Episode 33 - Base Systems Needed for Change in Reading Education with Tim Odegard, PhD
Tim Odegard, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology and holds the Katherine Davis Murfree Chair of Excellence in Dyslexic Studies at Middle Tennessee State University. He also leads the efforts of the Tennessee Center for the Study and Treatment of Dyslexia. He also serves as Editor-in-Chief of Annals of Dyslexia. Before joining the faculty at MTSU, Tim served on the faculty at the University of Texas Arlington and UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. In addition to being a research scientist, Tim is a reading therapist, having completed a two-year dyslexia specialist training program at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas during his NIH funded postdoctoral fellowship.
Danielle Scorrano: [00:00:00] Hello everybody, all our READers out in the pod universe, I am here bringing the world of science and reading to your ears. And I am excited to introduce the guest for this episode. And if you can hear my smile, I'm smiling from ear to ear because of the journey that I'm about to embark on with my guest, Dr. Tim Odegard. Dr. Odegard. Welcome to the READ Podcast.
Dr. Tim Odegard: Thank you so much for having me here with your reader slash ear readers.
Danielle Scorrano: I love that as all our READers know, READ, the Research Education and ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices and education and child development. I'm your host of the READ Podcast, Danielle Scorrano. And before we get to the interview, I want to give a little background about Dr. Odegard. Dr. Tim Odegard is a professor in psychology and holds the Katherine [00:01:00] Davis Murphy Chair of Excellence in Dyslexic Studies at Middle Tennessee State University. He also leads the efforts of the Tennessee Center for the Study and Treatment of Dyslexia and serves as Editor in Chief at Annals of Dslexia.
Before joining the faculty at MTSU, Dr. Odegard served on the faculty at the University of Texas Arlington and UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. In addition to being a research scientist, Dr. Odegard is a reading therapist, having completed a two year dyslexia specialist training program at Texas Scottish Rite hospital for children in Dallas during his NIH funded post-doc fellowship.
Okay. So Dr. Odegard, I gave a little snapshot of your background and I want to start when, there's so much, I want to talk to you about, I mean, there's a lot of things that keep me up at night. I have a lot of questions about education that keep me awake and not all quote unquote, I'm doing air quotes, are, are they bad by any means? I mean, when I think of reading, of [00:02:00] course, I think about how we can move the needle forward in reading, but I'm also just constantly thinking about the elements of research that fascinate me. So this is why I'm so excited to talk to you. But before we get into these deep questions, I want to hear your story and background. So tell us more about you as a child through school, leading up to what you do now, professionally.
Tim Odegard: I can do that. And so actually I want to start this kind of at where you ended with your introduction of me, which was me doing the two year IMSLEC accredited course at Texas Scottish Rite hospital children, which was right there when I was doing a national research service award fellowship, that was awarded to me by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. So that is going to be right there, when I came out, I had my PhD while I was writing my dissertation. I also put together and submitted my second proposal for NRSA. When was a pre doc, didn't have enough [00:03:00] time to get that few percentile ranks I needed to get that one, but I did score on the first round and I was awarded my post-doctoral fellowship. So with my PhD in hand, having already been awarded an NIH post-doc from NIC HD. Before I even got that, I had to photocopy my PhD diploma and send that to NIH so that they would actually finalize an award and send the funds to me, came a conversation with my mother and that conversation was so, yeah, mom, I'm going to do this stuff. And I just got a three year fellowship. It's the most prominent research award that anybody in the country can get. Um, and I'm going to study partly, I want to retool myself. I'm going to kind of move away from eyewitness memory and child memory development and aging memory. And I'm going to look at reading and reading development, because I want to study individuals who are, who have dyslexia like myself. And she says, well, wait a second. The school said you couldn't read, and they thought that you weren't a dumb, [00:04:00] dumb, but you weren't smart enough on the IQ test to be called dyslexic at that time.
So you never once had a label of dyslexia and you never once were eligible for protections under special education. Why was that mom? Because your IQ score wasn't high enough. So I went my entire school life up until I received my PhD, had already, before I even got that been awarded the NRSA at one of the most prominent at that time, for that stage of career research award that a person in our country can be given, but I had been said in the third grade to be too stupid to receive a label of dyslexia in a state that had a Texas, Texas at the time in 1985 had just passed the dyslexia law. A state law did not protect me. A federal law to not protect me, nor did I receive protections and services underneath IDEA. So I had to scrape and go through and persevere all the way through schooling, undergrad, [00:05:00] and post, and my graduate work with no resources or accommodations through any kind of federal oversight kind of thing like IDEA would have.
So that's kind of right there, so that we can back up. So I was this bright little kiddo in my pre-K years, and I was so excited to go to school that my mom actually enrolled me in kind of a church based pre-K half-day program, because I wanted to go to school like the big kids before kindergarten. So I got to go to that. And then I got to kindergarten, I showed great potential. And what happened was, as we went through kindergarten and first a little reading group, I was always at the end of the line for reading the little readers, which are so prevalent even today. And I would memorize all the words that everybody else was saying when I saw them on the page. So by the time they got to me, I could read the full page, all from memory. And of course I was showing great promise. So they moved me up further. So I wasn't the fifth person in my little group to read. I was the fourth. I wasn't the fourth person to read. I was the third. I wasn't the third person to read. I was the second I wasn't the [00:06:00] second person to read. I was the first. And when I was the first, I couldn't read a darn word. Because nobody had gone before me and actually read them so I could map and memorize the words on the page through sight memory. And so then I started to spiral and then I wasn't in the best reading group, I was in the second best reading group. I wasn't in the second best reading group. I was in the worst reading group. And then I was kept going up through the schooling and kept doing that. So I went through that all the way through kind of my educational experiences in Texas, until we moved back to Arkansas in the eighth grade and I had achieved so much, I was advanced at head of my class in math. And I was actually so far ahead when I went in the Arkansas school system, they told me, you know, you can keep going at this route, but you've already taken what you need to take, and you're a year ahead. So we need to put you a year ahead. And that would mean that you would have to go to community college and take calculus your senior year.
