The May Center for Learning

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Dyslexia testing bill advances to Senate vote

By Robert Nott | rnott@sfnewmexican.com

The kids in his class called Francisco Sandoval dumb.

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He couldn’t read when he was in the first and second grades, the 11-year-old told members of the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.

“It was very confusing,” Francisco said.

His parents and grandparents also were thrown by the boy’s lack of progress. Then experts from the May Center for Learning determined Francisco had dyslexia.

He told lawmakers he wished someone in the school system had discovered his dyslexia when he was in first grade.

Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said such early diagnostic screenings are essential. She has introduced Senate Bill 398, which would eventually require all schools to test first-graders for dyslexia.

“This bill would allow us to identify children before they ever fail,” said Amy Miller, co-founder of the May Center for Learning.

Stewart and Miller cited data saying 1 in 5 New Mexico children has some form of dyslexia. Right now, schools are not required to screen those children. As a result, Stewart and Miller said, many fall behind in reading.

Payten Chavez, 10, is one of those children. She told the committee that, despite working with a tutor, she couldn’t read.

“If this bill passed when I was in first or second grade, I think I would have read better today,” she said.

Educators, teachers union representatives, parents and grandparents testified before the committee. They said dyslexic children are at risk of failing and need extra support at an early age.

Francisco’s mother, Maya Sandoval, said that for the most part, teachers and administrators in the Pojoaque Valley School District provided little help for Francisco when it came to identifying why he could not read.

One night, after once again struggling with a reading lesson at home, he began hitting himself.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know how to read,” he told his parents. “Now you’re not going to love me.”

Francisco’s grandfather, Vicente Sandoval, told committee members that for a long time, the family “didn’t know what was going on. The teachers, they had no idea. It took us a long time.”

Not all those testifying in favor of the bill were in the audience.

Sen. Candace Gould, R-Albuquerque, a member of the Senate Education Committee, said her daughter had struggled with dyslexia and was not diagnosed until third grade. Though her daughter, now an adult, is doing well professionally and personally, Gould said dyslexia screening in “kindergarten or first grade would have made a difference for us.”

Stewart said the initiative would require an initial $1.3 million to screen half of the first-graders in the state’s 800-plus schools. Then the state would work with the Southwest Branch of the International Dyslexia Association to train educators to help those children.

The following year, all first-graders would be screened under the program, Stewart said.

The bill’s fiscal impact report states that the legislation would not help older students struggling with dyslexia.

Nonetheless, the committee voted 9-0 to move the bill forward to the Senate floor for consideration.

Rebecca Anderson