Reading Difficulties and Dyslexia

Instruction in General Education for Students with Challenges in Decoding and Reading Fluency

Dear ISD Teachers,

Some of the more common questions we receive from teachers center on the needs of students who struggle with reading foundational skills such as decoding and reading fluency. Recent changes in legislation have also highlighted the needs of students with reading difficulties, particularly those associated with dyslexia. This document was revised in August 2020 to help provide teachers guidance. Even as we work toward adopting new resources (see the announcement copied at the end of this document) and refreshing our professional development around dyslexia and early reading needs, we should focus on the best uses of the resources available and be prepared to discuss the learning needs of our students with their families.

Our hope is that this document will…

  • promote greater understanding of the issues associated with reading difficulties and steps being taken to address student needs,
  • offer reminders about current resources available in our adopted general-education curriculum and how they may be used to address the needs of students with reading difficulties, and
  • support your ability to engage and support our families of students with reading difficulties, including dyslexia.

Don’t forget the very valuable resource we have in our instructional coaches who are available to offer further assistance in these areas.

Rich Mellish, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Services

ISD is committed to providing a literacy program where all students can confidently meet academic standards and grow a habit of reading and writing. Differentiation for the needs of all students, including those who struggle with decoding and reading fluency, is a critical component of our general education literacy program. The information below summarizes how currently available materials and components of our literacy program may be used to support students who struggle with decoding and fluency skills. It is imperative to recognize challenges before reading failure is internalized and provide instructional supports for those students who exhibit a current weakness in phonological development. Internalization of reading struggles can lead to academic disengagement and social-emotional concerns.

  • Characteristics: Students who need additional support with word level reading may exhibit the following: (When compared to grade level expectations)
Slow mastery of learning letters, their sounds and numbers - lack of automaticityDifficulty identifying and manipulating sounds in syllables
Slow rate of reading Disfluent reading
Poor spelling skills – omitting letters in wordsDifficulty decoding single words in isolation
Difficulty learning common sight wordsDifficulty reading aloud
Avoidance of reading and print
Poor vocabulary acquisition
Over reliance on picture clues, story theme, or guessing at wordsWriting challenges* – writing single words, process writing, and copying from the board
Difficulty with rhyming words

*It is not uncommon or unusual to see children 4, 5, 6 and even 7 years of age making word and/or letter reversals.

  • Assessment & Monitoring Progress: Issaquah School District makes available a variety of assessments to identify challenges and progress monitor skills within the general education classroom.
    • Kindergarten skills inventory and WAKids assessment of kindergarten readiness.
    • Grades K-5 Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment. Word level accuracy, fluency, rate, and comprehension are assessed. Miscues are analyzed for diagnostic and instructional purposes.
    • Grades K-2 Fountas and Pinnell Phonics. Nine categories of phonemic learning are assessed including phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, spelling patterns, and letter/sound relationships.
    • Grades 3-5 ISD’s Word Study Trimester Inventory located on Connect & Staff Hub. The inventory assesses spelling patterns, affixes, and high frequency words. Words Their Way, with a pre-assessment / inventory, is another tool available to all teachers in grades 3-5.
  • Intervention and Instruction: Students who struggle with reading fluency would benefit from receiving structured,
    explicit, and multisensory instruction in their areas of need and support in transferring those skills to reading text.
    • Explicit, sequential instruction develops decoding skills
    • Using strategies that embed practice of those skills in reading text provides learners with the context to analyze segments and apply strategies in meaningful ways
    • Teaching words in context, then breaking them down into their smaller parts (phonemes), then reading the words again in context allows for continued focus on making meaning of a text

Practices that reduce teacher to student ratios for targeted instruction are recommended, including:

