New law draws focus to dyslexia programs

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

A new state law will bring more attention to dyslexia programs in Mississippi schools this fall.
It will require schools to screen all students for dyslexia during the spring of their kindergarten year and the fall of their first-grade year. Those who fail the test will be eligible for placement in a dyslexia therapy program within their schools or in another public school or non-public special purpose school, with state-sponsored scholarships available.
As the new statute goes into effect, both Tupelo and Lee County public schools pledge to continue an emphasis on the learning disability that makes it more difficult for students to read.
“We’ve had a focus, but to me, this brings it to the forefront, not just for Tupelo, but for the state of Mississippi,” said Mary Ruth Wright, special education director for the Tupelo district.
Under new superintendent Gearl Loden, Tupelo’s schools will use a new dyslexia program this year that will help students beginning in kindergarten. The district’s previous program began in second grade.
Implementation of the Barton dyslexia program will be funded by a grant the district won from the Mississippi Department of Education.
“Because Barton starts in kindergarten, it will help us to be proactive,” Loden said.
The school district is interviewing candidates for a new dyslexia coordinator position it hopes to fill before the start of the school year. That person will focus on screening students with dyslexic tendencies and ensuring they get targeted focus.
Each elementary school also will have an interventionist working with those students.
“We have a lot to offer for dyslexic students,” said TPSD Executive Director of School Improvement Leigh Mobley. “We know it is something parents have mentioned, and we know it is a need, and we are excited to provide it.”
Meanwhile, the Lee County School District will continue to use the Reaching Reading Success program it has had in place at its elementary schools for the past six years.
The program, which reached 250 kindergarten to fifth-grade students last year, is for students with dyslexic tendencies, who spend 55 minutes every day working on skills, such as decoding words.
The district uses two lead teachers and 12 Reaching Reading Success teachers.
“They want to equip kids with strategies they can carry to the regular classroom,” said Casey Dye, Lee County director of federal programs.
Lee County Schools already screened all kindergarten students for dyslexia, but also will begin screening first-graders to comply with the law.
“The biggest challenge for us will be do we have enough qualified people to administer the screening and the sheer time to get that many people screened?” Dye said.

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