Dyslexia screenings required for Missouri schools this fall

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COLUMBIA - Grade schoolers in Missouri will have a new test beginning next school year.

The state is requiring all Missouri schools to hold dyslexia screenings for all students from kindergarten to third grade for the 2018-2019 school year.

Research suggests that anywhere between five to 15 percent of kids can have dyslexia, according to Erica Lembke, department chair of special education at the University of Missouri.

Lembke was also a member of the state task force which guided the content of the legislation and the kind of screenings which will take place next school year. She said the task force was composed of a diverse group of professionals in the field of special education.

"We all came together to agree upon and put forward this legislation, so it wasn't just one or two people thinking this was a good idea. It was a really broad segment of folks who are really concerned about kids with dyslexia," Lembke said.

Lembke says dyslexia screening is already present in Columbia schools, and other schools across mid-Missouri. But since the law includes dyslexia screenings for all schools, there's a higher chance of catching the learning disability, which will help the education system as a whole, according to Lembke.

"All along the way we're trying to hone in on what is the skill they are missing, and then going back in and trying to build up those foundational skills," Lembke said.

"That's really what this screening can provide. It helps us learn more about where kids are struggling."

According to the legislation, the screenings will come in the form of short tests to determine whether it is likely for a student to have dyslexia. After these screenings, it will be up to the school to determine what support a child may need.

It is important to distinguish that a positive result from the screenings will not result in a medical diagnosis, but rather will indicate that a student may benefit from approved support.

Contrary to popular belief, dyslexia is not just the reordering of letters and sounds when reading. Rather, dyslexia is inclusive of multiple reading difficulties, such as inaccuracy in word recognition and poor spelling ability, most often resulting from a "deficit in the phonological component of language," according to the International Dyslexia Association site.

"It's really kids who have those missing foundational reading elements. Sometimes it's that they need better foundational instruction, and other times they need a unique reading instruction that they haven't received before," Lembke said.

Lembke says she hopes that these screenings will eventually lead to greater research into dyslexia, and give kids a better chance of succeeding as they progress through school.

"It's such a positive step for our state," she said.