Tennessee Bill Calls for Earlier Dyslexia Screening, Intervention

(Photo: Pixbay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixbay, Creative Commons)

A Knox County, Tennessee mother, Julya Johnson, along with other parents and advocates for dyslexia, is hoping a new state bill will help children get screening for the reading disorder as early as possible.

Johnson says that when her son was in second grade, a friend suggested she request testing. When he was diagnosed and got the proper support, he began to improve in his reading ability, but currently remains behind most other students in his grade level, says The Tennessean's Melanie Balakit. Earlier intervention may have made a substantial difference in his ability to proceed at grade level.

Tim Odegard, chairperson of excellence in dyslexia studies for the Tennessee Center for the Study and Treatment of Dyslexia, explains that possibly one in five children are dyslexic.

The bill would require the creation of a dyslexia advisory council and training for teachers on identifying and addressing the condition. It would also call for school districts to screen students in grades K-2 for dyslexia.

Of the kids who have learning disabilities, 80% to 90% will also have dyslexia, according to Odegard, who also teaches psychology at Middle Tennessee State University.

"For many individuals with dyslexia these word level reading deficits result from a deficit in how they process the sound structure of our language at the word level. It is not a problem with seeing or seeing letters backwards. And it is not the fault of the child being lazy," Odegard wrote.

The "Dyslexia is Real" bill was passed in 2014 by the state. It aimed at getting dyslexia recognized as a learning disability, and it included a requirement for some teachers to receive training on the learning disability.

Odegard noted that the "Dyslexia is Real" bill was a good way to start, but the law needed refining in the areas of implementation and intervention. Both of these actions would require screening instruments and guidance for teachers involved in intercession.

Another parent, Lori Smith, has a daughter who is a fourth-grader at Moore Magnet STEM Elementary School in Clarksville, Tenn. Her daughter is intelligent, creative and loves musical theater and art, but is reading below her grade level.

Smith says an earlier diagnosis for her daughter would have meant that she would not be behind today. Smith is standing with all the other parents across the state who are supporting the new early diagnosis bill, writes Chalkbeat's Grace Tatter.

The bill will be reviewed by the House and Senate education committees on Tuesday and Wednesday. A House subcommittee passed the bill unanimously earlier this month, which rarely happens when a bill has a fiscal note of over $1 million.

The bill, House Bill 2616, is being sponsored by Rep. Joe Pitts (D-Clarksville), who was present at the House Education, Administration and Planning subcommittee Tuesday.

"If this legislation had existed five years ago, Ryann would be reading on grade level today," Lori Smith told the panel.

Clarksville Now reported that the bill, "Say Dyslexia," was also sponsored by Sen. Delores Gresham (R-Somerville). Pitts noted that amount of money needed to implement the measure is large, but he was hopeful that legislators, working together with the Department of Education and the governor will be able to fund the program under the new "Ready to be Ready" literacy initiative backed by Gov. Bill Haslam (R).

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