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Dyslexia & Public Education: Can public schools teach a child with dyslexia?

Updated: Feb 26

Successful teaching

Yes, children with dyslexia can receive help in public schools. In fact, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education.

Schools are obligated to provide support for students with disabilities through formal plans such as a 504 Plan or an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Please follow the previous link to learn more about these important plans.  In short, schools are required to provide accommodations and intervention services for students with disabilities, such as specialized instruction, and assistive technology. Additionally, schools may offer specially designed instruction such as one-on-one or small group remediation to help students with dyslexia improve their reading and spelling skills.

Many parents understand what the law requires public schools to provide, but the real question is can my child receive effective help?

Do the school systems know how to teach children with dyslexia?

Are the teachers qualified?

frustrated dyslexic reader

These are legitimate questions because for years school systems across America have been teaching students how to read using methods that have been proven to be ineffective for children with dyslexia.

By using a "Whole Language" or "Balanced Literacy" approach to teaching reading and spelling, children with dyslexia have been denied effective literacy instruction in the general education classroom. So it is a logical question to ask if the institution that has been teaching children ineffectively for years can really get it right now.

The good news is that a shift in literacy education is occurring! School systems across the country are moving to reading curriculums that are evidence-based and created according to the science of reading.

legal changes

In fact, according to the Virginia Literacy Act and its 2023 expansion, beginning in the 2024-2025 school year, all Virginia students in kindergarten through eighth grade will receive "core literacy instruction based in scientifically based reading research and evidence-based literacy instruction". In the past evidence-based literacy instruction could only be procured through an individualized special education program for students with disabilities who met specific criteria.

As a result of this shift to evidence-based literacy instruction, more teachers are being trained to teach in this way. Special education teachers are being taught structured literacy programs. General education teachers will be using redesigned screening tools to help identify students who are struggling with all aspects of reading. Overall, this shift is a step in the right direction!

It is important to remember that all of this is a work in progress.

  • Students who will be older than 3rd grade in the 2024 school year will not benefit from this shift in general education.

  • Teacher training and changing teacher mindsets take time.

  • Curriculums and revised screeners have not been fully released, so we can't be sure of their effectiveness just yet.

  • Students with moderate to severe dyslexia will still need additional special education support, despite the shifts in the general education curriculum.

thinking parent

Therefore, it is up to parents to ask critical questions to make sure that their child is receiving effective instruction in public schools. We suggest working with your child's school to get answers to the following questions:

  • Are my child’s reading and writing skills on par with their peers?

  • Should my child be referred for special education evaluation?

  • Is my child being taught with evidence-based literacy instruction?

  • Is my child's special education teacher following a structured scope and sequence based on my child's individual needs?

  • What are the qualifications of the teacher who is teaching my child reading and spelling? Have they been appropriately trained to teach a program that is proven to be effective?

Your child absolutely can and should receive effective interventions for dyslexia in public school.


Lorraine Hightower

It takes a lot of research, study, and understanding of the science of reading, dyslexia, and the special education system to ensure that your child receives the education they deserve. 

If you feel overwhelmed or unsure of your next step, it may be time to bring in a professional educational advocate. Our clients tell us that when they decided to invest in quality advocacy services that got them the desired results, they finally had peace of mind and hope for their child's future. Let's talk about if it is time for you to bring a professional onto your team.


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