More than a year after state lawmakers decided to tackle dyslexia as a major hurdle to public education, a statewide task force has issued a set of recommendations.
But key questions remain unanswered for local school district officials who have about 6 months to put in place a method for testing all students in kindergarten through 3rd Grade.
Among those questions are who will pay for the potentially expensive assessment and what does the decision to assess dyslexia in the early grades mean for students in 4th and 5th grades and the middle and high school grades?
The recommendations of the Task Force on Dyslexia, which was headed by State Rep. Kathy Swan, R-Cape Girardeau, were unveiled on Halloween and has been submitted to legislative leaders and Gov. Eric Greitens.
The recommendations call for all students in kindergarten through 3rd Grade be screened for dyslexia and related disorders that can hamper learning.
The Task Force also is recommending that students who The state law adopted in 2016 calls for the screening to begin in the 2018-19 school year.
That legislation created the task force.
With this school year almost half over, administrators in the Gasconade County R-1 School District and the more-than-500 other public districts in Missouri have about six months left to work out the details for a screening program in time for the start of the next school year.
Swan said addressing the issue of dyslexia at a young age will have a long-term impact.
“By identifying and addressing this reading failure, students will not only be successful in school but successful in life,” Swan said in a statement issued by the Missouri House of Representatives.
“If our children do not learn to read they will (not), and cannot, read to learn,” she said. “This small investment today will have long-term benefits for not only students and families but for the economic and social benefits of our communities and for our state.”
But one of the big questions yet to be answered deals with the actual investment that will be made — the cost of assessing the students.
Neither the 2016 state law, nor the recommendations of the Task Force, say the state should foot the bill for what could be an expensive testing program.
School administrators such as R-1 Superintendent Tracey Hankins are worried the total bill might be left to school districts already facing painfully tight budgets.
And, as Hankins points out, school districts might do the assessing, but they can’t make a formal diagnosis of dyslexia — that must be done by a medical professional.
Indeed, the Task Force emphasizes that districts should make clear to parents that a positive screening for dyslexia is not the same as a clinical diagnosis of the disorder.
Further, the Task Force is recommending that districts require two hours of in-service training for classroom teachers reading difficulties that might be associated with dyslexia. Currently, districts have to offer the training, but teachers are not required to have the training.