There's only other one other kid who's new to the school [00:07:00] who's at this place. And I'm like, no, no, I don't want to do that. Well, why wouldn't you want to do that? I don't want to do anything that flags me as different. I want to be seen as just like all the other kids. So I slogged through from a very, there's lots of good teachers in the world, this was not one of them the same material. And still to this day, I've taught myself aspects of calculus and linear algebra to do the advanced statistical analysis that I run. But I've never had a formal class in calculus nor in linear algebra. I've just taught myself that. All the MRI physics I'd know to do my MRI work, I've self taught me those equations and understand the basic equations that are used for those as well. But I never actually had a formal class in those aspects of math even in college because I didn't, I didn't go that route. I went more into the humanities when I was in college.
Then the other thing that they did was they said, well, we see that you have troubles with reading. Do you want us to note those? I said, do I have to? No. And I just looked at her in a point blank. That's been in my [00:08:00] file all my life and never done me any good, just heartache. I don't want that ever mentioned to anybody in this school. That just needs to go into the trash please. Because it doesn't give me anything. All it gives me is heartache. So they just trashed that. So then I got to come from kind of square one. And by the time that I left high school, I was in AP English. I'd been in AP English for two different years. I was still in the top of the math class, at least for what that math could do, but I had self handicapped myself, so I didn't do calculus.
And then I went on to a really well-established liberal arts college for my undergraduate degree. Then I went to a PhD program at Arkansas and did experimental psychology that wound me up where I was, graduating with my PhD being told that no, I never had the label of dyslexia. So, that brings me up to kind of where you did, where then I did the two year placement, and I did all that. The whole time through all of that I was very inspired to help individuals and children. One of the things that I did at 14 was I helped to co-run our county's summer reading program for [00:09:00] children. So I was going in and developing all of the arts and crafts material that complimented the children's book that the children's librarian would take out for the little kiddos to come in.
These were like three, four, and five and six year olds. They would sit with the children's librarian and she would read them a book and then they would come over with me and I would lead them through guided art projects that were linked back to the theme of the book. I even arranged once from my buddies in the band to come in and we did Peter and the Wolf, and we would play a little motifs for each of the characters.
So the little birdie was a flute. One of my buddies, Kelly, she played the motif for that. I had the oboist play the piece for the duck. I had somebody who played clarinet do that. And then I think we brought in some temporary drums to be the hunters. Boom, boom, boom, boom, with those. So we brought in the actual pieces of the score from the, from the Tchaikovsky piece to go along with Peter and the Wolf. So I've always had this interest in literacy and trying to help kids. For the longest of time, I actually taught Montessori and pre-K as a [00:10:00] result of that, while I was still paying my way through undergraduate in my high school things. I was already working in pre-K in high school. So that's kind of a long-winded story to say that it's kind of a, you left off with me kind of right there, kind of being wow, well, that's interesting to know. I never once was actually labeled as having dyslexia because at a time in third grade, one test score determined that I wasn't meritorious of receiving that because I was unexceptional.
I was not exceptional. It wasn't unusual for me to be struggling to read. It was expected for me to be struggling to read. However, it's ironic now that I'm a leading expert in the field of dyslexia, the Editor in Chief of Annals of Dyslexia, and I've clearly demonstrated that I have a little more going on in my head than what once was thought in third grade, based on a single time measure of IQ.
Danielle Scorrano: First of all, that was probably the best, first question explanation of your story that I've ever heard. I was so taken by [00:11:00] each stage of your academic and personal life that could be explained beyond a short bio that I read about you. And I think that's characteristic, when you go back to your journey with dyslexia, that your story, your approach to reading your reading performance, how you approached reading could be told beyond a single measure of a test score. And that to me is really fascinating. And when you were talking about your story, I think back to why I started READ. I see myself as someone doing this podcast as the connector of science and story, that both are important to shape practices, to provide a more integrated picture of how we approach a lot of facets of, of human life, not just reading or not just academics.
And then the other piece, I think that's really interesting is your story interwove this maybe not a paradox here, but this multiple dimensions of system and [00:12:00] self, that as you were interacting, you were telling the story of the system about how there were dyslexia laws in Texas at the time to hopefully make a better quote unquote system for the kids and yet in your self story, that wasn't actually the reality.
And so I come at this a lot with the integration between system and self, between science and story. I'm just curious, I know you said that you had done all this research in memory and aging, and then you told your mom that you wanted to study reading and dyslexia. So how did you get to that? Was there's this existential moment where you decided that you needed to pursue that path? Or what was that change in your perspective or your thinking that you wanted to actually pursue reading in this country and reading research?
Tim Odegard: It was two-fold. One, I think it was me having enough confidence in myself. That I could look into an area that had a lot of [00:13:00] hurt for me. So objectivism is something that scientists holds as being very dear. If you've ever heard Jane Goodall tell her lived narrative, you've heard her speak to the fact that when she was working with her mentor in the field, her perspective of understanding, the primates that she was studying was definitely frowned upon by the established PhD holding scientific community at the time.
We now, of course, you know, laud her as a champion and as helping us to see another way forward, but she helped to, she named those primates. She understood those interweavings of those, and it wasn't just anthropomorphizing them. It was really understanding them as other organisms and having potential for more than what at the time they were.
So, for me, it was really. Understanding that there wasn't, there was going to be a crossing point that I was going to go into. I was going to study something that was inherently an aspect of who I am. But part of that was the [00:14:00] realization that anybody who studies human behavior studies an aspect of who they are, it's just the level and how fine grained you get with it.
Even if you're a neuroscientist, studying models and animals, you're still studying and trying to apply that back to aspects of who you are as a human being, to go back to the original concept of psychological science that William James and other put forth is, you know, it was the science of human behavior.
So we all study. And so it's arrogance to say that you have clear objectivism in the sense of you are studying yourself inherently. It's the methods that we use and how we approach those. My lived narrative, I can share, that is mine. My lived narrative doesn't always jive with what bubbles up through empirical tools and approaches and methodologies.
And that is not a conflict. It's just the reality because no one single case study is sufficient enough to determine and generalize to an entire population across the globe. No one language is sufficient enough [00:15:00] to generalize and populate out to all of the languages on the globe. So it was a realization at that high level of understanding that I'm not doing anything inherently wrong to go down this path.
