Friday, April 5, 2013

What Constitutes "Reading" in the 21st Century?

by Kathleen Kosobud, volunteer, LDA of Michigan

Is accessible text "reading"?  Or do we need to re-define what we mean
 when we measure comprehension of the written word?

The Learning Disabilities Association of America and NCLD are working on statements to address current research and policy in the area of "read-aloud" accommodations on standardized tests.  We've all thought a great deal about this because "reading" has been changed so much through the use of assistive technologies. Most of us can read a variety of materials on the web in a variety of ways.  This blog is automatically converted to audio through Odiogo technology.  My MacBook has built-in text reading capacity, and I can customize both voice and rate.  Thanks to a cooperative endeavor between colleagues at MSU and a number of organizations around the world, we can now carry a flash drive with a suite of tools to customize any PC to many of our needs.

Highlighted text is converted to audio.  For some, this is reading.

Take a look at the currently posted list of accommodations for the MEAP, MI-Access (Sped. 1%), ELPA (ELL proficiency), and NAEP.  From pages 5 to 10 are all of the listed standard and non-standard accommodations.

Among the people I know who access text through text readers, they regard the currently imposed limits of access to text for the reading comprehension tests (e.g. not allowing a text reader on the content) as a form of discrimination. If I "read" all or most of curricular materials by using a text-reader then that is, for me, reading.  It is most analogous to limiting people who are profoundly visually impaired (blind) to using large print as their only form of accessing text, or requiring that the Deaf read lips as their sole form of accessing the spoken word.

Is Braille print text?  For a person who is blind, is this "reading"?

Although those in the business of test development argue that accessible text readers invalidate the construct of a test of reading comprehension, perhaps it is time to re-think whether, or in what ways, a test of reading comprehension has importance in our rapidly changing world of assistive technology.  If tracking knowledge and skills is a worthy value in educational policy, then perhaps users of accessible text should be assessed for their literacy in both written and read-aloud formats.  I hesitate to suggest this, though, because it imposes an added barrier for people with print disabilities--they have to prove that they are unable to read text in the "eyes to print" way in order to validate their need for accessible text.

For a person with dyslexia, is this "reading"?
This is one of the undue burdens imposed on folks with learning disabilities in all manners of settings in the adult world.  No one asks a wheelchair user to demonstrate that they cannot walk without their assistive device--a wheelchair.  Why is a print disability regarded with so much more skepticism that one must have documentation of print disability that is (in most cases) no more than 5 years old? It assumes, at best, that those using accessible text readers are lazy; or at worst, that they are liars.  All in all, I would be happy if my peers who are challenged in this manner would stand up to policymakers and assert their rights to be appropriately accommodated without the endless burden of having to re-demonstrate their differences.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

School Finance Reform--How it Affects the Vulnerable

by Kathleen Kosobud, PhD, ABD
Disclaimer: This is a personal reflection and may not represent the position of LDA of Michigan as an organization.

I'm an advocate for children with special educational needs. I represent children in foster care, probably one of the least empowered groups attending public schools. Current Michigan school code already allows districts and charters to discriminate against children in special education by limiting their choices. Their "home" district must agree to pay for them to attend a school in a different Intermediate School District (essentially a different county or LEA) even if the receiving school is part of a "school of choice" district. The rationale is that it costs more to educate a child with special educational needs. No such restriction exists for children who are considered "gifted" or "athletes" or "talented", although their needs may also cost a district more. This restriction is "enhanced" in the 302 page long Oxford proposal for Michigan School Finance Reform--districts will have the right to accept or refuse students who apply to attend their schools.

I am sick at heart when I think about the children whom I represent. Many have been removed from their homes after severe abuse or neglect. Already hurting, they deserve the very best of care, and the most particularly attentive of educations to help them to recover from their physical and psychological wounds. When a district is given the right of refusal to serve these children, we condemn them to bleak futures. While other, more privileged children may cross boundaries, selling their assets to the highest bidder, these children are left to attend whatever public schools their district assigns them to. For them, there is no choice.

