A legislative task force has completed its work to address dyslexia in elementary schools in Missouri.
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 itself, 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, who chairs the task force, outlined the group’s conclusions at a news conference Tuesday.
Swan stated that early identification of dyslexia and intervention can significantly reduce the number of students reading below grade level. She doesn’t think schools are aggressive enough in tackling the issue.
One of the specific recommendations of the task force concerned screening of children. The task force is proposing for all kids from kindergarten through third grade to be screened for dyslexia.
First through third grade students would be screened within 30 days of the first day of attendance, while kindergartners would receive the examination no later than January 31st of each year.
In addition, the group is recommending dyslexia screening for transfer students, and those identified as struggling by their teachers, parents or by scoring in the lower 30th percentile of assessments.
Swan says the task force has developed a process for dealing with students identified as needing help. “One of our recommendations is that we study advanced assessments as they would be needed, and then follow through with interventions that then address the specific reading needs and learning of a child.”
The program would include a dyslexia training program for teachers and targeted intervention for students. Tools and practices to support students in the classroom will be selected by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), based on the recommendation of the task force.
Another key proposal from the group is for schools to require teachers to get two hours of in-service dyslexia training every year, instead of the current arrangement in which they must only offer the instruction.
Task force member Kim Stuckey, a dyslexia specialist with the DESE, says Missouri is unique in the level of aid it intends to offer dyslexic students. “It’s my understanding that we’re the only state that has mandated supports written into statute,” Stuckey said. “So that will be something that other states will be looking to.”
DESE is the agency that will determine what classroom supports will be offered. It’s required to have a plan in place by the end of the year.
Arkansas is an adjacent state with a proposal to address dyslexia in kids, but Swan contends Missouri is now the leader on the issue.
“I was told very, very recently that Missouri is being observed and watched by many other states in the nation because they feel like we have done a more comprehensive job of addressing not only screening, but what do we do after we screen in the interventions so that we continue monitor students.”
She says the task force is also recommending that college curriculums for teachers in Missouri include three specific elements to address dyslexia.
“We would like to see them infuse the characteristics of dyslexia, information about intervention, related disorders, all of those components of identifying and intervening and providing support for students, as a part of every teacher preparation program in the state of Missouri,” said Swan.
She thinks it would be important for teachers to get proper preparation at the higher education level in order to deal with what she refers to as a reading failure.
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.
The group is further encouraging DESE to exchange insights on dyslexia with early childhood partners such as preschools, foster care organizations and the Children’s Division of the Department of Social Services.
Task force member Anita Kuttenkuler is a retired school teacher who has worked as a private dyslexia tutor for the past 12 years. She thinks the steps being taken will open doors that were never there before for students who have the disorder. “It gives them hope,” said Kuttenkuler. “They are very bright kids. And with a little hope, they can accomplish what anybody else can.”
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must develop guidelines for appropriate screening of students for dyslexia and related disorders and for necessary classroom support by December 31, 2017. Public schools will begin screening students, provide reasonable classroom support for students, and offer in-service training for teachers in the 2018-19 school year.
Swan thinks the program will offer a solution for children who would otherwise be blocked from getting an education. “If our children do not learn to read, they will and cannot read to learn.”
The committee’s findings will be sent to Governor Eric Greitens.