So it was definitely something that I wanted to pursue and I was willing to look into it. The second actually was because the person who I really looked up to as a research scientist was, Danny Kahneman's wife who, often everybody knows who he is. He's a Nobel prize laureate has written several popular press books, but Ann Treisman.
So my memory research and the work into false memories in particular was highly inspired by her understanding of perception and attention. And I had noticed that there were researchers who were using one of her early methodologies, looking at illusionary conjunctions, or we make these false perceptions to understand units within words, and how those might be different. So I was seeing that what I had trained myself up in my basic understanding of cognitive science had application to getting [00:16:00] into the weeds and trying to understand at a basic level where there might be fundamental differences that might integrate into kind of statistical learning mechanisms that we could exploit, attentional differences, as well as a proxy and an implicit measure of what units different folks are able to process within words. What are the orthographic chunks in units that we could see at a pre-attentive level?
We've moved past that in my research lab, we now use EEG and various forms of EEG methodology to look at the statistical structures that are being learned and implicit processing and automatic processing of those word structures. It's a more robust way of using it and it doesn't require any responding.
So I've moved well past the use of just illusionary conjunction as a method of looking at those basic processes in my own research here in the center now. But there was a twofold, it was me seeing that the basic understanding of cognitive science that I had developed to be a research scientist with had application. The other, the third thing I say I would say is as I did web search for dyslexia, [00:17:00] I didn't get consistent information about it. So what I then saw at that time would really be where my heart passion now is, is trying to communicate and giving clear, reliable information about what it is in really clear terms that everybody can understand which to go back to what is still prominent.
And I see people still commentating in society is, clear is not academic. We obfuscate reality with big words and cumbersome syntactical structure of our language use. And so it isn't seen as being heightened science when you read things off of my center webpage, or if you read my blog for example, but I think it's what's needed for society and I'm more important and finding out how I can be helpful, opposed to how I can pro provincial, wait, my ego and sound important or smart.
Danielle Scorrano: Hmm. I like how you talked about the multifaceted nature of your research. Because when I do a quick search on Researchgate or on your website, for example, you see a lot of different types of research [00:18:00] that you're doing, from understanding the factors of dyslexia to policy implications, to teacher training. And in fact, my road to you was through the teacher knowledge survey that you have been developing with a number of colleagues. But I do want to circle back to the blog posts that you've penned because I remember reading the one that you did last summer in 2021 about identifying dyslexics in a sea of struggling readers.
And I read that article multiple times because I think it was, like you said, it was so clear, it resonated so much. It provided that window into what we should be doing and how we should be understanding struggling readers in this country. And when you reflect on your work at large from the studies that you've conducted to this blog, I want to ask you just to start off, how do you conceptualize our system of how we teach reading in this country specifically centered around the children who do struggle to read?
Tim Odegard: Well, I [00:19:00] conceptualize it as a severed system that's based off of different policy mechanisms that are in place that are there to hopefully help and support and protect individuals. However, they have not been fundamentally reconceptualized and updated based off of 50 years worth of empirical study of how reading develops in particular. And so I'm speaking specifically to IDEA the individuals with disabilities and education act and also specific learning disability, which the largest category for that would be reading. And so we have done a tremendous amount of thoughtful, intentional work that has been led by key individuals, allocating resources to establish billions of dollars that have been funneled into understanding this concept through multiple reading centers across the country. And I would just wonder if we have applied what we have learned from that [00:20:00] research into understanding this and in particular, this idea that we need gatekeepers to prevent us from moving into it. It's pretty easy to just synthesize. We need prevention first that reduces the number of children who are truly struggling. And we have, I actually will take credit for part of this. We have both neuro imaging as well as behavioral studies, as well as more recent studies that we've published about those persistently poor responders.
They're not non-responders, they are learning, but their rate of learning is particularly protracted and slow. Those in particular, we need to be able to identify and not fault them for that slow rate of learning and have systems in place that allow them to truly get the structure that they need. I would point to schools like you're at as well as let's say the Shelton school or AIM, or many others, the Grange School in New Jersey. They don't take this approach that you have to create silos, and you have to worry about where your funding streams come [00:21:00] from. You just implement quality reading instruction. You allow the children to move through that quality reading instruction with high fidelity, from highly skilled individuals. And not a lot of excess testing, but testing is provided to look and see if they're learning the skill sets and what you're trying to teach, and is that transferring over? And when you walk into those schools, if they've been there for four or five years, you'd be hard pressed to say that you could pick anybody out who was honestly, still a struggling reader, but they enable they enjoy the context. And they, they enjoy the fact, those students of not feeling other or separate and being integrated in and having a system that just provides them what they need as part of just the base way the system works.
So when I think to why we have success in some of our models in the private school setting is because we don't create silos. And one of the fundamental things that we're able to do is we now have several more [00:22:00] intensive interventions for reading and spelling, which are fairly comprehensive when those are implemented as kind of your core ELA time in these schools you're not having to then give them something that's an insufficient, weak dosage of something that's moving way too fast and then pull them out. And maybe they get two or three 30 minute logs of time for something that isn't really hitting their needs. No, it can be calibrated.
And all of that time can be at the level of intensity and support that they need. And so it isn't necessarily sufficient for all learners to be in the current models that we run. And in school settings, you rarely, and I'm not aware of any- if your ear readers out there have any examples they want to put in your comments or something- public schools, not charter schools. There's one in Florida that's a charter that does this, public schools that actually will use resources and funds to have a actual ELA block set up in that period that would be as sufficient intensity for your struggling [00:23:00] readers, so that they don't have to get something insufficient for the major part of their ELA block to then try to bandaid that with something kind of as a patch. Because we do know from the science that there is a non-trivial number of children who are going to need something to protracted sustained and at a high level of intensity. And we don't currently have a system for that. And you can say that special education, but whatever's happening in SpEd isn't supporting that either. And again, if you know of a SpEd program that can do that too, where they'll pull kids out and put them into that ELA time that isn't sufficient, let me know. But we have a fairly comprehensive structured programs for individuals who have protracted needs in all aspects of reading to get what they need. And we don't implement them in that type of way in public school settings. And I think that's an issue that we have with our schools.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. I love what you said about that. And first I want to highlight not only the models, but going back, actually, let me just stop for a second. You are, there's so many questions that are just running through my mind right [00:24:00] now, and even beyond the main things that we're talking about. I want it to highlight when you said about non-responders and shifting that language from non-responders to poor responders. I think that's an interesting, that's an interesting language because when you look at that in the research, oh, this is a non-responder, in perhaps in human behavior in your mind, you're saying, oh, they're a non-responder implicitly, they'll never be able to read. And I think shifting that language from non-responder to poor responder is actually a very important one. I was holding onto that information for, for a few minutes and I appreciate you saying that. And then going back to the models, I think that's also an important point to make. And specifically as you look how this translates to public education, and that brings me to a couple of next questions I have for you about what's missing and what should we be focusing on. In the July, 2021 blog post, you had said "all the signs in the world doesn't do us any good when the base systems needed to translate it are [00:25:00] overtaxed or non-existent."