  • Grades K-5 Small Group Instruction in which explicit, direct, cumulative, intensive methods are focused on the
    structure of language. For example, a combination of the following:
    • Guided Reading – for struggling readers aim for groups of 2-4 students, meeting 4-5 times per week using leveled texts and multisensory activities to enhance memory.
    • Individual Reading Conferences - 1 student, 4-5 times per week using leveled texts and multisensory activities to enhance memory.
  • Grades K-2 Phonics Instruction using Fountas and Pinnell Phonics
    • Whole class instruction followed up with small group instruction to involve students in application.
    • Integrate with guided reading during the word work section of lessons to provide instructional level support.
  • Grades 3-5 Words Their Way & Word Study available on Connect & Staff Hub
    • Whole class instruction followed up with small group instruction to involve students in application for typically 10-15 minutes per day.
    • Spelling patterns, affixes, and Greek/Latin roots are taught using explicit instruction, sorting, and connections to daily literacy.
    • Word learning is integrated fully into literacy workshops and responsive to student needs.
    • Learning new words and word attack skills makes students increasingly independent as readers.
    • Spelling instruction focuses on patterns and explicit instruction of word concepts. Avoid assigning weekly spelling lists for memorization as this method rarely transfers to daily writing.
  • Lexia Core 5 provides adaptive personalized learning with a focus on reading foundational skills.
    • Students take a placement test to identify their level of proficiency and to initiate a personalized learning plan.
    • Students progress through learning experiences at their personal pace. Activities complement the learning in the class described above.
    • Teachers can access data on student progress to inform small group learning goals.

Selection of resources and strategies for intervention and instruction are most effective when matched with student needs as identified through assessment and observation. Buildings may consider the use of supplemental materials and methods in addition to those described above. Staff may consult with Teaching and Learning TOSAs, Instructional Coaches and Principals to make informed decisions.

  • Title I and LAP Intervention: Students who qualify for Title I / LAP are instructed in small groups using one or more of the following:
    • Fountas and Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention system. The system is designed to provide short-term, supplementary instruction to complement classroom based instruction and maximize growth.
    • Lexia Core Learning. This online-based program provides adaptive support in reading foundational skills including vocabulary and phonics as well as reading comprehension.

Title and LAP teachers are also integrating instructional strategies from Jan Richardson’s Next Steps in Guided Reading as well as strategies for explicit and multisensory instruction, and the integration of the phonics learning continuum.

Dyslexia FAQ’s

There is growing attention to dyslexia in Washington State. Staff may need more information to be able to discuss dyslexia with families and colleagues. Below are some starter responses to frequently asked questions about dyslexia with links to additional resources for learning about dyslexia.

During the 2018 legislative session the state, Washington passed bill SB6162. This law defined dyslexia as follows:

For the purposes of this act, "dyslexia" means a specific learning disorder that is neurological in origin and that is characterized by unexpected difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities that are not consistent with the person's intelligence, motivation, and sensory capabilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological components of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities. In addition, the difficulties are not typically a result of ineffective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

More from the Yale Center.

Here is a great article on signs of dyslexia from the Yale Center. Dyslexia manifests itself in different ways in different students. Some difficulties that may be associated with dyslexia include the following:

When Reading

  • Reading errors that show no connection to the sounds of the letters on the page—will say “puppy” instead of the written word “dog” on an illustrated page with a picture of a dog
  • Does not understand that words come apart
  • Complains about how hard reading is; “disappears” when it is time to read
  • A history of reading problems in parents or siblings
  • Cannot sound out even simple words like cat, map, nap
  • Does not associate letters with sounds, such as the letter b with the “b” sound
  • Very slow in acquiring reading skills. Reading is slow and awkward
  • Trouble reading unfamiliar words, often making wild guesses because he cannot sound out the word
  • Doesn’t seem to have a strategy for reading new words
  • Avoids reading out loud

When Speaking

  • Searches for a specific word and ends up using vague language, such as “stuff” or “thing,” without naming the object
  • Pauses, hesitates, and/or uses lots of “um’s” when speaking
  • Confuses words that sound alike, such as saying “tornado” for “volcano,” substituting “lotion” for “ocean”
  • Mispronunciation of long, unfamiliar or complicated words
  • Seems to need extra time to respond to questions

When writing

  • Struggles to finish on time
  • Significant spelling difficulties
  • Messy, illegible handwriting

As with any other potential disability, if you believe you have a student who may have dyslexia, significantly impacting their ability to access learning, and who is not responding to classroom instruction, follow your school’s procedure for referring the student for consideration for further evaluation.

Start with our curriculum: Use F&P Phonics assessments and curriculum materials to ensure a systemic, sequential instruction. Use the program description above to get to small group instruction.

