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Georgia leaders devise plan to help dyslexic students
Among recommendations: Screen all kindergartners, develop college curriculum
school bus

ATLANTA — A state Senate committee is recommending that Georgia take steps to help students who have dyslexia.

The committee recently submitted its final report to the Legislature, WABE Radio reported.

Starting in August, the committee heard testimony from parents of children with dyslexia, teachers who work with dyslexic students and education experts.

The committee made three recommendations:

Among them: Developing a college curriculum for future teachers, to help them identify and help children with dyslexia and other language disorders.

Also, the committee suggests screening for dyslexia for all kindergarten students in Georgia's public schools. Georgia doesn't require parents to send their children to school until first grade. So students don't fall through the cracks, the committee suggests schools allow for screening through the second grade.

The third proposal would create statewide guidance, teacher training, and evaluation regarding dyslexia. The committee proposes state officials compile a handbook including information about dyslexia and other language disorders. It suggests officials develop required teacher training on dyslexia and other learning disabilities.

Experts say that students diagnosed with dyslexia often have trouble identifying sounds in words and understanding that letters represent those sounds.

Pat Warner, the father of a 14-year-old daughter with dyslexia, told the committee it was hard to get her diagnosed.

"When she was in third grade, her mother and I knew there was a problem," Warner testified. "She really hit the wall. So, we had a meeting with her teacher, the assistant principal and the principal to discuss the problem. In that meeting, the teacher looked at us and told us, 'You may just have to accept the fact that you have an average child.'"

Warner and his wife ended up getting their daughter screened for dyslexia privately. She now attends a private school where she can get accommodations, like extra time on tests.

Sally Shaywitz, a researcher at the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, said that schools generally fail to identify students with dyslexia. On average, schools report between 0 and 4 percent of their students have the learning disability.

Studies in which every student is screened for dyslexia show about one in five students have it, according to Shaywitz. Schools can't know how many children are dyslexic if they don't screen for it, she said.

"To be counted, you have to be identified first," she said. "If you're not identified, you can't be counted."

Shaywitz also pointed to 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scores. The lowest-performing 4th and 8th-grade students scored worse than they did in 2015, signaling a growing gap between high and low achieving students. Shaywitz indicated dyslexia could play a role in poor test performance.

"In dyslexia, it's not a knowledge gap," Shaywitz told the committee. "We always want more knowledge, but we have enough to act better. We have an action gap."

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