So I like to know what you mean by base system. Was that some of the systems you were talking about in public education? And what else is missing, or what else is maybe is a gap for not only children with dyslexia, but all struggling readers in this country?
Tim Odegard: Well, I want to go back and tell a fun story about my selective use of persistently poor responders. One, the first time I ever had the pleasure of meeting Patricia Mathes and David Chard, I indicated that I was studying and I may have just published the first brain imaging study on what I termed non-responders. And she just looked at me with disgust and said, I really wish people would just stop using that term.
They are learning. And if you actually would measure, you would see that they're learning and these kids can learn to read. And from that point on one, Patricia was like a little hero in my head, and I still try to keep in touch with her and see how she's doing in the world as she's transitioned into kind of a new thing for herself. [00:26:00] But then I just vowed to myself as I would not make that thoughtless use of terminology ever again. So that's part of the fun story is there are two prominent researchers, I was coming together getting a chance to meet with them. And Patricia Mathes, as some of your readers may know, was an early person who studied this notion of treatment response rates when she was working with Joe Torgesen and others.
So I just thought I'd throw that out there as far as that goes. So I would love to take credit for having had the self-awareness to have said that, but I don't think that where I was at, as far as having had the emotional casualties, I still pretty much thought of those of us who were struggling as broken and less than and inferior. And I don't know that I would have empowered myself the way that Patricia was fully aware and ready to empower herself and others in our lived narratives. So I just wanted to share that with your ear readers about the word.
But the base systems. Yeah, I mean, from an [00:27:00] implementation science perspective, if we just take the stuff that comes out of North Carolina and the center for implementation science, we've got drivers for intervention, which are the behavioral interventions that would be instruction. That would be anything interventions to go in and work with. An intervention would also be at an adult level of reading coaches going in to support and provide better, or a supervisor of reading intervention, going into support or reading interventionists to heighten his or her skillset. It would also be a reading team that comes together to look at how things are running. Any behavioral intervention is considered an intervention, and those are multiple levels of an educational ecosystem. They're not just confined to what the instruction or intervention is that's provided to a child. It's an intervention also for adults and for schools and for districts and states. So from an implementation science standpoint, we have to broaden our mind and break through the monolithic thinking that those [00:28:00] drivers are just one specific thing.
Then you have your data drivers as, so your data drivers would be what data is bubbling up through your behavioral interventions. Are you thoughtfully and intentionally bringing in to give you critical just-in-time information to calibrate your behavioral interventions by your adults in the room? And then you have your leadership drivers.
How is your leadership breaking down silos, supporting communication, bringing people together supporting the professional development and the ongoing, just in time coaching and support to drive what's happening in those behavioral interventions, all three are needed and all can run at base levels.
So we have initial mutation kind of your base, full implementation. Then you have innovation. So if I've got a high good running ELA block thats got a research validated core reading program and some supplements that are empirically validated themselves, [00:29:00] I want that running as intended and I want to then use my data to make sure it's meeting the needs doing high percentage of my students that I'm seeing in that context. And that's really critical in that context of that school. So I have to look at my own data to look at that within a district, within a state. And then I also then need to then be able to say, well, for those smaller percentage of students who aren't succeeding, what is going to be my next level of support for them, let's put those pieces in place.
Let's make sure that that's running it base levels of implementation, track that make sure we're getting those growth moving. And then for that very small amount of the three to 5% who are protracted and really difficult to teach what is going to be my next level of support and how am I going to implement that? So those base systems are based on those three types of drivers and getting base levels of implementation that are based on high fidelity. We don't rush to [00:30:00] intervention innovation and start to supplement. And I think that something's broken until we've had a chance to actually get everybody up to speed and to get retention of our personnel and our, and our personnel talent and leadership to where we can run those at base levels of implementation.
We don't see that often in education and we don't see people allowing enough air in the room for multiple stakeholders to allow the time needed to just get the base systems to run and then from that innovate. We run to, uh, draconian measures through legislation and other acts to go through and then dictate from on high, what's supposed to be happening in a context opposed to showing and supporting how they can take and move through the different pieces.
I would point to, as I was just working with my buddies from Arkansas and hearing some of theirs. It was 2016, was the right to read legislation in Arkansas, they've stuck with that. And now at '22, they haven't changed that legislation. [00:31:00] And where did that legislation came from? It came from the understanding two years after their dyslexia law, as I told them in the keynote that I gave in the state, you don't have a dyslexia law, you have an MTSS RTI law. And what you're going to find is far too many kids are struggling in your state. Now that you've required K through 2 universal screening and basic emergent literacy skills and literacy skills, that you have far too many kids who were struggling to read. And that's going to require you to think differently about the solution because you're not dealing with, let's say 3 to 5% of your students, you're dealing with large percentage of your students, in some cases over half your students who are struggling to read and spell very well. The representatives and the legislation in Arkansas responded in kind, and they came up with a Right to Read Act, which is now squarely focused on K through 2 high-quality instructional materials as supporting the implementation of those in the schools and through teacher training statewide and other initiatives. And they're allowing that to play out in the schools and they're [00:32:00] tracking all the data across the state K through 2, to see how that's playing out. And that's a different mindset then we need to keep band-aiding things because we're not seeing what we want on our high stakes third grade reading test.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. And in terms of screening and identification, you illuminated this gap in policy. I was reading your 2020 paper that you had coauthored, and I'll share it on the READ website, but "Characteristics of Students Identified with Dyslexia within the Context of State Legislation" and you were very out front and then in illuminating some gaps in terms of looking at dyslexia and I have a little bit of the paper up now, but I'll allow you to actually talk a little bit about it. What were those gaps that you were seeing in this policy, these mandates and how it was actually being translated or implemented in how we screen and identify kids?
