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Montgomery County, MD: Dyslexia screening called for; half of student fail reading exams

May 20, 2019, American University Radio, Washington, DC: Many School Districts Hesitate To Say Students Have Dyslexia. That Can Lead To Problems. Nearly half of the students in Montgomery County [Maryland] Public Schools underperformed on reading exams last year. Sarah and Jay Friedman’s daughter was among them. But unlike many of the other 78,000 underperforming students, Friedman’s daughter wasn’t just missing benchmarks on tests — she had severe dyslexia that had gone undiagnosed for years. … Researchers estimate as many as one in five children have dyslexia. But many school districts identify less than 5% of their students as having it. They also don’t test all students for potential reading disorders. And many have avoided the word “dyslexia” altogether. Montgomery County is one of these districts, but it’s far from the only one. Experts in teaching students with reading disorders say what parents and students experience in Montgomery County is a common occurrence across the country. When schools don’t proactively screen for serious issues, they say it can lead to more cases like the Friedmans’ — students going undiagnosed and untreated, falling further and further behind. … This could soon change, at least in Maryland. Last week, Gov. Larry Hogan signed a new law — one championed by parents of students with dyslexia — that requires schools to screen for students at risk of developing reading disorders and provide support…. In 2016, parents and state officials pushed for all Maryland school districts to start identifying students with dyslexia and teaching them using methods sanctioned by a state task force. But medical professionals and federal officials do agree on a definition of dyslexia, at least in one instance: “an unexpected difficulty in reading for an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader, most commonly caused by a difficulty in the phonological processing (the appreciation of the individual sounds of spoken language), which affects the ability of an individual to speak, read, and spell.”… Instead, teachers in the district are trained to look for the “characteristics of dyslexia” by observing patterns of errors students make while reading. When teachers spot these characteristics, they deploy different strategies, like teaching students in smaller groups. Each new strategy is tested for at least six weeks. If a student doesn’t respond, another method is tested. Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia and other districts in the region have a similar policy. Officials in Montgomery County estimate serving students the way the new law requires will cost about $4.7 million. This money would go toward new teachers, training and equipment for students. This graph shows the percentage of students with IEPs in Montgomery County who reach reading benchmarks. The standards show a decline between kindergarten and 2nd grade.Jenny Abamu / WAMU Montgomery County special education officials have been tracking reading progression through internal testing that starts in kindergarten. And they’ve seen steep declines in reading achievement from kindergarten to second grade. In Winter 2018, the number of students meeting reading benchmarks in kindergarten was 85%. In second grade, it was 35%....


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