Monday, October 17, 2016

By Sean Thompson

In addition to receiving research-based interventions and customized instructional approaches, students with learning disabilities often just need someone to be their advocate. This year, the Learning Disabilities Association of Iowa (LDA-IA) is recognizing University of Iowa College of Education Associate Professor Deborah K. Reed as one of the leading such advocates in the state.

“Students with learning disabilities can learn to read and can experience educational success,” Reed says.

That statement may seem straightforward, but to students, their families and their teachers, it says that each student is deserving of the opportunity to experience that success. For her steadfast dedication to students with learning disabilities, Reed, director of the Iowa Reading Research Center at the University of Iowa College of Education, was named the LDA-IA’s 2016 Outstanding Educator of the Year. She will receive the award at the LDA-IA Awards Dinner on Oct. 23 in Des Moines during the association’s annual conference.

According to LDA-IA Awards Committee Chair Donna Schletzbaum, the award recognizes an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the field of education of children, youth, and/or adults with learning disabilities. Schletzbaum praised Reed for leading the IRRC’s Intensive Summer Reading Program in the summer of 2016, during which Reed and the IRRC worked with educators at 44 school districts in Iowa to evaluate what kind of reading programs are effective in summer settings for students who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

“Her leadership in the state along with her extensive knowledge about learning disabilities will ensure that students who are reading below grade level will receive the research-based interventions that will make a difference in their learning,” Schletzbaum said.

Reed’s training in special education and her extensive experience as a researcher has led her to author three books and numerous academic journal articles, and she is a leader in the fields of reading assessments and professional development and training for teachers. She was a speaker at the 2015 LDA-IA Annual Conference, where Schletzbaum says both parents and educators gained valuable insight from her presentation on reading practices for students with learning disabilities.

In reflecting on the award, Reed expressed her gratitude and highlighted the hard work of so many educators in Iowa who are equally deserving of this recognition and share her devotion to helping students with learning disabilities.

“I’m honored to receive this recognition, but I also consider this award more of a challenge to continue advocating for students with reading disabilities, their teachers, and their families.”

Originally certified as an English teacher, Reed says once she began teaching, she realized quickly that many of her students were in need of more than an appreciation of literature. She returned to graduate school to pursue a master’s degree as a reading specialist and, eventually, a doctorate in special education so she could help adolescents who were still struggling with reading. In total, she has spent the past 23 years as a substitute and classroom teacher, literacy coach, technical assistance provider, researcher, and professor of teacher education―always passionate about working with students who have reading disabilities.

Though reading disabilities are the most common type of learning disability, Reed says it is crucial that all students be seen as individuals with different patterns of reading strengths and weaknesses. Teachers have the enormous responsibility to figure out the best approach to take with each student. But Reed says through its hard work, the LDA-IA also plays a crucial role in sharing information about the unique needs of students with learning disabilities and the research on effective means of teaching those students.

“Thank you for this great honor and for continuing to bring attention to the needs of students with learning disabilities,” Reed said of the LDA-IA.

Reed is President-Elect of the Council for Learning Disabilities, and has served on the editorial board of Learning Disability Quarterly and Learning Disabilities: Research and Practice.

The Iowa Reading Research Center strives to improve the literacy skills of all students. The IRRC provides guidance for literacy instruction in schools by conducting research in practical settings to evaluate the effectiveness of literacy practices. The center was created by the Iowa Legislature, is overseen by the Iowa Department of Education, and is housed at the University of Iowa College of Education.