Implementing the new state Dyslexia Guidelines
by Leslie Lingaas Woodward

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability in California, affecting up to 20 percent of the population. This means that, statistically, every classroom in California has several students with dyslexia who struggle to acquire literacy skills. October is National Dyslexia Awareness month in the United States and provides a timely reminder to revisit California’s Dyslexia Guidelines.

In 2015, the California State Legislature passed Assembly Bill 1369, which required that the California Department of Education create state Dyslexia Guidelines to assist teachers and parents in identifying, assessing and supporting these students. The guidelines were developed with input from an expert working group and published in August 2017.

“California’s Dyslexia Guidelines offer ways to improve the educational experience for students with dyslexia. They provide evidence-based information on how to identify and work with children who struggle with literacy skills,” said Cawley Carr, president of the International Dyslexia Association of Northern California.

What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a type of neurobiological diversity characterized by problems with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding. Contrary to common myth, people with dyslexia do not see things backward, but they find it hard to associate word sounds (phonemes) with the proper letter symbol (graphemes). Dyslexia is not related to intelligence, and there are many bright students with the condition. Dyslexia can be inherited — often a child with dyslexia has a parent with this learning difference.

The underlying brain differences that characterize dyslexia can be discerned at an early age with imaging tests such as functional magnetic resonance imaging. These same imaging tests show that the neural patterns characteristic of dyslexia can change with evidence-based instructional interventions.

Recognizing dyslexia

Dyslexia exists on a continuum that ranges from a student who has mild difficulties to one who is struggling severely. According to the state guidelines, some general signs that are associated with dyslexia include:

  • the inability to sound out new words, limited sight-word vocabulary;
  • listening comprehension that exceeds reading comprehension; and
  • an inadequate response to effective instruction and intervention to improve reading comprehension.

The state Dyslexia Guidelines also list signs of dyslexia by age group from preschool through college.

Students with dyslexia need Structured Literacy to learn
The state guidelines recommend “Structured Literacy” for all students with dyslexia. This term has been adopted by the International Dyslexia Association and other groups to describe evidence-based instructional approaches that teach students explicit and systematic strategies for decoding and spelling words. IDA has published Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading to help guide classroom and special education teachers in acquiring these skills.
Universal screening for early identification

The achievement gap between students with dyslexia and typical readers is apparent by first grade. For this reason, the Dyslexia Guidelines recommend universal screening to identify at-risk students, beginning in kindergarten. Screening should cover such areas as phonemic awareness and rapid naming, both strong predictors of dyslexia. Universal screening is a key piece of a Multi-Tiered System of Support and is the first step in identifying which students may need Structured Literacy. Screening should also include English learners, as these students are just as likely as native speakers to have dyslexia. The state guidelines list options for screening tools. Others are under development, including one from the University of California, San Francisco Dyslexia Center.

To access the guidelines, visit the CDE’s website at For more information about dyslexia, visit the International Dyslexia Association Northern California branch website at

Leslie Lingaas Woodward is a past president and current advisory board member of IDA Northern California ( She is a Bay Area-based freelance writer and Structured Literacy tutor.