Tim Odegard: A couple of different gaps. I'll point it, the most obvious gap that I think that folks that now as they try to, and I've worked kind of in the [00:33:00] background to kind of give- opposed to after the fact- before the fact to try to give some input on how you might think about some of these dyslexia laws is at the time that many of these laws came to be, what they've done. And we've systematically reviewed every single law for a in press book chapter now that we were asked to write for the third edition of the Handbook for Learning Disabilities, so I've actually got a systematic review of all the laws with charts that show this. Just take one concrete example. If you're supposed to be universally screening, all children K through two all the way back, let's say your 2014, let's say in Arkansas or earlier in some other states on rapid automatized naming, you don't have a curriculum based measure or a computer adaptive screener available to do that. Let's look at another one, which is the developmental gap. If you say that you're supposed to be [00:34:00] saying word reading or decoding, let's say also spelling and you're supposed to be universally screening all children for that K through, two developmentally, you're not reading a spelling in kindergarten at the beginning of the year now are you. There's a gap. You're not expected. It wouldn't make sense. You're not doing those skillsets nor are you expected to do those skillsets potentially at the end of kindergarten, but not really until first grade. So we had laws on the books in multiple states that were requiring the naming specific literacy constructs and emergent literacy constructs that were supposed to be universally screened in a grade band, that one, there weren't available instruments to do it as they said that they were supposed to do it, which then resulted in Mississippi working to create their own RAN measure and their own screener, for example, and then Arkansas just doing the best they could to cobble together and put some pages out that had colored [00:35:00] blocks on it. And they tried to say, hey, use this. And here's our best guess, not optimal. And then also the developmental schism, which is developmentally, they were mandating things, be tested that you wouldn't even expect any child to reliably be able to do based on where they're at developmentally. So you had some gaps in what was happening as far as the ability for schools to carry that out.
In that article, you referenced, we picked second grade in particular to avoid those concerns. And what we found was gaps in the fact that a whole lot of kids were struggling to read and spell words on a universal screener. We used IStation to cite again, Patricia Mathes, that Patricia Mathes and Joe Torgesen did as our universal screener for this study. And across the thousands of kids who were in our study, we found high percentages of kids who couldn't read or spell based off of where they should be on that screener. And we saw very small percentages of children actually then bubbling up and being [00:36:00] labeled as having dyslexia and receiving dyslexia specific interventions per the state law being reported back to the State Capitol in Little Rock. So there was a disconnect between what we saw in the kids and others.
And that was disproportionately impacting kids in certain contexts, the context of schools that had high percentage of students who on the screener were struggling to read and spell. That's the, where the label of the sea of struggling readers. How do you find the signal for the noise when you got over half the kids in your school, not meeting expectations on reading and spelling?
The other one was we found that some of our marginalized and vulnerable populations in the state, in that study, it was particularly African Americans were being underrepresented by half, as many relative to the Caucasians. In other analyses, we found, we also do find that poverty has a big impact on what we see there and more recent publications that we have, um, that, that poverty does play a role as well.
Danielle Scorrano: Hmm. So then if there are these gaps that exist and there are these disparities, [00:37:00] what is the, and I don't want to say what is the answer because it's not just one answer. What are the implications then of how we do move forward from this? I mean, you illuminated these critical areas that need to be addressed. So how then do we move forward from that?
Tim Odegard: Well, I will speak to my personal lived narrative, my outcome as an individual who has lived his life struggling to read and write and then part of writing his spelling for my entire life is interwoven with the reading outcomes and success for all children. I believe that in my lived narrative, to my core, we are part of an interwoven ecosystem. And my outcomes are dependent upon the positive outcomes of everybody, because you can't find individuals who have protracted persistent reading struggles because of a diathesis that they might have inherited that sets them up to have slight [00:38:00] differences in how their language centers develop.
If we don't take care of, and we try to overcome, those individuals who may be struggling to read because of social determinants, independent of a neuro-biological diathesis. So by social determinants is, I mean, I also was a blue-collar student. I did not have parents, college educated parents in my home. I didn't necessarily hear elevated language and vocabulary use. I often didn't hear certain aspects of exchanges in my home to elevate my understanding of the world. That didn't set me up as a protective factor. That was actually an additional risk factor for me. My dialectical speaking wasn't standard English. It was more of a blue collar Appalachian and Arkansas that Appalachian really runs through a different part of the country, but in the Ozarks is where my family is from. And so we didn't have necessarily those home protective services that we need also had two working [00:39:00] parents who were working their hardest just to put food on the tables and keep the rent paid.
They didn't free up a lot of time. And when my mom would go into school and she really advocated more for my sister than she did for me, because I was making it hook nor crook, however I could through. But my sister wasn't as she was falling further and further behind, and she graduated as a functional illiterate from high school.
Danielle Scorrano: Wow.
Tim Odegard: So mom would come home and cry herself to sleep when she would have those meetings at the school. And what I learned really quick was I didn't want to be a problem for my mom and I wanted to take care of what my needs were and make myself go up, which put an even bigger chip on my shoulder was, now you're not just sharing with me, you're screwing with my sister and you're scrolling my mom. So this really turned into my head and something of an adversarial really quick. And the fact that I'm such a staunch ally and voice to protect the teachers in the room, isn't necessarily where you would think that I would have wound up by how devastatingly horrible [00:40:00] our family experience was with the educational system. And that actually means that because I've been able to elevate and see that this is an integrated ecosystem, that we all benefit by supporting others. Some of the people that I had the least amount of time for are people who want even more resources for their kids and get really upset and hot and bothered about what their kids are.