Additional common strategies that support students with dyslexia:

  • Teach about and practice affixes that give meaning and Greek/Latin roots to help decode long words and understand their meaning
  • Use manipulatives such as letter tiles and cards to build, sort and manipulate words
  • Pre-teach key vocabulary for a particular text
  • Include repeated oral readings to improve fluency and word recognition
  • Teach students to find a personal spelling strategy that doesn’t depend on memorization of word lists
  • Consider assistive technology tools to support writing
  • Post and provide desk copies of frequently misspelled words
  • Provide ongoing positive and corrective feedback
  • Provide audiobooks for students to listen to as they read along with the text
  • Offer extra time to finish reading and writing tasks

Also, don’t forget about common accommodations for students with dyslexia.

In addition:

  • Consult with your instructional coach or other support staff such as your special education teacher.
  • A great article from the Yale Center.

  • Share what you have noticed about the student’s reading challenges. For example, “I have noticed that your student has delays in / difficulties with sounding out words…”
  • Use assessments to determine the student’s specific reading or writing challenges. Then use available tools and instructional strategies to target the students need. Dyslexia and other reading difficulties can manifest itself in many areas. Not all students with dyslexia have the same needs or respond to the same strategy.
  • Be ready to speak about instructional strategies you are using to address the needs you identify. Pay special attention to how you are providing explicit, sequential and multisensory instruction for phonics and decoding strategies.
  • Listen. Often parents have valuable insights into their children’s challenges and needs.
  • Schools and staff do not diagnose a specific disability such as dyslexia. We do however, use our knowledge of dyslexia and other reading challenges to inform our practice.
  • Keep learning about dyslexia. Here are links to two sites where you can learn more about dyslexia:; Learning about dyslexia can provide strategies for struggling readers that can be embedded in your instruction. Even when a student with dyslexia is not showing delays in reading, they may still have challenges associated with dyslexia and could benefit from instructional strategies designed around the need of students with dyslexia. Students not diagnosed with dyslexia may also benefit from these same strategies.

A specific learning disability is a qualifying category under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). According to state guidance, dyslexia is one of the conditions considered to be a specific learning disability:

Directly from the OSPI Dear Colleague letter:

Under the IDEA and its implementing regulations “specific learning disability” is defined, in part, as

“a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.” See 20 U.S.C. §1401(30) and 34 CFR §300.8(c) (10) (emphasis added).

While our implementing regulations contain a list of conditions under the definition “specific learning disability,” which includes dyslexia, the list is not exhaustive. However, regardless of whether a child has dyslexia or any other condition explicitly included in this definition of “specific learning disability,” or has a condition such as dyscalculia or dysgraphia not listed expressly in the definition, the LEA must conduct an evaluation in accordance with 34 CFR §§300.304-300.311 to determine whether that child meets the criteria for specific learning disability or any of the other disabilities listed in 34 CFR §300.8, which implements IDEA’s definition of “child with a disability.”

During the 2018 legislative session the state, Washington passed bill SB6162; setting a course for school districts to (1) identify students who may have dyslexia and/or reading difficulties associated with dyslexia; and (2) provide Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) for students identified as having reading difficulties associated with dyslexia, by the fall of 2021. The areas identified in the law as associated with dyslexia are largely described in the Reading Foundational Skills Common Core State Standards.

Current Status (Nov 2019 Update). ISD has an ongoing commitment to developing curricular resources, promoting instructional practices and supporting systems that identify and address the needs of students not meeting reading standards.

Current efforts related to SB6162 include the following:

  1. Providing resources and professional development for staff to the following ends:
    • Including training about dyslexia within our professional development and instructional coaching.
    • How to use current district provided curriculum to address the learning needs of students, including students with dyslexia.

      These resources include the following within our general education program:

      • Assessments of phonemic awareness and reading fluency.
      • Structured learning of phonics skills.
      • Explicit instruction on reading fluency.
      More information about our current literacy curriculum is available at our district website.
  2. Initiating a general education literacy adoption (see below for more information) that will start with review and selection of new research-based instructional materials and assessments to support instruction of reading foundational skills addressed in SB6162.
  3. Formation of an MTSS leadership team to develop a plan for integrating multi-tiered systems of support, starting with K-2 literacy. ISD is contracting with Collaborative Learning Solutions, a technical support organization recommended by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, to provide support in aligning our plan to both best-practices and legal requirements.