I think of two children I am representing right now: one a traumatized first grader who has already been in five different foster homes, and two different school districts in his short career as a consumer of public education, and the other a teenager approaching his exit from foster care in an institutional setting because no home could be found for him. This older student, discouraged and angry at the lack of concern he has experienced in a bricks and mortar school, is currently taking online classes, isolated from the social milieu of other teens. His special educational needs, learning disabilities in language and literacy, are not being met in this virtual environment, and the virtual charter is not prepared to devote the resources to customize his education in a way that will enable him to access the courses. I despair for both of them. For the first grader, I see a future of rejection by schools unwilling to meet his his greater needs for stability and special care because his coping mechanisms are so fragile. For the older student, I see a loss of any interest in learning, and decreasing hope for any future outside of the institutional setting. He is the face of the "school to prison pipeline", even though the caring adults around him recognize that he is not intrinsically a bad kid.

For these two children, the proposal for "choice" is a sick, sad joke.

Monday, October 22, 2012


October 21, 2012

Good Evening All,

It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I share with you the passing of Flo Curtis, our fearless leader of the LDA of Michigan.

She died peacefully this afternoon, Sunday, October 21, 2012, surrounded by her family and her loving husband, Harley.

Flo worked tirelessly for the LDA. She ran our organization like a superhero! She was working on the conference up until the day she entered the hospital. We all loved and respected Flo. Her spunk and passion will continue to live on in our office, our organization and our hearts.

We plan to honor Flo at this year's conference, so please share a story, a picture, or a special memory that you have about Flo. You can send them to me at .  I'm certain I have not included everyone on this email. If you know of someone who should be informed, please send along.

As soon as I hear of the details of the service, I will let you know.
Thank you and God Bless Flo and her family,

Regina Carey, M.Ed.
President-elect, LDA of Michigan

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

IEP Michigan Pre-Labor Day Rally in Lansing

Today, disability advocates, parents of children with disabilities, students with disabilities and legislators are gathering on the steps and lawn of the Capitol to express concerns about the conditions under which special education programs are operating.  The organizer, Marcie Lipsitt, is a frequent letter-writer to the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, and an advocate in Southeastern Michigan.  Marcie invited LDA of Michigan to participate.

Source:  Michigan Alliance for Special Education

Often, disability organizations are founded to represent the needs of a particular segment of the disability community, or coalesce around a particular issue that affects a subset of the disability population.  Class size, service availability, teacher qualifications, and supports are issues where we seem to hold common ground.  The devil is mostly in the details.

LDA of Michigan's contribution to the Rally is this statement, to be read by Regina Carey, our current conference chair and president-elect (her term starts in 2014):

Statement of LDA of Michigan for the IEP Michigan Rally
August 29, 2012
The Learning Disabilities Association of Michigan is a 501 3c Non-Profit organization. Most of our work is done by a dedicated group of volunteers. LDA of Michigan is the statewide affiliate of the Learning Disabilities Associationof America.
The mission of LDA of Michigan is to enhance the quality of life for all individuals with learning disabilities and their families through advocacy, education, training and support of research.
If you think that it's harder to be identified with a Specific Learning Disability under IDEA in Michigan, you're right.  Today, one out of three children with IEPs have Specific Learning Disabilities in Michigan.  In 2001, there were over 95 thousand students identified with Specific Learning Disabilities. Ten years later, in 2011, there were only 73 thousand. Since 2001, there has been a decrease of 22 thousand in the number of students with Learning Disabilities. This isn’t because of an educational “miracle” or a massive drop in population-- it’s because the rules changed. The 2004 reauthorization of the IDEA expressly prohibited all states from requiring the “discrepancy model” to identify students with learning disabilities. So, in 2006, the Michigan Rules were made much more stringent. The official numbers are down but we know that a large number of children are simply falling through the cracks.
Source: Annual Special Education Child Count, 2010--MDE

