CPS an example of what dyslexia programs could look like statewide
JEFFERSON CITY --Efforts by lawmakers to increase literacy rates among Missouri students are on the drawing board again during the new legislative session.
Senate Bill 73, introduced January 9, would provide help for students who have dyslexia, as well as help them recognize the signs early on before they start to struggle.
The bill would require all Missouri schools to have reading intervention programs in place for grades kindergarten through four as well as screening for and treatment of auditory dyslexia.
Jewell Patek, a parent to two daughters with dyslexia, said he hopes more schools adopt plans to help their students with literacy.
“I don't think that’s happening in every school, I don't think it’s happening in every building, and I think a lot of it is because we need to reignite the discussion about what is the core focus of a reading program, how do you develop it? How do you make sure that it helps all kids?” said Patek.
He said he’s seen first hand how hard it is for people with dyslexia to learn without the proper resources, which is why he is fighting for the bill.
Only about 40 % of Missouri students are reading at a proficient level or above. This bill would not only help intervene for children with dyslexia, but for others who might need a little bit more focus anyway. Since reading is the foundation for all other learning, Patek says the state can't afford to let students slip through the cracks.
“I don't think average is good enough for Missouri and so I'm hopeful that through this legislation, through this discourse, parents will join other parents to find out ways to make our system better and our kids have higher goals and achievement,” he said.
The Columbia Public School System is ahead of the curve. In 2016, House Bill 2379 turned into a law that required all public schools systems to develop screenings for dyslexia, but CPS went one step further when they developed a reading intervention plan for the 2018-2019 school year on their own.
Jill Brown, the Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education, said her goal is to make this program uniform. She said she wants every child from the school district to be provided with the same program, the same attention and the same help.
"We've always helped struggling learners,” said Brown. "We're just making sure this year that we have the same assessments and intervention programs streamlined in each school."
The district hired four “instructional mentors” for the four cohorts the elementary schools in Columbia are broken into. They support the teachers and students on literacy assessments and collect data from those assessments which then helps them to decide which intervention would be appropriate for each student depending on their skill needs. This is the first year CPS has had these positions in the district. All instructional mentors have a teaching background within CPS.
They use software, known as aimeswebPlus, to assess the different skill levels for reading among students. How they score determines the intervention they are placed in. They can graduate out of that intervention once they have mastered that level.
“The underlying skills needed for reading are phonemic awareness and phonics and so we’re really trying to fill those holes now and identify students who are struggling in those areas so that they have those foundational skills, ” said Kaytee Jones, one of these instructional mentors.
She said she’s excited about showing the teachers all the growth they've seen in students since the fall.
“It’s really fun to show them how much their students are improving and it really does validate all the intervention work that they've done,” she said.
Jones also reiterated that CPS has always helped struggling learners, but with this program, it’s now being done in a more systematic way, a kind of united front across the district.
Samantha Adams echoed these same sentiments when talking about her role as an instructional mentor within the district.
“It really feels this year that we are giving teachers and students support in places and areas that we haven't been able to necessarily do that in the past, especially when it comes to those specific skills. that make up the foundational reading skills that students need,” she said.
Adams also added she hopes everyone takes notice of the hard work the teachers have put in to make the levels of success happen.