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Families say dyslexia bill would help; state reading group disputes 'reading wars'

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MADISON, Wis. - Local and state dyslexia organizations said they support a proposal moving through the state Legislature as it is, but the bill faces opposition from some Democrats and a state reading group.

A state Senate committee held a public hearing on a bill Tuesday that would require the state's Department of Public Instruction to create a guidebook on dyslexia.

The guidebook would have information and resources for parents and teachers and also information about screening to help identify dyslexia. The bill has the support of groups like Decoding Dyslexia and the International Dyslexia Association Wisconsin Branch.

"I've seen family after family come in," said Ann Malone, president of IDA Wisconsin. "Everyone's upset because this child is trying and trying hard, and they're still sort of being blamed if you will for not somehow progressing."

Nine-year-old Nathan Mandeville and his mother testified in front of the hearing about his dyslexia. They said he was called "stupid" and told he would catch up in school while he was struggling with reading.

"We didn't find my dyslexia until I was reading at a kindergarten level in third grade," Nathan said.

The bill passed the state Assembly in June, with most Democrats voting against it. Many cited concerns about curriculums for teachers.

There is only one state agency formally registered against the bill, the Wisconsin State Reading Association. The dispute has since been dubbed "the reading wars," but the organization's president told the committee that wasn't the case.

"Contrary to the view being promulgated by other organizations, WSRA is not at war with anyone. We are not interested in fighting the so-called reading wars," said President Deborah Cromer.

The bill was created by a bipartisan legislative study committee in 2018 that looked at state laws related to dyslexia. Cromer said her organization supported the bill that originally came out of the committee, but it was later amended.

She said WSRA would support the bill with a few changes, including making the guidebook about all literacy and reading conditions, not just dyslexia. Her association also does not want dyslexia to be defined in state law, as she said it is unusual for state lawmakers to define diagnoses and conditions in state statutes.

"The dyslexia definition included in the guidebook draft is controversial and not uniformly accepted by literacy and mental health experts in the field," Cromer said.

The Senate committee will need to vote on the bill, clearing the way for the full Senate to vote on it and send it to Gov. Tony Evers' desk.

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