Most students with learning disabilities are in general education classes of 30 or more students, being taught by one general education teacher. With 21st Century technology, all children with learning disabilities should be able to use accessible instructional materials—with or without IEPs.  A reading barrier should not determine a child’s achievement in social studies, science, math, or the arts. But new innovations in technology will not solve the problem of large class sizes, or completely accommodate children with disabilities. Teachers in the general education classroom can’t do this alone—their districts need the resources to support smaller class sizes, co-teaching, team-teaching and paraprofessional assistants so that all children can be successful in the classroom. 
The "Michigan Merit Curriculum" requirements place a new burden on teens with disabilities. Although the legislature provides for a Personal Curriculum for students with disabilities, implementation has been challenging. Some districts delay Personal Curriculum accommodations until students have failed many courses, and are nearly 18 years old; some use the Personal Curriculum to reduce requirements to unacceptably low levels; and some refuse to implement a Personal Curriculum altogether. The Personal Curriculum is intended to provide some customization of the requirements for graduation. Withholding or delaying the implementation of a Personal Curriculum is yet another barrier to students with disabilities, many of whom have great potential for success.
We believe that children with learning disabilities are capable and competent. Success starts in the classroom, and continues in the workplace and the community. We cannot give up on our children. Education can make a difference. We want our children to achieve maximum independence—through self-determination, with high expectations, and by working on the skills that lead to self-sufficiency. 
What we know is that the number of people requesting help and direction has increased. What we do is provide a helping hand, a listening ear, and a starting point for families navigating the maze of special education. What we want is for individuals with learning disabilities to be recognized for their gifts, talents, and contributions.
Please join us for our conference on November 11th and 12th at the Kellogg Conference Center on the campus of Michigan State University.
Source:  LDA of Michigan, 2012
Finally, if you are able, please consider a membership or a donation of your time, talents or treasures to our organization.
We probably have many more concerns than will fit into a 5-10 minute sound-byte, but these concerns--SLD identification, conditions in the classroom, and preparation for life beyond high school--are the essentials.  Unless education addresses the needs of struggling learners, through individualization and personalization, our children will face less access to bright futures as adults.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Learning Disabilities Association of Michigan Public Comment
June 15, 2012
The Learning Disabilities Association of Michigan is an all volunteer 501(c)3 non- profit organization representing families and educators of persons with learning disabilities. Our offices are located at 200 Museum Drive, Ste. 101, Lansing, Michigan 48933.
Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for all individuals with learning disabilities and their families through advocacy, education, training, service and support of research. Our organization supports initiatives that encompass prevention, early identification, and access to the necessary supports to allow full participation of our constituents as citizens.

Our stakeholders represent a diversity of perspectives regarding the particulars for educating students with learning disabilities, but are unified by the conviction that, despite the range of learning problems subsumed under this category, these problems share the common trait of appearing to be breakdowns in the neurological processes of executive functioning which affect listening, oral expression, reading decoding, reading comprehension, written expression, mathematical calculation or mathematical reasoning resulting in evidence of unexpected underachievement in one or more of these areas.
Picture source:
The Learning Disabilities Association of Michigan welcomes this opportunity to publicly comment on the proposed revisions related to Specific Learning Disabilities in the DSM-5.  Although many of our concerns are related to the early identification of these breakdowns in the context of early childhood academic settings, we also recognize that these breakdowns extend into adulthood and affect life activities beyond educational settings.  Therefore, we recognize that a DSM-5 diagnostic code reflects broader parameters than those observed solely in school settings.  Further, we recognize that although these breakdowns exist, the function of diagnosis is to identify these breakdowns while offering beneficial insights about the external and environmental barriers that exacerbate the expression of these neurological breakdowns. Therefore, if medical diagnosis is to be useful, some attention needs to be paid to the educational and functional implications of the existence of these neurological breakdowns. In our society, where a high level of literacy is considered essential for individual success, it is important that we understand and help to improve access for those people identified with “dyslexia”. Access includes early intervention, as well as the provision of alternative forms of access, especially to text, for those identified with “dyslexia”.
In the United States, much of the research on Specific Learning Disabilities has focused on “dyslexia”, which is a specific learning disability that encompasses language processing, multiple aspects of the processes involved in reading, and also may include processes involved in spelling and written expression. Of the roughly one in seven people identified with Specific Learning Disabilities, 70 percent are thought to warrant a diagnosis of “dyslexia” (Lyon, 2001; Lyon, Shaywitz & Shaywitz, 2003; International Dyslexia Association, 2012).  This means that in Michigan, of the over 73 thousand children identified with Specific Learning Disabilities, one can estimate that more than 51 thousand are dyslexic (Michigan Compliance Information System for 2010-2011).  Or, in other words, roughly one out of every four children with special educational needs (n=217 thousand) in Michigan may be considered “dyslexic”.  In the education context, accessible text providers prefer a quasi-medical diagnosis of “dyslexia” as opposed to the more generic term, “specific learning disability” when authorizing the use of their services. Most notably, Bookshare, the largest provider of accessible textbooks, recognizes the term “dyslexia” as a qualifier for its’ services.

