A legislative task force is nearing completion of recommendations it’s formulating to address dyslexia in elementary schools. in Missouri. The committee’s findings will be sent to Governor Eric Greitens.

Representative Kathryn Swan (R-Cape Girardeau) – Photo courtesy Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications

A bill passed last year requires public schools to screen students for dyslexia and calls for teachers to go through two hours of training on handling the disorder.

The measure also created the task force, which is charged with making recommendations for a statewide plan to identify students with dyslexia, and developing a system to assist those kids in the classroom.

Republican House member Kathy Swan of Cape Girardeau chairs the task force, which gathered at the state capitol Thursday.

She says the group is considering whether to include further dyslexia assessments in its recommendations.  As far as providing classroom accommodations, Swan says the committee came up with simple procedures for teachers to follow.

“We’re talking about giving an oral test instead of a written test to a child, moving a child a little bit closer to the board in a classroom, not making a child participate in verbal reading round robin exercises, but maybe just a one-on-one with the teacher” Swan said.

The 21 member task force includes educators, therapists and citizens with dyslexic relatives as well as a bipartisan group of four lawmakers.  It conducted a survey of 30 colleges and universities, and found that many of them provide little or no training for handling dyslexic students in their teacher preparation programs.

Swan says the task force is recommending the institutions take on a more comprehensive approach toward the disorder.  “We are wanting the classroom instruction at the college level for a college student who plans to become a teacher, to have further instruction on what dyslexia is.”

Only about half of the task force was assembled for its meeting Thursday.  Swan, who also chairs the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, was the only lawmaker in attendance.

Still, she’s been please the level of insight provided by the people involved.  “We could not do this without the quality and the level of knowledge of the people who’ve been appointed to this task force” said Swan.

Democratic Senator Scott Sifton of Affton, who was instrumental in drafting the legislation to create the task force, was at the capitol, but at a different committee hearing Thursday.  Earlier, he stressed the need to lend a helping hand to students with dyslexia.  “As a state, we have been failing these children” said Sifton.  “We’ve got to help these kids.”

According to the Dyslexia Center of Utah, one in five students, or 15-20% of the population, has a language based learning disability.  Dyslexia is the most common of the language based learning disabilities.  Swan thinks it’s essential to treat the condition, which can’t be outgrown, in the early stages of education.

“The earlier we identify that possibility and begin to take some simple steps, or additional steps depending on the degree of that reading failure, the better off we’re going to be as a society,”

A study by the University of Texas and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows 48% of prison inmates have dyslexia.  Swan contends the figure is higher, and claims 70% of individuals treated for substance abuse have dyslexia.

She thinks the high rates of prison populations and people in substance abuse programs with dyslexia demonstrates the need to confront the disorder early.

“When we look at the substance abuse problem, we look at the prison population.  That is such an overwhelming factor.  We’re overdue in taking action, and it starts with identification early and taking action.”

The task force recommendations will be sent to Governor Greitens by September 18th.  Those that are adopted must be in place at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, except for the two hour teacher training requirement, which goes in effect in the upcoming school year.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will be heavily involved in developing guidelines and procedures to address dyslexic students.