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School Partnership with NJ Senator and Learning Ally to Support Struggling Readers

Categories: Curriculum & Access, Education & Teaching, Funding & Awards

Student Reads Using Assistive TechnologyMany state Departments of Education, administrators and teachers, legislators, school boards and parents are now making plans to support the more than 10 million students with dyslexia, a neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to decode words in print. 

In America, one in five students has this learning disability and many will go unidentified or will not receive the reading intervention or accommodation they need. In the U.S., all but 13 states have mandated legislation to assist this growing population of struggling readers. 

Dyslexia - Barrier to “Reading to Learn”

Students with dyslexia find it difficult to stay engaged in a story or textbook and continually struggle with reading comprehension and fluency. These students are often bright individuals with high intellect, but they can spiral downward in their academic pursuit unless they receive access to grade-level assignments to keep pace and study in mainstream education classes. 

New Jersey is Taking Reading ACCESS to the Next Level 

In 2017, New Jersey received funding support thanks to Senator Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr. (D-18), who sponsored a state budget resolution appropriating $1.5 million dollars to provide NJ schools and its students with human-read audiobooks by Learning Ally. 

The nonprofit provides equitable reading solutions with access to 80,000 high-quality human-read audiobooks, K-12 textbooks and literature with an abundance of teacher tools, resources and national reading competitions to keep kids engaged and reading. More than 13,000 U.S. schools and districts now work with the organization to serve an estimated 300,000 students. The NJ partnership supports approximately 6,000 K-12 students with learning and print disabilities. 

Dr. Scott TaylorDarcie_CimarustiDr. Scott Taylor, Superintendent of Highland Park School District, is now implementing this reading solution across his schools’ instructional framework in all grades. 

He appreciates the Senator’s support and the stellar effort made by Ms. Darcie Cimarusti, the President of his local school board, who advocated for this funding.  

Both Dr. Taylor and Ms. Cimarusti are parents of children who struggle to read and are proponents of ‘learning through listening’ to text with audio while having the ability to follow along through highlighted words. 

Each parent has observed first-hand how audiobooks stimulate reading comprehension and engagement for their own children.

Boy Reads Using DeviceMs. Cimarusti believes that “Children with learning differences should have access to audiobooks as early as possible to strengthen their comprehension, reinforce critical thinking skills and build a larger vocabulary.” 

Her daughter, Sabina, a 6th grader with dyslexia, has shown considerable improvement in decoding words while reading audiobooks on her iPad with Learning Ally. 

In early childhood, popular children’s books sat on Sabina’s bookshelf waiting to be opened, but never read. Today, with audiobooks, few titles escape her learning comfort zone. 

Ms. Cimarusti is relieved that Sabina, and other students with print-related disabilities, will have access to human-read audiobooks to help them access more challenging education materials. 

Through Learning Ally’s reading solution, teachers can seamlessly integrate the audiobooks into a whole class, small group or individualized learning environment and use an online dashboard to manage reading assignments and student progress. 

Reading on Devices - Listening and Learning (Ear-Reading)

Girl Reads Using Assistive Technology In the Highland Park district, students can now effortlessly read a class assignment on many devices. They have tools at their fingertips, like bookmarking and notetaking. They can easily capture and cite evidence in a book report and communicate with their teachers through email.  

Children in K-5 participate in a literacy-centered learning structure. They often work independently reading Learning Ally audiobooks on Google Chromebooks. Older students have direct access to the vast audiobook library to read in their classrooms, resource rooms and at home. 

They listen to text read aloud using the Learning Ally Link mobile app, on PCs, Macs, Apple Mobile Devices, Android Devices, & Chromebooks. The app uses proprietary VOICEtext ™ technology that synchronizes human narration with highlighted words. This reading experience provides students with a multisensory way (to see and hear) text that can help them to better master core content knowledge and become active learners through listening. 

Special and general education teachers at Highland Park now recognize the full potential of serving the individual needs of students with dyslexia with audiobooks. They practice a popular classroom management strategy called the Daily 5 that recommends a ‘listening/learning’ reading approach.  Dr. Taylor says, “We see a bright future for our students and a newfound appreciation for reading engagement.”  He and Ms. Cimarusti intend to share the district’s model in the coming year and she is already advocating for more N.J. schools to take advantage of the reading accommodation and state funding. 

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