They're allowed to have that experience. I have a hard time with that, because if you step back, you start to understand, but what a lot of those parents done, they've advocated and tried to find ways to integrate, to support the needs of most kids for most schools. And so I do think that that's one of the silver linings from some of the parent advocacy is, is that those people come through their own lived narratives to understand that this is a much bigger issue than just their child. But as I've said before in public venues, whatever parent does for their child is what they need to do for their child. And that's not my decision. And so I have nothing but [00:41:00] compassion for everybody, but I don't want parents telling me that I shouldn't show compassion for teachers. I don't want parents telling me that I shouldn't show compassion for DOEs. I don't want people's parents telling me that I shouldn't show compassion for principals or assistant principals. I think that I should show compassion for everybody. And so I don't just like, I'm not going to tell a parent what they should or shouldn't do to advocate for their child. I support them in that. I don't need them mean tweeting at me that they don't want to hear me supporting and taking the side of teachers. I'm not taking anybody's side because I have learned through my research across the thousands, tens of thousands of published data points at this point, that we're all in this together and as an ecosystem. And that we truly do have to support the entire system in order to elevate the system as high as we can. And in front of that, those of us who are going to still struggle are going to be found. And because there's so few of us, we have tons of bounty of resources to allocate to support us and that's what's truly needed.
Danielle Scorrano: Hm. [00:42:00] You oh, that I had a question about how we look at this integration of all these different stakeholders and perspectives, and I really think that you, that is the crux of it. It is treating this as an ecosystem. What I find really fascinating and unique about your work is that you're looking at all of this through a lens of research, through the lens of being a literacy practitioner of understanding schools, of your own experience and of your family's experience and now as a father of a child with dyslexia, and all the work that you've been doing and consulting with families about their own experiences. And so if we're treating this as an ecosystem, we're looking at social determinants, we're also navigating the experiences of teachers and school leaders, understanding that we're all in this together and that we're acknowledging, and correct me if I'm wrong, when you're talking about compassion, we're all, you're looking at this through a lens of everyone's doing the best [00:43:00] that they can with the resources that they have. Is that when you mean by compassion?
Tim Odegard: By compassion. I take from my own personal traditions and the battles that I've taken in my tradition of what I live my life by is that I have compassion for all souls and all beings. And I do think that they are doing the best they can in this situation. And I take the default mode of presuming no mal intention on the part of someone else. And then if I remove that from an exchange that we can come at this with an understanding that what we have as a shared objective to get to someplace better. I'm not going to set up and say what that supposed to look like as a goal, because I don't want to limit us and what that may turn into being, but we are here and we are combined by our pursuit and passions to make best and make right by children. And I will also say, as a parent of an individual dyslexia, I decided to not be adversarial with the child's school. And I made a parent decision and I got my child two year [00:44:00] of academic therapy outside of his public school setting to set him up for where he is at today in middle school. And so I will be the first to raise my hand to say that if you've got the ability to do so, and you don't have to fight with it, I didn't want to come home and have my wife crying herself to sleep every night because we're constantly at war with the school to try to get him what he needs.
We had the pathway outside of that. I don't even have any issues with parents who do that. There's nothing wrong with that, but I also like many parents stand squarely beside shoulder to shoulder with educators to ask, how do we help all of us to put in better systems in place to elevate what happens for everybody so that we can all be the winner in this situation?
So, yeah, by compassion, I mean that I am, I have vowed myself to make sure that everybody gets to where they need to be and where they want to find themselves and what that means. And also to understand that I'm going to help everybody that I can because that's the battle that I took.
Danielle Scorrano: Hm. So it's the approach of truly [00:45:00] empowerment and advocacy work. And when you talk about teachers, I want to ask a question of how I connected with your work and that's your extensive work around teacher knowledge and skills. So as you're looking at the survey of teacher knowledge and skills or different measures to understand teachers and what they bring to good reading instruction, why focus on teacher knowledge? When you think about teacher knowledge, you would think about the knowledge of foundations of literacy and the structures of language. And then there's of course pedagogical knowledge. So what type of knowledge are you focusing on and why focus on that type?
Tim Odegard: Well, I've found through doing several of these interviews recently that the why is always because I saw a lack of something. And so one of the things that I saw lack of, which actually was the reason why the 2020 piece that you said was I saw a lack of descriptive information about the base identification rates of dyslexia. And so I started off[00:46:00] seven, eight years ago. We're trying to pursue that and start to put published examples of what those are into the peer reviewed research literature. So when it comes to teacher knowledge, what we started, we kept seeing was we kept seeing this logic. We need knowledgeable teachers. And then we would see these models come in that were highly time intensive, like the one that I went through- two full years of hundreds of hours of supervised practicum training to get me to where I am today.
And then people arguing over, no, we don't need that much. Yes we do. No we don't, but no, one's actually asked the simple empirical question and what we hadn't done at that point was link knowledge to student outcomes very well. We had a couple of people who had tried to do it. There were methodological challenges with what they were able to do within their implementations of the studies, one being very few actual classrooms and teachers in one study from Shane Piasta. I'm sure that Shane is [00:47:00] doing more and more stuff now, and she's probably increased that. And then another one through a reading first initiative up in Michigan, they were all very homogeneous schools. And so you didn't have a range of variability, and this is the predictive model. So the statistical modeling wasn't even being fed the data and range of data need to actually have a fighting chance to find something to begin with. So the thinking through of the challenges was that we needed to do that. And because I'd been in the background helping and supporting Arkansas, we had the opportunity to come in and help to support them with the teacher training initiative, and they needed something practical. I want to be helpful, and they needed an instrument. So I worked with a previous graduate student, Dr. Melissa McMahon, and we developed something that was kind of inspired by what had come before us from Susan Brady and Lisa Moats and Elaine Cheesman and Mal Joshi and Emily Binks Cantrell and others.
And we put together this five constructs instrument was heavily what we would call[00:48:00] academic knowledge of the language, so basically definitional. And there were some demonstrations that you could actually take that and demonstrate that you could bust words up into their morphological units, or you knew spelling patterns or you knew phonics patterns, or you could count the phonemes in a word. So that was what they meant by applied was you were showing an application of your knowledge through like an applied question of using that knowledge for you to bust something up, break something up, not the application and the teaching and pedagogy, not pedagogical knowledge. So we set off to do that.
