate measure of a student's academic potential. According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, half of the U.S. News and World Report "Top 100" liberal arts colleges are considered "test optional," meaning that they no longer require SAT or ACT scores to be considered for admission.

There is increasing evidence that schools can choose to make standardized test scores optional without sacrificing high standards or academic achievement. Bates College in Maine, for example, dropped the requirement for test scores in 1984 with no significant drop in student grade point average between test "submitters" and "non-submitters."

The impact of students being able to select test optional schools has now been carefully examined. Now one more reason for both students and schools to avoid these tests -- students who did not submit test scores, as quoted by Inside Higher Education, "ended up highly successful, graduating at equivalent rates or -- at some institutions --slightly higher rates than did those who submitted test scores... This is the ultimate proof of success."

"For us, we've come to realize that three and a half years -- almost four years -- tells us a whole heck of a lot more on a transcript versus three and a half, maybe four hours on a Saturday morning when a student might be taking X given standardized test," says Leigh Weisenburger, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Bates.

As YCDC Co-Directors Sally and Bennett Shaywitz wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "colleges and professional schools which, rather than focus on the whole candidate rely primarily on standardized test scores, will miss out on having extraordinary graduates who are both dyslexic and brilliant and who score poorly on standardized tests."
There is great news from Washington for people with dyslexia, for people who care about dyslexia and for society as a whole.

In December, the Senate and House overwhelmingly passed -- and the President signed into law -- the bipartisan First Step Act, Public Law No: 115-391. Critically, the bill makes significant progress in federal dyslexia policy.  For the first time, federal legislation uses the "21st" Century definition" of dyslexia that emerged from our studies at the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity -- namely that dyslexia is an "unexpected difficulty" in reading. That is, a person can be very bright and still struggle to read.
Previously, we have told you about congressional resolutions on dyslexia. With the enactment into law of the First Step Act, progress now has the force of law.
We applaud Congress for taking this important step. We look forward to a better 2019 for all those who struggle with dyslexia. The light is finally shining on dyslexia!
The Shaywitz DyslexiaScreen 
The First Step Act legislation also defines "a dyslexia screening program means a screening program for dyslexia that is (A) evidence-based with proven psychometrics for validity; (B) efficient and low-cost; and (C) readily available." And those characteristics precisely describe the Shaywitz DyslexiaScreen™.

The Shaywitz DyslexiaScreen™ is an efficient, reliable, and user-friendly universal screening measure for K-3 students who may be at risk for dyslexia. Dr. Sally Shaywitz created this unique evidence-based screening tool. It emphasizes phonological, linguistic, and academic performance based on classroom teacher observations, all in just a few minutes per student -- unlike other measures which take up precious instructional time.

The classroom teacher, the person who has worked most closely with the student and knows the student best, rates statements about a student's language and academic behaviors based on the frequency of the student's demonstration of each behavior. The rating results produce an individual and/or group reports. Results for a particular student include a simple classification of "At Risk for Dyslexia" or "Not At Risk for Dyslexia."

The Screener is easy to use, quick, and reliable.

  • Identifies Kindergarten through Grade 3 children at risk for dyslexia
  • Screens individuals or groups
  • Friendly teacher-administered rating scale
  • Digital administration, scoring, and reporting
The Screener has excellent psychometric strength -- it is reliable and accurate.

The Screener items were developed and normed as part of the Connecticut Longitudinal Study (CLS) begun by Dr. Shaywitz in 1983. Dr. Shaywitz continues to follow over 80% of the subjects in the Study. In addition, Pearson contributed by carrying out national validity studies in 2016 and 2017. The CLS collected data on a reference group with dyslexia as well as typically developing students. This dyslexic group is critical for the screener to be considered a dyslexia screener.

The Screener was developed to sort students, as early as Kindergarten, into two groups quickly, efficiently, and effectively -- those at risk for dyslexia and those not at risk.

The sample of students has been followed prospectively and longitudinally from school entry into adulthood for the purpose of studying reading development, including the factors that may positively and negatively influence the development of reading.

A significant finding of the study indicated achievement gaps between students with and without dyslexia are evident in Grade 1 and persist into adolescence, providing a strong, evidence-based rationale for identifying at-risk children and intervening as early as possible.