A large community of researchers in the neurosciences (c.f.: Bennett and Sally Shawitz, G. Reid Lyon, Jack Fletcher and others) have focused their attention on the causes, traits, interventions, and outcomes for persons with “dyslexia” and attach special meaning to the term as a separate set of conditions from other forms of reading failure because of its’ prevalence and intractability (see for example the comments of Michael Ryan, Ph.D. at, and the statement of the International Dyslexia Association,  Internationally, too, the term “developmental dyslexia”, as found in the ICD-10 (WHO, updated 2011), holds special significance.  In order to compare incidence of various disorders and diseases internationally, common terminology with common meaning is required.  To remove the term “dyslexia” from the DSM-5 is to put the U.S. data-reporting out of step with the rest of the world.  Increasing global interdependence requires that we be able to communicate using common terminology in order to share scientific findings, and to work toward overall improvement in the education and lives of all humankind.  
In summary, the use of the term “dyslexia” holds significance as a diagnostic term, in research on its’ causes, characteristics, interventions and outcomes, and as a shared descriptor in the international community.  Therefore, the Learning Disabilities Association of Michigan supports the continued use of the term “dyslexia” in the DSM-5.
Submitted on behalf of the Board of Directors of LDA of Michigan,
Florence Curtis, Acting Executive Director

Board of Directors

President—Byron Vorce, Bellevue
President Elect—Regina Carey, Okemos
Secretary—Betsy Schrage, Grosse Pointe
Treasurer—John Carter, Ann Arbor
Past President—Lori Parks, Plymouth
Newsletter Editor—Kathleen Kosobud, Ann Arbor
Healthy Child Director—Amy Winans, Lansing
Dawn Bentley, East Lansing
Linda Clark, Novi
Renee Craig, East Lansing
Edna Felmlee, Williamston
Glenda Hammond, Lansing
Delia Laing, Ann Arbor
Judith New, Ann Arbor
Annette Puleo, East Lansing
Rosanne Renauer, Lansing
Mary Rivera, Lansing
Kristen Toadvine, Mulliken
Kendra Tobes, West Bloomfield
Annette Lalley Trautz, Lowell
Vicki White, Lansing

Monday, June 11, 2012

URGENT ACTION ALERT on Highly Qualified Teachers

"Highly Qualified Teacher" Provision
Call your Senators TODAY!


In the dead of night last December Congress passed a bill to fund the federal government for Fiscal Year 2013.  They attached a provision to the bill that allows people who enter an alternate route teacher preparation program to be considered "highly qualified" on the first day they are enrolled in the program.   In other words, your child’s teacher could be called highly qualified while he or she is, at the same time,learning to become a teacher!  Many of these "teachers" are placed as special education teachers and may be teaching your child.

This provision is set to expire at the end of Fiscal Year 2012, or when Congress finally finishes legislation to fund programs for Fiscal Year 2013. Congress is working on funding for Fiscal Year 2013 now!