So then we got data from thousands of teachers across an entire state. There wasn't the, all the teachers in the state. That allowed us sufficient power, and unlike the Michigan study, this was in a diversity of heterogeneous schools who had A ratings on ESSA scores, B, C, D, and F. So we ran the gambit and kind of the context these were out. And we've presented this at research conferences so far, but we're in the process of getting this [00:49:00] published. We now show that there's predictive value. We can predict a student's end of your outcomes in kindergarten and first on foundational literacy skills of based off of their teacher's knowledge of those constructs. That's what was missing there as the first step. Of course, then the second step is you manipulate that. We come in, we elevate those through experimental manipulation and we show that that translates into higher implementation of better use of high quality instructional materials for the betterment of those students. We have to kind of continue to go through the tracking of doing that. So the why question has always been because people are making statements and they're publishing what I call educational op-eds, which are pieces that they portray as being reviews, which are really just their opinions with no new data, which we see all the time, unfortunately, which is they're educational op-ed pieces with nothing new as far as data.
So I [00:50:00] wanted to bring new data to bear that was looking at what had come before and tried to overcome and learn from the great work that we were building off of, and I'm going to name Joanne Carlisle because I was trying to place our name was the researcher, who had the insight and the wherewithal to start answering hard, asking hard questions like these with her Michigan study. I really stand on her shoulders as far as helping to highlight, and that's why in the new survey, we have academic content knowledge, but we also have pedagogical content knowledge. We additionally added vocabulary and reading comprehension as constructs that we measure so that we measure six constructs now. So that we get phonological structure, spelling, morphology vocabulary, and reading comprehension.
And within those half, the questions address academic content knowledge, as well as pedagogical knowledge and really it was Joanne Carlisle, and I would say also after her Shane Piasta, who really started pointing at some of the limitations of the current state of the teacher knowledge [00:51:00] literature. So really it was coming in and trying to address what people weren't. And a lot of the research that was continuing to be published was derivative. It was just more of the same, maybe with a slight tweak on the population of educators who were being studied or explored, but it was all descriptive and correlational, but never linking back to student learning outcomes. So I saw a need there and I wanted to fill that need to be a helpful member of the research community, if you will.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. What I hear you saying back to focusing on student outcomes and even teacher outcomes is creating, first of all, making sure there's data to support it, but then also creating the conditions for teachers and students to work hard for the intended outcomes that they want. I mean, everyone, if you're in a classroom, being a teacher, you want to create the conditions for your child to also perform at a level where they can be proficient in reading. Right. And so looking at that study, and I'm not that survey I should say, is one avenue for [00:52:00] teachers to work hard in a highly prescriptive type of reading instruction. I mean, when you look at research based reading instruction, when I was teaching as well, I was lucky to be in a school, the school I'm in right now, where they dedicated time and resources for me to learn and to be able to teach this prescriptive method. And so I think having the surveys, a really great first step to doing that or not first step, but a step towards the overall mission to have teachers be able to proficiently deliver this type of instruction. So what is your hope for this particular work for how we provide teachers more resources in their pre-service and their professional development to be successful in delivering this instruction?.
Tim Odegard: Exactly to your point. So from an implementation science standpoint, we need to have selection criteria, and we need to understand the roles that different people are supposed play in these ecosystems, right? And so this tool is going to be [00:53:00] nationally, not just nationally normed. We actually have sites that we're norming in Canada as well. So it's across North America. The hope is to provide a tool that could be used to get engaged for the work. The way that we're working with our current normie sites is often they're embarking on either a grant funded or some type of an internal drive to elevate the levels of implementation of empirically validated reading instruction for all students. And they want to get a baseline measure of where their teachers are at the beginning. And so we're partnering with those sites. And so as a reciprocity there. We don't go in and say, let us pay you to do this, which is really nominal anyway, or please help us out. What we do is we look for those partnerships where it's mutually beneficial. They're engaging in some type of a new pursuit in their schools. They would like to get a base measure of this. And they would like to hear and understand what we do. So for all of these sites, we give a report back that kind of characterizes where their educators, from different types of special [00:54:00] educators or reading coaches or reading interventionists, classroom teachers, where they're at on this journey so we can use it.
So I do view this as a selection criteria, a way of looking at how things are going and also a needs assessment because I do think that the logic model is pretty clear that it doesn't hurt teachers to understand the concept. Let me give you a concrete example. I was observing CKLA Amplify in a kindergarten class last month. So I was in there in the classroom, but I was going to 1, 1, 1, 1 saw the same basic foundational skills lesson being taught. And I got to one of the teacher's classrooms and she was struggling to actually segment out the individual sounds so that our students could respond. And she asked what one sound was at the beginning of it, and one child raised their hand and says, well, the letter that would go, that would actually as a diagraph, basically the gist of what the kids said. And she goes, no, it isn't, it's a blend. And so what happened was, [00:55:00] I knew that they had been using materials published by a publisher that presented false information. That orthographic unit had been labeled in that published, popularly commonly used reading instruction platform as something that it wasn't as a blend. And that teacher was just echoing what she had been misinformed about and trained on. So then when I went back and I worked, and we debriefed with the coaches, we found a constructive way to try to help that teacher here and learn for herself from her peers when they went into collaborative planning the next week that that wasn't right. And it created an opportunity then after she had learned that for the coach to follow up and not shame or blame her and ostracized her from the group, because she didn't know the right information there, but more importantly, to stop her from correcting a child and telling your child that he was wrong, but he was right. And if you don't have that knowledge how do you [00:56:00] know what the misinformation is on Twitter, on teachers pay teachers on the Science of Reading Facebook group, which there is there too, or in a published reading curriculum from a popular press curriculum, that's calling things in our language what they're not. So we have to elevate the profession through knowledge, and we can't have teachers going around teaching concepts within programs, which are empirically validated like Amplify CKLA and you can argue and say that it's not the best thing in the world, but show me something right there on the books and all that's better than that. And I know I'll listen to you, but let's not start taking pot shots at well, I wish it did more of this, that or the other. It was like, well, great. But there isn't the perfect reading program right now for an entire ELA block so let's do what the best we got. And more importantly, let's elevate the level of the profession and the educators to where they know how to actually deliver that instruction, and importantly, not correct the child who has actually right and say that he was wrong.