Waiting to identify students at risk for dyslexia has far-reaching consequences both academically and behaviorally -- consequences that can affect the student's long-term success in school and in life. Recognizing these long-term effects, many schools, districts, and states are implementing plans to screen young children sooner. We are delighted with the very many positive responses we are receiving about the screener from grateful educators and parents around the country.

For instance, we heard from Aimee Barnard, Program Manager and School Psychologist with the Empire Union School District, who said: "The Shaywitz Dyslexia Screen has become our Universal Screening for all Kindergarten through 3rd grade students in our district. This has allowed us to identify students at risk at an early age and provide intervention. Our teachers are excited for this new step in our district as it could drastically change what their classrooms look like in the future. We are not waiting for kids to fail, instead we are addressing their needs early and allowing them to thrive with the proper intervention. Thank you for helping us help our students!"

It's wonderful to hear these stories. Please share yours with us!

**Stay tuned for a significant announcement about the next exciting phase of this unique longitudinal study of dyslexia!**
We want to share some exciting news with you who care about dyslexia. This involves 2 dyslexic siblings, whom we have gotten to know and admire over time. 

The good news -- in early 2018 I received a letter with exciting news from a family I had gotten to know well: "I am writing because I found out that my ancestors on my mother's side were of Sephardic Jewish ancestry." History tells us that during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, Jews living in Spain had to convert to Catholicism, leave the country, or be killed.

In October 2015 the Spanish government made a decision to offer citizenship to those who can prove their Jewish heritage. As the wonderful mom explained to me: "This is important to us to reclaim our Jewish roots, experience justice and establish ties to the place that our ancestors used to call home." Not surprisingly, the process to obtain citizenship had a number of steps. So where does the fact that the two siblings are dyslexic come into the picture?

One of the requirements for citizenship is to pass two exams -- yes, in Spanish! One, a civics exam called the CCSE, and the other an intermediate language exam, the DELE-A2. Both exams are written in Spanish and one even has a spoken language component. You can appreciate the worry of the siblings -- the children had significant difficulties learning to read English and were not able to speak any other language, including Spanish. Mom told me, "Without knowledge of the Spanish language, they will not be able to pass these exams." Their only hope was to apply for a waiver of the test requirement for their citizenship based upon a letter from a doctor.

I was pleased to write a letter in support of these two dyslexic siblings. Their history was strongly positive for dyslexia, having been diagnosed with the condition early in each of their schoolings. Each had an IEP, receiving special education services and accommodations throughout their school careers, and they eventually attended a specialized school for dyslexia for their high school years.

I also want the reader to know and to understand dyslexia and why dyslexia interfered with learning a second language. Science has progressed so that we now understand that dyslexia emanates from a basic difficulty in accessing the spoken language system within the brain. Speaking is natural and has been with humans for tens of thousands of years. In contrast, reading is artificial, it is acquired and has only been with us for several thousand years. It is not natural and must be taught. For 80% of people this proceeds smoothly; however, for the 20% who are dyslexic, the process of learning to read is extremely difficult, resulting in even the brightest of people struggling to decipher the printed word. Converging data from all over the world indicates that in dyslexia the core problem is accessing the spoken language system -- in order to read, one must be able to link the printed letter on the page to its sound within the spoken language system. This requires the individual to be able to separate the sounds within a word, go into his or her spoken language system and then access and retrieve each component of the spoken word and then link each sound to its associated letter. For a dyslexic, this is extremely hard and most often results in lifelong reading problems. This difficulty occurs in the dyslexic individual's primary spoken language system, making reading elusive. This difficulty accessing sounds within the reader's primary spoken language system is significantly increased in the case of trying to learn and read a second language so that the dyslexic is unable to read a foreign language. This problem is well known; as a result, for example, many schools and universities such as Yale provide, following a rigorous process, a partial waiver of the foreign language requirement for dyslexic students. The letter on behalf of the family was certified and sent along with other needed elements of the application.

And just recently on March 15th, virtually a year since the application was sent, I received the following email:

"RE: Spanish citizenship
"I just want to let you know that the Spanish Ministry of Justice approved the waivers for [each child] because of your letters. Thank you again for all of your help!"

