AN INTERVIEW WITH HEATHER TELLIER,
DIRECTOR OF THE TCNJ STUDENT EVALUATION CLINIC
In 2013, the State of New Jersey passed a dyslexia law. This law contained three elements: screening, professional development, and guidance on instruments for testing, and intervention strategies. A short time ago, I learned that my alma mater – The College of New Jersey (TCNJ)- had opened a Dyslexia Initiative. Thrilled, I contacted Heather Tellier (HT) Director of the Evaluation Clinic at TCNJ.
My encounter with students who experienced dyslexia began while I was in college, as a tutor in the college’s learning center, and the opportunity to learn more was simply irresistible. TCNJ, even back in my day, was active in the surrounding districts through their school of education, and I was interested to find out more about the College of New Jersey’s role in the implementation of the new New Jersey law.
I found out that TCNJ’s Dyslexia Institute is a vanguard in the work to educate teachers and school administrators, parents and students with dyslexia, providing testing, student internships in intervention, and gatherings for professional development. The impact of my talk with Heather Tellier left me optimistic, yet more aware of the challenges States and districts across the country face in creating a systems approach to dyslexia identification, remediation, accommodation and student success. There is still much work to do.
PDEG “Tell us a bit about your role at TCNJ.”
HT “I am a learning consultant, as well as an adjunct professor here at the college. I am involved in running the clinic here at the Dyslexia Initiative. One of the areas I am working on is coming up with screening instruments for school districts.
In New Jersey, the law requires general education personnel to screen for and identify students who have indicators of potential dyslexia. School teams will meet – and are led by case managers – when there are characteristics of dyslexia. Having knowledge of dyslexia at that level is really important, and that is one of the items in the law – professional development.”
PDEG “How is it going there, with implementation of the law? Are districts “getting it?”
HT – “While the law provided required for screening and identification, and a definition of dyslexia, there is still very little guidance about how to screen or identify. Schools are confused about the characteristics and markers for dyslexia, and many are still viewing this as a medical diagnosis – creating a lot of confusion for parents.”
PDEG: “What happens once a student is identified?
HT: “It depends on the problem and the age of the student. Is the problem phonological processing, or fluency? Younger students may be placed into an Orton-Gillingham program then reassessed, similar to a RTI model.”
PDEG: “Is there a concern about the identification by weakness feature, as well as the duration and intensity of remediation in that scenario, with only six week of remediation?”
HT: “Again, every school is different. Depending on the weakness of the student, there might be very different approaches to remediation.”
PDEG – “Tell me about the activities the clinic undertakes with respect to dyslexia.”
HT – “TCNJ has a very good reputation in the community. Here, we do assessments but also, professional development through conferences (2 times per year). Lunch and learn sessions take place for district staff and educators involving different topics. We are also providing Wilson Certification Training. We are concerned that dyslexia programs are done correctly, and so, we have opportunities for teachers in service, and others, to become certified Orton-Gillingham tutors.”
PDEG – “What do you find most useful in your approach to assessment?”
HT- “I like to have a multi-disciplinary, collaborative approach, involving speech pathologists, as well as teachers and learning interventionists, or consultants. Having the different disciplines engaged is very helpful. When we come from different places and arrive at a similar conclusions or are able to tease out patterns together, it is very powerful.”
PDEG – “What do you see as challenges for the future?”
HT – “We are seeing professionals coming to our trainings, but it is not always the people in districts or campuses who need to be there. We would like to see greater involvement of those within special education, as well as regular education staff and teachers, including reading coaches and specialists. It would be great if the reality of dyslexia were more widely understood and accepted. There are those who still have great confusion about the term, definition and identification of dyslexia. We know how to identify it – and students can be helped. We also know that early identification and intervention is the key to student success. There is still a lot of awareness raising to be done. The Dyslexia Initiative is committed to doing our part.”
The Texas Dyslexia Handbook, Texas Education Agency, Revised 2014 as a comparative example, and for more on assessment, identification, instruction and accommodations for students with dyslexia.
As students and educators are about to embark on a new school year, it seemed fitting to publish a piece that would provide a small glimpse into the progress made, and the work ahead, on behalf of students with dyslexia. A big thank you to my alma mater, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) for allowing me to chat with them about the Dyslexia Initiative there. - Editor, Parents Dyslexia Education Group