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Dyslexia task force says City Schools of Decatur’s screening process may miss some students

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Dyslexia task force says City Schools of Decatur’s screening process may miss some students

Elizabeth Wilson School Support Center, City Schools of Decatur. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated.

Decatur, GA — The City Schools of Decatur School Board, at its April 25 work session, discussed the recommendations from the dyslexia task force. In some of their findings, the task force noted that the current screening procedures may be missing some kids. 

Parents have been asking CSD to improve reading instruction and address challenges many have faced when it comes to getting help for students who have dyslexia or other learning differences.

Parents have felt they were obstructed from getting 504 or Individualized Education Program plans because their kids, most of them diagnosed with dyslexia, were still considered on grade level. This has caused some families to leave CSD

In September 2022, the school district launched a task force that was set to focus on how the school district addresses dyslexia.

Director of English Language Arts and Social Studies Courtney Simon led this team. The school system sought teachers, parents, and community members to serve on this task force.

The members are Jennifer Lindstrom, Superintendent Maggie Fehrman, Courtney Simon, Ben Knaebel, Gail Hardwick, Vera Jemison, Frank DeFilippo, Meagan Swingle, Laura Bollman, Holly Brookins, Christine Knox, Brooke Reynolds, Karla Zisook, Patti Nation Fornwalt, Lori Garrett, and Sarah Wyman. 

“According to the International Dyslexia Association, the definition of dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is categorized by difficulty with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities,” Simon said. “These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction.”

City Schools of Decatur is one of seven schools participating in the state’s dyslexia pilot program. Senate Bill 48 was signed into law in 2019 and provides for identifying and supporting kids in kindergarten through second grade for dyslexia. 

The district is in the third and final year of implementation. In 2024-2025, dyslexia screening will be a state mandate, Simon said. 

The purpose of the task force was “to support CSD in building an informed and educated school community that proactively identifies struggling readers and delivers sustainable, equitable, and proven effective reading instruction for all students, including those who are identified as having characteristics of dyslexia and or struggling readers to become skilled lifelong readers,” according to the presentation. 

The task force worked in three work groups to examine the screening process, teacher learning, and parent resources. 

Regarding the dyslexia screening process, the task force found that the current screening procedures require different assessments at various grade levels to comply with SB 48. 

“What we found was…when we looked at MAP growth, it had some of the foundational pieces, but it didn’t look specifically at those six areas that SB 48 wants us to look at more closely,” Coordinator of Section 504 Ben Knaebel said. 

In kindergarten through second grade, MAP Growth measures foundational skills, literacy and informational text, language and writing, vocabulary acquisition and use, and vocabulary use and functions. 

In kindergarten through second grade, Acadience is used to measure first sound fluency, letter naming fluency, phonemic awareness, nonsense word fluency, and oral reading fluency. 

The assessment for oral reading fluency, reading comprehension, and vocabulary changes in third grade. 

“In terms of our findings, we did notice that…current screening procedures require different assessments at different grade levels in an attempt to meet all areas of the screening mandate. Even within that attempt, we were still missing certain pieces…,” Knaebel said. 

Students have to score below the benchmark on two universal screeners before the dyslexia screener is administered, Knaebel said. With the two measures, the district wasn’t confident they looked at all parts of SB 48. 

“We could be missing some students because our universal screening cut-off for being below the benchmark was the 20th percentile,” Knaebel said. “You have to be below the 20th percentile to meet that cut-off, whereas we do have high-achieving students who do have dyslexia that could be scoring about the 20th percentile.” 

Some of the recommendations for screeners include: 

– The district should utilize universal screeners that comprehensively meet all areas of SB 48.

– Students do not need to have below benchmark score on both Universal screeners to qualify for further testing of characteristics of dyslexia.

– Consider MAP Reading Fluency and Dyslexia Screener add-on as a universal screening tool for grades K-8.

– Consider using cut-off scores that are aligned with CSD Multi-tiered Systems of Support.

Karla Zisook, a district reading coach, was part of the teacher-learning work group. 

“Our goal was to look at the professional learning that we currently have in place here in CSD and think about what we want to add and change and analyze what’s going on,” Zisook said. “Our key takeaway as a task force work group was that if we want to give students diagnostic, explicit, systematic and cumulative reading instruction, then our professional learning has to be the same.”

Currently, some teachers have gone through the Hill Science of Reading course and LETRS training. LETRS is the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling training.

“Developed by Dr. Louisa Moats and leaders in the field of literacy, Lexia LETRS teaches the skills needed to master the foundational and fundamentals of reading and writing instruction—phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and written language,” the Lexia website states. 

Some have also been trained to implement American Reading Company curriculum, Fundations, the Wilson Reading System, and Acadience. 

The works group’s priority is implementing Fundations with fidelity in every classroom K-3. The Fundations program is a multisensory, structured literacy curriculum that is based on the Orton-Gillingham approach. It ensures that all students receive instruction based on students’ instructional needs.

“Our plan this year for our professional learning is to increase the amount of study groups that we have for Fundations modeling. Glennwood has become a Fundations site school,” Zisook said. “We’ll be actually going to Glennwood and seeing model classes there and really diving in.”

Some training was already in the works. Next school year, principals, assistant principals, and district instructional leaders will participate in LETRS training. All early intervention programs and special education teachers would then be offered LETRS training in the 2024-2025 school year. 

The task force also recommended having all instructional coaches participate in the LETRS training and having EIP and special education teachers in grades 2-12 go through the Wilson reading system course next school year.

The parent resources work group looked at how the district can better communicate with parents and make information more easily accessible. Their main recommendation involves revamping the dyslexia webpage on CSD’s website. 

“Our primary recommendation is to relocate this from where it is today. It’s under the multi-tiered systems of support [MTSS] webpage, and most people are not going to think to look under MTSS for reading or dyslexia resources even though those things are very tightly coupled. We suggest moving it to English Language Arts,” Patti Nation Fornwalt said. “It’s where people would expect to find something about reading.” 

The workgroup also suggested updating the information on the webpage to include a dyslexia introduction, an overview of laws like SB 48, an overview of the dyslexia pilot, visuals and graphics, and parent advocacy information. They additionally recommended adding a frequently asked questions section with categories such as general literacy, dyslexia screeners, struggling readers, dyslexia information, evaluation, intervention and MTSS, and other general information. 

“A lot of those things, I think we have answers for already,” Fornwalt said. “They’re just spread out all over the website, and they’re not accessible and easy to find. So, gathering all of that information and putting it into a document that’s easy to get to.”

The next step in the process is to have school-based staff look at the recommendations. An executive summary and the recommendations for the upcoming year will be presented to the school board at its May 9 regular meeting. 

To see the full presentation, click here.

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