On Tuesday June 12 the Senate can change this bad policy!   The Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations Subcommittee will vote on a bill to fund programs for Fiscal Year 2013 and can let this provision expire or vote to continue it.

Let the Senate know our neediest students deserve better!  LDA is part of a coalition of  87 disability, civil rights, parent, principal, rural and education advocacy groups who have banded together to get rid of this provision.  If Congress votes to continue this bad policy, we at least want the federal government to start collecting information from school, districts and states that will let parents know if their child's teacher is credentialed and fully prepared to support their child in the classroom.

Take Action Now:

Call the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee: The list with phone numbers can be found at the bottom of this message.  It is important that you make these calls BEFORE Tuesday June 12. 

Communicate this Message:

§         Identify yourself as a member of the Learning Disabilities Association of America and give your role (parent/teacher/person with a learning disability, etc.).

Then say:

§  "On Tuesday, June 12 at 2 PM, the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds education is scheduled to consider an important issue to me."  

§  "I ask that your office oppose any effort that will extend a bad federal policy to allow teachers in training to be called “highly qualified.” This is not fair to parents or to students with learning disabilities!"

§  "If the provision must be extended, I request the federal government start collecting information from schools, districts and states that will let parents know if their child’s teacher is credentialed and fully prepared to support their child in the classroom.:" 

§ " Can I count on you to stand up for children with learning disabilities?"


Each entry, below lists subcommittee members by Senator, State, Education Legislative Aide, and Phone #:

Daniel K. Inouye
Anthony Ching
(202) 224-3934

Patrick J. Leahy
Kathryn Toomajian
(202) 224-4242

Tom Harkin
(202) 224-3254

Barbara A. Mikulski
Mario Cardona
(202) 224-4654

Herb Kohl
Jessah Foulk
(202) 224-5653

Patty Murray
Sarah Bolton
(202) 224-2621

Dianne Feinstein
Ashley Eden
(202) 224-3841

Richard J. Durbin
Joanna Serra
(202) 224-2152

Tim Johnson
Carrie Johnson
(202) 224-5842

Mary L. Landrieu
Tasha Hensley
(202) 224-5824

Jack Reed
Moira Lenehan
(202) 224-4642

Frank R. Lautenberg
Kyle Brown
(202) 224-3224

Ben Nelson
Charlie Ellsworth
(202) 224-5274

Mark Pryor
Sarah Holland
(202) 224-2353

Jon Tester
Alpha Lillstrom
(202) 224-2644

Sherrod Brown
Marjorie Glick
(202) 224-2315

Thad Cochran
Will Todd
(202) 224-5054

Mitch McConnell
Sarah Arbes
(202) 224-2541

Richard C. Shelby
Andrew Newton
(202) 224-5744

Kay Bailey Hutchison
Dana Barbieri
(202) 224-5922

Lamar Alexander
Peter Oppenheim
(202) 224-4944

Susan Collins
Kenneth Altman
(202) 224-2523

Lisa Murkowski
Karen McCarthy
(202) 224-6665

Lindsey Graham
Courtney Titus
(202) 224-5972

Mark Kirk
Jeannette Windon
(202) 224-2854

Dan Coats
Casey Murphy
(202) 224-5623

Roy Blunt
Kristina Weger
(202) 224-5721

Jerry Moran
Brian Perkins
(202) 224-6521

John Hoeven
Emily Tryon
(202) 224-2551

Ron Johnson
Elizabeth Schwartz
(202) 224-5323 

Sharon Tanner
Director of Membership & Development
LDA National Headquarters
4156 Library Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15234
412-341-1515 x209

LDA...Empowering Individuals and Creating Opportunities

Link to the letter from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What are we talking about these days?

by Kathleen Kosobud, past-president, LDA of Michigan

I'm getting ready to share social media ideas with the Learning Disabilities Association state affiliate presidents and executive directors, so I thought I would try out a few new tools.  Here's a "word cloud", a visual analysis of word frequency in posts on this blog from Wordle:
Word Cloud from Wordle

You can change the font, colors and arrangement of the words.  Pretty cool, and free.