There is help for students who have characteristics of dyslexia, local educators say.

Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI²) mandates require universal screenings for students in grades kindergarten-8, said James Evans, Rutherford County Schools’ communications director.

“Our universal screener has indicators for the five areas of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary and reading comprehension,” Evans said. “If students have dyslexia, they will likely struggle in at least one of these areas. Reading intervention through RTI² and in special education use research-based strategies and intervention programs. Decisions made about reading instruction for students receiving intervention are made by a team of professionals and rely on multiple sources of data.”

Dr. Caresa Dodson, coordinator of reading instructional intervention for Murfreesboro City Schools, heads up the district’s efforts. She previously worked at Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for Dyslexia and was president of the Tennessee Dyslexia Association.

Dodson said all relevant MCS staff are trained in how to assist students. MCS has at least six psychologists trained by MTSU and her on how to identify dyslexic tendencies through Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI²) screenings. The training includes ways to be aware of early signs and symptoms.

Every city school has at least one interventionist, and the entire district has 26 of these professionals, Dodson said. The response is not considered to be special education, but if a student is identified with having a reading problem, he or she sees the interventionist one hour every day.

Year-round reading

Dodson and MCS stress the importance of reading regardless of whether a child has characteristics of dyslexia. The district sends “BOB the Book Bus” out to communities throughout the year, especially during summer.

Children from age two through sixth grade and their families can check out books, read and keep them in their home library or return them to the bus for other families to enjoy, according to an MCS press release. Research shows that students who read for more than 20 minutes a day score 90 percent better than their peers on reading tests. Twenty minutes per day exposes children to 1.8 million words a year.

But if a child has dyslexic tendencies, reading is a struggle.

Constant feedback

The interventionists in the city school system meet once a month to talk about what’s working or not working with their students, Dodson said.

All dyslexia resources come from district money, not from outside agencies, Dodson said. MCS began screening about 10 years ago, well before the state required it, she said.

“There’s no outside money for dyslexia,” she said. “Anything we provide is because we know it’s a best practice. It’s just the right thing.”

Dyslexia is a very specific reading disability, Dodson said.

One misconception about dyslexia is that a child will reverse the letters, Dodson said. That is not a true indicator. If that problem does not clear up by the middle of the second grade, it is time to get concerned, she said. Another misconception is that dyslexic children have below-average or above-average intelligence.

As with autism, dyslexia is a spectrum with different levels of severity, Dodson said. In severe cases, the child cannot read. In a mild case, the child may read but have trouble spelling.

“With the right intervention and accommodations, kids can go to college,” Dodson said.

Outside help

The director of a private tutoring company says it is possible to help students who have characteristics of dyslexia.

“We can make accommodations based on how the student learns,” said Dr. Teresa Flores, director of Sylvan Learning Center. “They can definitely be successful here.”

Sylvan will test the student for reading comprehension, she said. Topics may include phonics, vocabulary and fluency. Sylvan will build a program based on that assessment. Depending on the student’s needs, the tutor may work with him or her orally or let the child read aloud.

“We give different levels of assistance,” Flores said. “The greatest challenge is confidence. Usually … they’ve gone several years struggling with reading and not knowing why. Not being self-confident – we help by providing a lot of positive reinforcement. Everyone here is doing their own program, so there’s no comparing to others.”

DYSLEXIA SCREENINGS

The Tennessee “Say Dyslexia” law was passed in 2016. The law requires school districts to screen all students for characteristics of dyslexia through their Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI²) procedures. Schools will determine the need for dyslexia-specific intervention. Source: Tennessee Department of Education

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