Resource Information
OSPI specific information about dyslexia Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Working with the state's 295 public school districts and 6 state-tribal education compact schools, OSPI allocates funding and provides tools, resources, and technical assistance so every student in Washington is provided a high-quality public education.
Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity specific information about dyslexia The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity aspires to increase awareness of dyslexia and its true nature, specifically to illuminate the creative and intellectual strengths of those with dyslexia, to disseminate the latest scientific research and practical resources, and to transform the treatment of all dyslexic children and adults.
Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz ordering information Dr. Sally Shaywitz, co-director of the Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention offers the latest information about reading problems and proven, practical techniques that can enable anyone to overcome them.
International Dyslexia Association specific information about dyslexia The IDA aims to create a future for all individual who struggle with dyslexia and other related reading differences so that they may have richer, more robust lives and access to the tools and resources they need.
LD Online specific information about dyslexia LD OnLine seeks to help children and adults reach their full potential by providing accurate and up-to-date information and advice about learning disabilities and ADHD.
Learning Disabilities Association of America
specific information about dyslexia LDS’s mission is to create opportunities for success for all individuals affected by learning disabilities through support, education and advocacy.


The next elementary literacy adoption will begin in December 2019 and will be completed in phases. During this literacy adoption, teams of teachers and staff will review evidence- based practices and instructional materials to make recommendations for integrating new instructional materials into a balanced literacy program.

The timing and sequence of this adoption cycle has been adjusted due to teacher feedback and changes in state law, particularly E2SSB 6162, the law regarding Dyslexia and MTSS. Phase 1 will focus on Reading Foundational Skills such as phonics, decoding and fluency. In Phase 2 of this adoption, a second adoption team will review and make decisions about reading and writing curriculum together. This will not necessarily change the planned dates for implementing new reading and writing curriculum (see timeline below).

Goals: The literacy adoption will accomplish the following: (the following was revised for clarification on Nov 18, 2019)

  1. Provide quality instructional materials. Review and select Reading and Writing instructional materials to support a comprehensive, standards-based literacy program. Materials will be vetted for alignment to standards, our district mission and evidence that the materials effectively support student learning.
  2. Provide instructional materials for tiered supports in Literacy. Provide literacy materials that support multi-tiered systems of support for learning in the general education program with additional structured supports for students with reading difficulties.
  3. Provide evidence-based resources to teach Common Core Standards for Reading Foundational Skills. Information on these standards that focus on decoding, fluency and phonemic awareness.
  4. Comply with current legislation requiring the use of evidence-based assessments and instructional materials to provide tiered support in the general education classroom for students with decoding and reading fluency challenges by the fall of 2021. (Information about the dyslexia law)

The Literacy Adoption will be broken into 3 phases:

Phase 1: Review, select and implement tiered instructional materials for Reading Foundational Skills standards.

  • Select assessments and instructional materials to support instruction and tiered supports in phonemic awareness, decoding, fluency and spelling/word work. (Currently approx. 15 min/day of dedicated instruction with additional resources available for guided reading groups.)

Phase 2: Review and selection of instructional materials for remaining Reading standards and Writing / Language standards.

  • Review and select reading and writing instructional materials together to ensure a cohesive and comprehensive literacy program and explore opportunities for integration of reading and writing instruction. This does not preclude selection of separate reading and writing programs.
  • Propose an implementation plan. The current default plan would be to implement reading first in the fall of 2022, then writing two years later in the fall of 2024. 

Phase 3: Implementation of Reading and Writing instructional materials.

DRAFT Timeline: Adoption teams may recommend adjustment of the timeline for decisions and/or implementation.

2020-21 2021-22 2022-23 2023-24 2024-25 
F19 W20 S20 F20 W21 S21 F21 W22 S22 F22 W23 S22 F23 W24 S24 F24 W25 S25
  Phase 1: Reading Foundational Skills Materials Selection Foundation Skills Initial Use Training                    
    Foundational Skills Field Test Implementation of Reading Foundational Skills instruction materials
   Phase 2: Reading and Writing Material Selection  Phase 2 follow-up if needed
        Phase 3: Reading Initial Use Training              
Reading Field Test Implementation of Reading instructional materials
            Writing Field Test      
    Writing Initial Use Training
  Implementation of Writing Materials