Danielle Scorrano: Mmm, [00:57:00] oh my gosh. I could dig into all of these topics and questions for truthfully days. But I want to be respectful of your time, Dr. Odegard. My last question for you is in all that you've learned and in connecting science and story, and again, this last story that you told is this connection of science and story and what we now do with it. So my question is in all that you've learned and your experiences and the research you've done and the collaborations you've had, what are your hopes for the future and how we move all of this learning forward?
Tim Odegard: I do hope that the current zeitgeist of wanting to look at implementation and the translation of what we have learned from 50 plus years of empirical study, and I would say 30 years of heavy financial investment in the United States and to understanding this, elevates itself to a higher level of discourse in the public space. I would like us to move past arguing about five to 10 minutes of a student's day and realize that when researchers like Jenny Wanzek and others, [00:58:00] Stephanie Al Otaiba, go out and observe classrooms, we see less than five minutes of reading connected text in classrooms in K through two. I am far more concerned about that latter published research finding, which is reliable and consistent and publish consistently in the literature then I am worrying about what kids might be doing for five and 10 minutes extra.
You would say, well, if we got rid of that five to 10 minutes before they shouldn't be doing well, they could then spend 10 or 15 minutes reading texts. I think that misses the bigger point. I think if we can elevate discourse to ask what is it we need to see our children doing and get away from saying that there's only one prescribed way of getting there, and not making it about a goal that's defined and constrained, but an objective, which is wide and expansive, we'd be able to engage in different types of adults talking to adults, because we would not be thinking about adult ego, we'd be thinking about child success and wellbeing. And that's my hope is, is that we think about that. And then when we do think about adults, we think about the [00:59:00] wellbeing and the retention and success of the adults who have signed up for the job of enabling kids, and this is my lived story, to do the work for themselves, because nobody can put in your head for you how to read and write the English language it comes about because of a lot of hard work that we do for ourselves as human beings.
And so all you're doing is enabling. And if you're not in enabling that context, then you're a hindrance. And I think everybody needs to step back, take a few deep breaths, and ask themselves, am I coming from a place of compassion where I see other humans or am I coming from a place of ego based things in wrong mind. And I would say that some people would probably come back to, I'm not getting into big minded, right mind, I'm getting two wrong mind and ego self-driven interest about being right. And that is not right mind. And those are not the vows that I subscribed to and that I [01:00:00] live my life with.
Danielle Scorrano: Dr. Odegard, thank you. I am forever grateful for this time to sit with you and learn from you. Where can we learn more from you? Are you on Twitter? Are you, what websites can we, websites? Where can we find you in terms on the internet?
Tim Odegard: Well, so they can find me on the internet and I don't post much on the internet, through Twitter. So I have my own personal Twitter handle. My center also has its own Twitter handle and you can share those out and my center's website. So my blog is on my center's website and we have free resources available through our publications. And we also have videos available, a professional development from people like Nancy Hennessy, Elsa Cardenas Hagen, Marsha Henry, Suzanne Carreker. We're going to be putting up some new trainings from Barbara Wilson, Stephanie Al Otaiba we have some resources there from Jill Allor and others as well. And what you heard in that mixture of people are people like Jill and Stephanie who were staunched people who I met first in [01:01:00] Dallas, Texas who are IES funded research scientists who have been doing the translational research for decades, as well as folks who have been doing the practical application of that in their development of materials for decades as well, people like Barbara Wilson. Dr. Tracy Weeden's training that she recently gave would also be there to look at those higher level leadership drivers as well.
So we try to provide these freely available resources, for the world through our center's website. So those are the places that they can find me on the internet.
Danielle Scorrano: Great. And I'll make sure that we link that on the READ Podcast webpage under our our READ bookmarks that I like to post. So this was the dream, thank you so much, Dr. Odegard, for being on the READ podcast.
Tim Odegard: Thank you so much for having me. It's been wonderful. Thank you so much. Thanks for all that you do.
Tim Odegard, PhD, joins the READ Podcast to discuss his research and perspectives on the state of reading policy and education in the United States. Dr. Odegard, a professor of psychology and the Katherine Davis Murfee Chair of Excellence in Dyslexic Studies of Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), shares his story in school as he struggled to read as a child, which fueled his career and research in dyslexia and reading. Citing a variety of studies across reading, Dr. Odegard comments about the flaws in the system and its policies that have failed too many children across the United States. He outlines key drivers that are foundational for improving reading outcomes and offers a perspective for holding space and compassion toward greater unity to support all children in their endeavors in school and beyond.
Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.”
"I conceptualize [our system] as a severed system that’s based off of different policy mechanisms… that have not been fundamentally reconceptualized and updated based off of 50 years worth of empirical study of how reading develops."
What are the base systems required for change?
Dr. Odegard outlines the base systems that act as drivers for change in reading policy and education. These highlighted drivers are:
1- Implementation of high quality instruction driven by research
"You implement high quality reading instruction, and you allow the children to move through that reading instruction with high fidelity from highly skilled individuals."
2- An understanding that interventions extend beyond curriculum
In implementation science, interventions are not only about curriculum but could include classroom instruction and pedagogy, professional development, coaching, or policy changes.
"Any behavioral intervention is considered an intervention, and it could be at multiple levels of an educational ecosystem. [Interventions] are not just confined to instruction that is provided [directly] to a child."
3- Strong leadership
"How is your leadership breaking down silos, supporting communication, bringing people together to support professional development and the ongoing coaching and support needed to drive what’s happening in the behavioral interventions?"
4- Comprehensive, systemic data
"I have learned through my research across the tens of thousands of published data points that we’re all in this together as an ecosystem. We truly do have to support the entire system in order to elevate each other as high as we can."
Articles and studies referenced in this episode:
Thanks for signing up!
You can unsubscribe at any time using the Unsubscribe link at the bottom of every email.
About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.
Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests and does not constitute an endorsement by The Windward Institute or The Windward School.