The generosity of friends of the Center inspires us and has allowed our Center to make major contributions to dyslexia -- including that dyslexia is unexpected, that is, you can be dyslexic and extremely intelligent; it affects girls as well as boys; and it is extremely common, affecting one in five.
Most recently, thanks to the support of our loyal donors, we discovered that the achievement gap in reading between typical and dyslexic readers is evident as early as first grade, leading to our development of a reliable, inexpensive screener for dyslexia.
Your donations provide the fuel that drives the scientific engine of our dyslexia research and ultimately benefits the children and adults who are dyslexic. As many of you know and have experienced personally, our major goal is to ensure that all our research and knowledge is acted upon to improve the lives of dyslexic children.
For more information about making a gift, please contact Carmel Lepore ([email protected], (203) 785-4641 or Sally Shaywitz, MD ([email protected]).

You can also mail your donation directly to the Center:

The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity
129 York Street, Suite 1P
New Haven, CT 06511

Thank you for your support of this work!
Dr. Sally Shaywitz recently testified before the Georgia State Senate Committee on Dyslexia.  This has been quoted extensively both on radio and by the Associated Press. For example, a recent story from WABE:

Georgia Lawmakers Recommend Steps To Address Dyslexia
JAN 2, 2019
A Senate committee tasked with studying how to address dyslexia in schools has submitted  its final report to the state legislature. Researchers at Yale University  say the learning disability affects about one-in-five people.

Hearing the Testimony 
Starting in August, Georgia's Senate study committee heard testimony from parents of children with dyslexia, teachers who work with dyslexic students and educational experts.

Pat Warner is the father of a 14-year-old daughter with dyslexia. He told the committee it was hard to get her diagnosed.

"When she was in third grade, her mother and I knew there was a problem," Warner testified. "She really hit the wall. So, we had a meeting with her teacher, the assistant principal and the principal to discuss the problem. In that meeting, the teacher looked at us and told us, 'You may just have to accept the fact that you have an average child.'"

Warner and his wife ended up getting their daughter screened for dyslexia privately. She now attends a private school where she can get accommodations, like extra time on tests.

The committee also heard from Sally Shaywitz, a leading expert and researcher at the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.

Committee chair Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, said convincing Shaywitz to come to an October committee meeting was akin to securing an appearance by Beyonce.

"She's sort of the rock star in all of this," Millar said.
Shaywitz told the committee that schools generally fail to identify students with dyslexia. On average, schools report between 0 and 4 percent of their students have the learning disability.

According to Shaywitz, studies in which every student is screened for dyslexia show about one in five students have it. Shaywitz said schools can't know how many children are dyslexic if they don't screen for it.

"To be counted, you have to be identified first," she said. "If you're not identified, you can't be counted."

Shaywitz also pointed to 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scores. The lowest-performing 4th and 8th-grade students scored worse than they did in 2015, signaling a growing gap between high and low achieving students. Shaywitz indicated dyslexia could play a role in poor test performance.
"In dyslexia, it's not a knowledge gap," Shaywitz told the committee. "We always want more knowledge, but we have enough to act better.  We have an action gap."

Taking Action
In its final report, the committee made three recommendations to lawmakers including: 

To screen all Kindergarten students in Georgia's public schools for dyslexia. The hitch here is that Georgia doesn't require parents to send their children to school until first grade. So students don't fall through the cracks, the committee suggests schools allow for screening through the second grade.

The Drs. Shaywitz with welcoming students at the Georgia hearing

We at the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity mourn the loss of a wonderful Yale physician, surgeon and friend, Dr. Graeme Hammond. We got to know one another when I first spoke to him about participating in a section of Overcoming Dyslexia devoted to highly accomplished men and women who were also dyslexic. He was wonderful, open, sharing much and wanting to do everything possible to let the readers know that a person could be dyslexic and a highly competent and kind surgeon. We became friends and I miss him already.
His family has requested that any donations to honor his memory be directed to our Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity. Donations may be sent to Dr. Sally Shaywitz, Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, 129 York St.; Suite 1P, New Haven, CT. 06511
Dr. Sally Shaywitz presenting Dr. Hammond with a surprise gift at a special event at Yale in his honor

Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity   |   dyslexia.yale.edu