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Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE)

Students with Dyslexia — Update on Department Activities to Assist School

To:Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner
Date:October 18, 2019

This memorandum provides an update on the ongoing work of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) to implement certain requirements of An Act Relative to Students with Dyslexia, Chapter 272 of the Acts of 2018. The law (attached) was enacted in October 2018 and took effect on January 17, 2019. Section 1 is the key provision relating to the Department.1 It amended Chapter 71 of the Massachusetts General Laws to add the following provision:

Section 57A. The department of elementary and secondary education, in consultation with the department of early education and care, shall, subject to appropriation, issue guidelines to assist districts in developing screening procedures or protocols for students that demonstrate 1 or more potential indicators of a neurological learning disability including, but not limited to, dyslexia.

M.G.L. Chapter 71, § 57A. In service of this law, the Department has hired a vendor, Pivot Learning, to assist the Department and the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) in developing the Massachusetts Dyslexia Guidelines in consultation with stakeholders.2 Pivot Learning offers a team of diverse and highly qualified members, including several affiliated with University of Massachusetts Amherst. The organization partners with states and school districts to support better outcomes for students and promote best practices in many areas, including understanding the nature of reading difficulties.

Working with the vendor and stakeholders, the Department will prepare the guidelines in the current school year, 2019-2020. The guidelines will address the characteristics of dyslexia and other learning disabilities that have a neurobiological basis and will provide evidence-supported screening procedures and protocols for students who demonstrate these potential indicators. These procedures and protocols will also include special considerations related to student age and special populations, including English learners.

Additionally, although not required by the law, the guidelines will include resources and information beyond screening. Educators will be able to refer to the guidelines to:

  • Help clarify special education evaluation procedures for students with dyslexia, including information to support special education evaluations and reevaluations;
  • Offer considerations for IEP Teams in developing IEPs for students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities, including preschool children;
  • Address appropriate assessment selections for various populations, including English learners, students from varying socio-economic strata, and students with varying racial and cultural origins;
  • Examine evidence-based interventions that can be used across a multi-tiered system of support framework;
  • Assist teams in goal setting and accommodation planning for students;
  • Review information about specially designed instruction;
  • Explore guidance on organizing learning environments to include assistive technology options; and
  • Provide methods for educator preparation programs to offer effective pre-service training (preschool and K-12) with respect to dyslexia, as well as other learning disabilities.

The vendor has created a comprehensive plan for stakeholder engagement. Stakeholders will have an opportunity to review and provide feedback on the draft guidelines during the 2019-2020 school year. Stakeholders will represent the Department/EEC staff, families, students with IEPs, special education directors, special educators, general educators, related services providers, principals and school leaders, superintendents and district leaders, collaboratives, approved special education schools, institutions of higher education, disability organizations, and experts in the field. The Department expects to issue the final dyslexia guidelines in the fall of 2020.

The Department's communication with school districts and others has emphasized districts' continuing obligation to adopt and implement procedures and protocols pertaining to suspected reading disabilities and/or dyslexia. The Department continues to remind districts not to defer screening and support for students in anticipation of forthcoming guidelines. To assist with these activities, the Department has posted a web page dedicated to dyslexia. It includes information about screening, intervention, accommodations, social emotional needs, and specially designed instruction, along with links to a wide array of resources from the International Dyslexia Association, the National Reading Panel, and educational researchers, as well as dyslexia handbooks from other states.

Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston will be at the Board meeting on October 29, 2019 to answer any questions you may have about this initiative.


Download Word Document
Chapter 272 of the Acts of 2018
Download Word Document
Specific Learning Disability: Dyslexia web page

1 Sections 2 through 5 of the law amended special legislation, enacted in 2012, that created an Early Literacy Expert Panel. That legislatively established panel, whose work is now complete, was charged with providing recommendations to the Department, EEC and other state agencies on alignment, coordination, implementation and improvement of state efforts in support of children's literacy outcomes. The Panel's recommendations focused on early literacy screening. Current initiatives aligned with those recommendations are in service of supporting statewide use of a uniform prekindergarten developmental screener to identify and support children at-risk for later reading difficulties, and a literacy screener to do the same for kindergarten-aged children. Neither screening tool is focused specifically on dyslexia, however.

2 The Department issued a request for response (RFR) to identify a vendor for this project shortly after the law was enacted, but received no responsive bids at that time. The Department then issued a request for information (RFI) so that prospective bidders could offer input on the project's scope and proposed funding. As a result, the Department was able to issue a revised RFR in spring 2019, which led to the current contract.

Last Updated: October 21, 2019

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